Carson City residents are being asked to vote on a quarter-cent increase in sales tax to pay for a new library complex when they head to the polls in the coming weeks.The proposal on the general election ballot has drawn strong reactions on both sides, with opponents calling it a waste of taxpayer money — especially during a recession — that won’t do anything for downtown development. Backers argue it will become a center for efforts to revitalize downtown, bringing new life to the city’s core and providing services that the existing 45-year-old library can’t. The ballot question seeks voter support for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund construction of a 65,000-square-foot Knowledge and Discovery Center and adjacent plaza. The proposed 30-year tax would generate $1.8 million a year to pay off the bonds to build the $28.8 million center. With interest, the bonds would cost about $40 million. It’s projected to cost the average taxpayer about $12.50 a year.Opponents contend that the city can’t afford to raise taxes, less than a year after the city had to contend with a $3.7 million budget deficit. If the ballot measure is approved, the Hop and Mae Adams Foundation, which owns the Carson Nugget, would donate the land — currently a portion of the Nugget’s parking lot. The proposed agreement doesn’t include any lease terms. The city would own the property outright.While the Nugget’s portion of the complex envisions a parking garage and offices for commercial businesses, the city project does not include any money for anything other than the knowledge center and plaza.With approval, the funding would allow the library to include extensive telecommunications and digital media resources not currently available. It would include expanded space for children and a teen center, a digital media center, Wi-Fi access throughout, more than 100 public computers, meeting rooms with modern audio-visual equipment and space to significantly expand the library’s book collection along with a cafe and bookstore.Opponents contend that in the rapidly changing world of technology, the project wouldn’t be viable for the 30-year life of the tax. Also included in the project is a roof garden that could host both public and private gatherings, and an auditorium seating up to 180 that would be available for community events and become the new meeting place for Carson City supervisors. The plaza would provide an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and other events and become home to the city’s winter ice rink. The project also would be able to house the library’s business branch, the Business Resource Information Center (BRIC), which provides one-stop shopping for both existing businesses and those interested in coming to the capital. That move would save the city more than $5,000 a month in rent now paid to the owners of the former Fireside, the building currently housing the BRIC on Proctor Street.Foes of the project say the city wouldn’t be able to pay for the center if projected sales tax revenues fall short. They say the city may be forced to close the library, lay off staff or file for bankruptcy, and the project is a risk the city can’t afford to take in this economy.Because the new building would be more energy and operationally efficient, the cost of operating the library, including staff, would cost about the same — $1.6 million of the city’s annual budget. Staffing the library would require 23 positions instead of the 20 needed now. As the economy improves, any tax money generated over and above the amount needed to make the bond payments would probably be used to cover maintenance costs at the new building, if approved by the Board of Supervisors.The opposition says raising the sales tax a quarter-cent eliminates the city’s sales tax advantage over Washoe County retailers. The increase would push Carson’s sales tax from 7.475 percent to 7.725 percent, the same percent as Washoe. It also could lead shoppers to Douglas County merchants. Douglas and Lyon county sales tax rate is 7.1 percent.Supporters envision the center as a central community gathering place. But it is also designed to provide separation between different groups of people, with spaces for teens, young children and adults and seniors if they wish.Critics say these services are already provided at other locations throughout the city, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, the senior center, schools and school libraries. They have suggested combining the different libraries in Carson City instead of building a new one.However, the other libraries aren’t operated for the public and they each have their own specific use. The directors of those other institutions say trying to combine them doesn’t make sense.Opponents also have asked what would be come of the current library building, citing Carson’s large amount of vacant buildings.
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