Consulting firm will locate, evaluate sites
When the county approves a new library, the Weddington council wants it to be located within their town borders. To help in that effort, the council hired the Charlotte-based Moser Group during their Monday, April 11 meeting to work as a consulting firm, identifying potential sites for both a library and public park, collecting data on each.
“If we want to get a library, we need to make the first step,” council member Jerry McKee said. “If it’s not viable, we walk away and we’re out $10,000, but at least we know something.”
As federal, state and local budgets tighten up, questions about the location of a future library in the southwestern portion of Union County become harder to answer. With a lack of funding at the county level, towns hope they can negotiate, offering some funds of their own for a guarantee the building will be in their corporate limits. Before the recession hit, Union County’s Library Board had looked at building either a “super regional” library or two district facilities, both in the western part of the county. While the library board determined a “super regional” facility would be cheaper, saving the county between $700,000 to $1 million, they also found that at least theoretically, two libraries would meet the needs of the most residents. In 2010, both Weddington and nearby Waxhaw attempted to convince commissioners any library should be built in their respective towns, before each tabled the idea.
“The passion this council has shown for libraries forced a conversation to the table we weren’t prepared to have,” Weddington Mayor Pro Tem Daniel Barry said. “I think this (study) facilitates the first part of the conversation.”
The issue for county commissioners is who would actually pay not just for construction, but also for the day to day operating budget. Highlighting the fact that the county currently has just over a $13 million deficit, county commissioner Todd Johnson told Union County Weekly any project would have to make economic sense and that he would be hesitant to accept anything that adds more debt to the county long term.
“I’m open to listening,” Johnson said. “If Weddington has a creative solution they want to present, we’ll definitely hear it. But at the same time, we’ve got to be careful about (the debt) we add.”
Any library funding would have to come further down the road, Johnson said, once the county has dealt with the current budget issues. At the same time, Johnson said he didn’t mind towns like Weddington pushing to be first in line.
“Am I frustrated by Nancy, Daniel and Werner talking about a library? No, because that means they’re representing their town, doing what they were elected for,” Johnson said.
Much has changed from an economic perspective since 2008, when the Board of Trustees and the county commissioners first made recommendations about a potential western Union County library expansion. Regardless of the decision, actual construction on the library isn’t in the county’s capital plan until 2012 and will most likely be delayed further down the line, county officials say.
“We’re aware they have a deficit,” Thomisser said, adding that was one concern he had with moving forward now. “(My) concern is that we go get a vacant piece of land, get it donated to the town (and) then we have a vacant piece of land sitting for 10 years, until there’s funding available.”
Thomisser proposed a 90-day delay on any decision, until the town could meet with county commissioners in June, but that idea was rejected by the rest of the council.
As part of the study, the Moser Group will identify potential sites for a library, and then return to the council to present their findings. At that time, the council can either decide to move forward with the remainder of the study or walk away, only responsible for the $10,000 cost of the first phase.
“We will not move forward with the next task until we get your blessing,” Moser Group president Dennis Moser told the council. “(For) each phase, you authorize us in writing to move on.”
The group will look at a site’s access to sewer and water, as well as it’s environmental conditions, location and potential price. Once sites are selected, the council will have to make a decision on how many they want the group to evaluate. The total cost of the study could run as high as $84,000 if the town wants a maximum of four sites evaluated or $58,000 for one. The town will be reimbursed for that money once a developer is selected to work on the property, town attorney Anthony Fox said. The contract will call for the developer to pay Weddington for the full cost of the study.
“We’ll meet with landowners (and) secure (potential) contracts (for the land purchase),” Moser said, adding the group also would do some design work as to what a library and park might look like on the site. “We’re looking at a pretty lengthy amount of time.”
Moser estimated that if the town elects to pursue all five sections, it would take around 30 weeks to complete the work. That means the final pieces would come before the council in November or December.
“We’re not biting it all off at once,” Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson said, adding she was glad the town could pick and choose what they were willing to pay for.
Funding for the first part of the study was approved 2 to 1, with Thomisser in opposition.