Council stalls library expansion vote

Tempers flared at Monday's Town Council meeting in New Milford as outgoing council member John Lillis pushed for a referendum on an expansion of the public library.

Mr. Lillis, a Democrat, made several attempts to set dates for a public hearing, town meeting and referendum, but he was repeatedly blocked by Republican council members.

"This goes back five or six years, when the cost of expansion was presented at $12 million," Mr. Lillis said. "A committee was formed that came up with a proposal six months ago of $8 million. It's laid dormant since then, until this petition."

The petition Mr. Lillis referred to was presented to the council at its Oct. 26 meeting by New Milford First, the third political party in town. Signed by 558 people, the informal petition requested setting a referendum date to learn how many residents want the library expanded.

Council member Roger Szendy said the petition, which had been signed by many children, was not a valid format for bringing a project to referendum. He agreed the library is an important resource in town, but said other projects should come before a library expansion.

Councilmen Robert Guendelsberger, Ray O'Brien and Mr. Szendy want a review of the proposed project. Council member Pete Bass asked for input from the town's director of finance and bond counsel about the impact on taxpayers if the expansion were to be done.

"Taxpayers are still facing a rough road," Mr. O'Brien said. "If we can present what the tax impact will be two or three years going out at referendum time, I think it will go a long way" toward voters accepting the expansion.

It was suggested $2 million be drawn from the Waste Management Settlement Fund to help pay for the expansion, with the remaining $6 million to be bonded.

The discussion will continue at the council's Nov. 23 meeting, but no action will be taken until incoming council members are seated Dec. 7, Mayor Pat Murphy said.