Commentary by Guy W. Farmer: City Center morphs into big new library project

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I love libraries. You love libraries. All of us love libraries. But that doesn't mean we think city officials should spend more than $20 million taxpayer dollars to build a huge new library next door to a struggling casino in downtown Carson City.

That's the conclusion I drew from listening to the pros and cons about the revised Nugget project - also known as the City Center and/or Downtown Project - at the Community Center on Monday night. Although project proponents presented a much better plan than the grandiose pie-in-the-sky pipedream they proposed earlier, they still failed to take into account the city's dire budget situation at a time when the U.S. economy is teetering on the brink of a double-dip recession.

So although proponents presented a more streamlined plan to the City Center Project Advisory Committee last Monday, we simply can't afford it at this time. How could Mayor Bob Crowell and city supervisors possibly vote for a library project that requires such a heavy commitment of public funds, especially when Borders book stores are going out of business locally and around the country, and when libraries are becoming leaner and meaner, rather than larger and more expensive?

"All we hear is that we don't have enough money in the city's general fund," said Bruce Kittess, the lone dissident member of the Advisory Committee. "We're told that we've used up all of our reserves."

So how can we possibly afford this multimillion-dollar project? According to the revised plan presented to the committee, a public-private partnership would build a big new $39 million library and an $11 million parking garage on land donated by the Nugget's Mae Adams Trust. Taxpayers would be on the hook for nearly $24 million of the $50 million project, which has been downsized from the original $80 million proposal. The remainder of the funding is supposed to come from a $3 million federal economic development grant (good luck with that) and private funds from the Library Foundation and/or the Adams Trust.

The city would raise approximately $12 million by imposing a new 1/8-cent sales tax and contribute $11.3 million from redevelopment funds and $500,000 from the city's utility fund just as fees increase for sewer, water and landfill services. I'd call that bad timing.

In an impassioned plea for what she calls a Knowledge and Discovery Center, Library Director Sara Jones explained the difference between a library and a knowledge center. As I understand it, a knowledge center is much larger than a library, and much more expensive. The new project design includes a 7,000-square-foot children's library, 105 computer stations, and a bookstore and coffee shop (think Borders).

Knowledge centers are usually located on university campuses, where the students are. So why doesn't the city give a modest grant to Western Nevada College to upgrade its state-of-the-art library? Meanwhile, Ms. Jones and her professional staff could continue to meet the needs of the city library's clientele. I commend them for running an efficient, cost-effective operation with limited resources.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, loves libraries. Don't we all?


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