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Scituate selectmen to place $12 million library renovation request on Town Meeting warrant

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 26, 2013 04:25 PM

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Scituate selectmen have agreed to put a $12 million override request on the upcoming Special Town Meeting warrant to let the town decide whether or not to spend the money on a library renovation.

Taxpayers would only be paying $6.4 million for the request, thanks to a $5 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to the town as well as more than $600,000 raised in fund-raising efforts.

“A project like we have, we can easily raise $2 million, and a lot of people say donations come after the library starts ... [that] will continue to reduce the load on citizens of the state,” said Les Ball, co-director of the Building for the Future Campaign. ”We’ll work hard to make it happen.”

The request, made at the Aug. 20 selectmen’s meeting, has somewhat poor timing, as it will be one of several funding requests to Town Meeting.

Town officials are looking to fund everything from water pipe replacements to a solution to the aging Gates Middle School.

“It’s a difficult time with everything we have going on,” said Selectman Martin O’Toole. “I do believe we should let it go to Town Meeting and let the people decide.”

Selectman Tony Vegnani agreed with O’Toole to leave the decision of spending up to the taxpayers, but told library supporters that the library project wasn’t his main priority.

“I don’t completely support the project, not because I don’t support the project, but the big picture of everything going on,” Vegnani said. “In a different time it would be a no-brainer ... but I wrote a list of 12 other things going on in the town, and at some point in time the people won’t be able to pay for all these things.”

Vegnani mentioned spending on the brown water problem, seawalls, a public safety center, town hall renovations, senior center, pension expenses, sewage expansion, and a $20 million capital plan, to name a few.

“I’m concerned about giving the perception that we support the project when maybe we don’t by putting it on the warrant. Though I believe it should go on the warrant,” Vegnani said.

Selectman John Danehey agreed that the other needs may overshadow the project, but selectmen previously supported the project when it was first proposed in 2008.

“I won’t pull the rug from you. I support you 100 percent and the people at Town Meeting will make that decision,” Danehey said.

Despite the board’s skepticism, library supporters pressed town officials for support.

“It’s a unique opportunity that goes away, and I fervently think people should [be given] the chance to make that vote because we don’t have that chance again,” said Karen Canfield, a trustee of Scituate Town Library.

After the end of 2013, the $5 million in grant money will no longer be held for Scituate’s project, but instead go back into the pool for other library grants.

Supporters have said the library is in need of renovations that the town will have to pay for one way or another, and have pushed the $12 million project as the way to get the biggest bang for taxpayer bucks.

“[You] can’t have a high-level school system without a decent library. They go hand in hand,” Ball said.

Selectmen agreed to put the question on the warrant with the caveat that support would be tempered.

“It’s our job to make sure the public understands all the things coming down the pipeline,” Vegnani said. “They have to understand there will be a middle school and safety center and senior center" and more.

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