Thursday, July 28, 2011

“Because you don’t have kids, you don’t have a complete heart, Mr. Burns,” read a note from a subscriber angry with my recent “conservative” opinion about free-and-reduced lunches in public schools.

Awfully harsh. But, then again, no doubt single people like this columnist are missing some of life’s great joys. Yes, I don’t have a son or daughter.

That said, over two years of involvement with fund-raising and support for a new Carroll Public Library, my primary motivator has been the young people of this community.

Our kids deserve a library that is inspirational, not average. We aren’t an average town, are we? Does a “C” get you anywhere these days?

Some folks — who support the library — were telling me stories this week about opposition in the 1970s to the construction of the Carroll Recreation Center. The line of thinking from the naysayers then: the kids should be playing outside, gloves and mittens on, not firing jump shots in a heated gym or diving into a warm pool as the snow flies outside.

That’s amusing because we know the story had a happy ending. That generation did the right thing. They gave us the Rec Center, a facility with a separating quality, a feature that has served to sell our quality of life to business owners and employees who’ve moved here in the last 40 years.

Like others blessed to be in family businesses in Carroll I think each day about what I owe my grandfather James W. Wilson, the late 50-year leader of this newspaper, and my uncle, James B. Wilson, the current publisher. I am keenly aware of generational responsibilities. And the truth is, so are a lot of other people in Carroll.

On Tuesday, with a referendum before us on the library, we have another Rec Center opportunity. We have a chance to construct a marvelous building to exercise the minds of our young people, to send a powerful message that we are four-square behind education in Carroll, Iowa. And in doing all of this we make good on a debt to our parents and grandparents who made sacrifices for us.

“It’s so important for kids to read and read well,” Carol Shields, a passionate supporter of the new library, said Wednesday night at the forum on the project.

Added Robyn Greteman, another strong advocate for the library, “I want a library we can be proud of that reflects the other things we have here in our community.”

We aren’t coming to the vote empty-handed, either.

The Carroll Library Foundation has raised more than $1 million through private donations from businesses and individuals with some selected grants in the mix.

Are we going to be the community that spurns a million dollars, leaves it on the table and starts from scratch with a second-rate plan? Are we that guy? Really?

The specific plan you are voting to fund Tuesday has been in the works for two years. The overall discussion and research behind the new library started in 2005.

After studying 20 potential options, the Carroll Public Library Site Selection Committee in late September of 2009 recommended that the city purchase the historic Heider Manufacturing building and some adjoining property for a new library.

Twelve of the 13 members of the Site Selection Committee ranked the Heider site No. 1 — with one person ranking it No. 2.

At a council meeting on Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, Councilwoman Carolyn Siemann said of the Heider site recommendation: “I think the site will  sell itself.”

It was such a strong endorsement that the remark earned Siemann the top quote in our Page 1 story the next day. She’s a bright woman, an accomplished educator, and that seemingly unequivocal support spurred momentum for the project.

Now, in a turnaround that would make Mitt Romney dizzy, Siemann is a leading opponent of the library, an advocate of a Jenny Craig Diet plan of doing something with the current site, or perhaps just tossing all the books into the Middle Raccoon River and giving everyone a Kindle.

That’s not the Carroll way.

We don’t bequeath our next generations duct-taped facilities and cut-rate futures.

And we don’t have to.

We aren’t being asked to sell the farm — or even skip too many desserts — to get this new library developed.

The owner of a home valued at $100,000 will see an annual tax increase of $49.32 per year.

But that won’t necessarily correlate directly with an increase in taxes, as $4.8 million in general-obligation debt related to other city projects and facilities will be paid off between July of this year and June 2016. About $2.5 million of that is property-tax-supported debt with the remainder connected to tax-increment financing and local-option sales-tax financing, according to city figures.

By fiscal year 2016-2017, the only significant general-obligation debt on the books for the city, barring any new projects, will be financing of the $2.96 million bond issue for the Carroll Family Aquatic Center — which carries annual payments of about $193,000 between 2016 and 2021. In 2016-2017 the city would be at 6 percent of its debt limit of $31.6 million, leaving capacity for $29.7 million in general-obligation debt, according to the official City of Carroll Debt Limit Schedule.

The city does carry debt connected to $11 million in bonds issued in 2003 and 2004 for the wastewater-treatment plant but that financing is connected to sewer-service revenues.

In fiscal year 2011-2012, the city will make a final payment of $83,280 on a 2002 bond issue of $700,000 that paid for a major flood-mitigation and improvement plan at the Carroll Municipal Golf Course. Also, in fiscal year 2011-2012, the city will make a final payment of $26,025 on a 2002 bond issue of $195,000 for a fire department equipment van.

The general-obligation bonds on the $1.5 million 2003 issue for the Bass Street, Drain 77, storm-sewer project will be paid off in fiscal year 2012-2013 with a $196,156 payment. The $2 million bond issue in 2005 connected to Corridor of Commerce phasing and the purchase of an aerial fire truck will be off the books with a final payment of $244,165 in fiscal year 2015-2016.

We have the space in the budget to make this work with room to spare.

In summary, because of  the wisdom and boldness of past Carroll generations, who made smart decisions about when to be aggressive and when to fold the cards, we are in a position to create another game-changing moment in Carroll.

Yes, I may not have kids who will benefit from this library.

But I owe an immeasurable debt to earlier generations of my family and previous Carroll residents.

This is what we do in Carroll. We get projects like this done.

Shelve the selfishness so many are trying to disguise as thrift and do what you know is right for Carroll’s kids on Tuesday.

Vote yes.