After several years of funding requests and a subsequently rigorous campaign to secure donations, a is one step closer to breaking ground.
The Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday evening to have a March 13 standalone referendum for Ridgefield's voters to decide whether the town should contribute $5 million on top of a promised $15 million donation to go ahead with the 's plans for renovating the existing building.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi and Selectmen Andrew Bodner and Maureen Kozlark voted in favor of the early referendum, while Selectwoman Barbara Manners voted against having the vote in March. Selectwoman Di Masters abstained due to a possible conflict of interest as executive director of the .
Meanwhile, the board voted earlier in the evening unanimously to approve the operating agreement for the $5 million contribution.
The dissenting vote from Manners for the earlier referendum came about, she explained, because the standalone referendum would misrepresent the contribution within the context of the overall budget, for which there is an annual referendum in May.
"It's too easy to vote 'yes' when you don't have a chance to look at all the issues," Manners said of the early referendum. "Even in context [the library] is very attractive, but it's up to the Board of Selectmen to look out for the town overall."
The Library Board was hoping for an earlier referendum to save an estimated $150 thousand in construction costs.
The three selectmen who voted in favor of the March referendum agreed that the town's decision to contribute funds should have come earlier, before the donations had been made. Now that almost $15 million has been raised (and the total amount promised), Bodner said the town should follow through -- for that, he said the process had been handled badly.
"God knows what happens to all the money raised if it doesn't pass," Bodner said. "This should have been done up front."
Two years ago, the library had requested funds for renovation and was turned down until the amount of $15 million had been raised, at which point the town would contribute $5 million.
"To raise $15 million is a huge undertaking," Marconi said. "It's borderline embarassing to call [the current building] our library, and something should be done about it."
Included in the agreement (as approved in draft form) is the condition that the library will "remain sensitive to the impact of ... programs on for-profit and non-profit organizations in town, including Town assets such as the Recreation Center."
Planning and Zoning Commissioner John Katz (speaking as a member of the public) asked for clarification on the point.
"It stands out as very different from everything else in the document," Katz said, referencing the obscurity of the agreement's phrasing. The language stemmed from
"Facilities that don't pay taxes should be sensitive to businesses in town that enable those facilities to exist," Manners said.
Whether the town would be held legally responsible for any loss of business as a result of the contract was not clearly stated.
Several members of the public were concerned about the possibility of a lower turnout to the special referendum, much like Manners, and the precedent this would set for future department requests.
There will be a public hearing and town meeting at Veterans Park Elementary School Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss details of the agreement and the upcoming March 13 referendum.