In her Guest Opinion about the proposed new Boise Library, Lindsay Atkinson of the Idaho Freedom Foundation not only has her facts wrong, but also presents an argument in favor of voter participation in government that is rich in irony. In the same week, the Idaho Freedom Foundation simultaneously argued that Boise residents should be able to vote on a new library and that the Idaho Supreme Court should overturn the citizens’ vote in favor of Medicaid expansion. Apparently the IFF supports only those citizen votes that go “their” way.
On the factual front: The city has not spent $12 million of donations in “cleaning up a [design] mess.” The vast majority of that $12 million is not cash that has been collected, but is instead pledges made by library supporters to help build the new library. That money will start arriving once the project gets to “go.” Nor has money been “wasted” on library design, since the design phase is still in progress. Designing, redesigning, engineering and re-engineering — with the budget target in mind — is how the process works. Design iterations are inherently part of the process and hardly an example of “poor management.” The vast majority of the budgeted $12 million for design is going to local architects CSHQA, and local structural, environmental and safety engineers. Less than a quarter of these design funds are to be paid to Boston-based Safdie Architects.
And yes, voters in 2006 did reject a bond initiative to build branch libraries. As a result, Boise used funds within its capital budget to build four branch libraries without raising taxes. Thirteen years later, each of those neighborhood libraries welcome an average of 12,000 visitors each month. What a “win-win” it has been for residents to see new branch libraries built and heavily used, without having to raise taxes for these important community assets.
Also false is the claim that Boise’s urban renewal agency, CDDC, will “give $15 million to the new library.” In fact, CCDC plans to spend $15 million on a new parking garage as part of a mixed-use building project adjacent to the library, which library patrons can use, but so can others. It’s pretty routine — and completely legal — for urban renewal agencies to build parking structures within an urban renewal boundary without requiring a vote of the people.
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Scott Ludwig said it best in his recent comments to the Statesman when he noted that a library building, to be dedicated to all the people of Boise, is “within the jurisdiction of city government and is best left to the City Council to decide.”
Now is the time to build a new main library and replace the remodeled warehouse that has served as the main library since 1978. Like the branch libraries, the new main library can be funded with a combination of donations, capital budgeting, CCDC contributions and lease financing that does not involve passing a bond initiative and raising taxes.
Ron Williams is on the board of directors of the Boise Public Library foundation.