Cedar Rapids Library boosters certainly make a strong case for a new central library.
But I wonder whether the $45 million project may catch a fatal case of uncertainty.
The library board of trustees wants to replace the flooded 85,000-squarefoot central library in the heart of downtown with a 105,000-squarefoot library on higher ground on the northeast edge of downtown. They want more space, more computers, a larger collection, more amenities and no threat of water.
They hope to use Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and private funding to cover the bill.
Of all the public facilities pipe dreams floating around, I find the library most compelling. It could benefit thousands of local residents, including folks who are hanging on in nearby flood-affected neighborhoods.
But library backers also say they need more operating bucks. So they want voters to approve raising the current 4-cent library property tax levy to a maximum of 27 cents for 10 years. They’re determined to put it on the ballot in November’s city election.
Essentially, the levy vote will be a referendum on plans for a new, larger library.
But what will voters know going into the booth?
Unfortunately, they may not know where, exactly, a new library would be located. It all depends on whether the library board and City Council, which has the final say, can figure it out soon.
They won’t see an architect’s plan for a new library. That comes later.
They may not know, for certain, how much FEMA will chip in. Some of the funding will still be more hope than promise.
That worries me. I’d like to see this project make it. This, potentially, could say something important about the future of Cedar Rapids.
But when ballot measures die, uncertainty is usually the cause of death. Where facts are fuzzy, more often than not, criticism, and sometimes misinformation, fills the gap. And the ill-tempered electorate heading to the polls this November will be in no mood to take “trust us” as an acceptable answer.
So why not hold off until all those questions are answered? State law requires that a library levy be voted on in a city general election, held every two years. After this year’s, the next is 2011.
But the Legislature could change that law, just as it gave us a break on the sales tax. That would pave the way for a special election next year. It’s no sure thing, but a November vote could be riskier.
Backers are certain they can’t wait. Uncertain voters, however, may insist.