New Milford library set for referendum
NEW MILFORD — Voters will decide the fate of the library at the polls in November despite pleas from some library supporters to make the decision at a town meeting this month.
Whether the $6.5 million for the renovation project would be approved by residents at a town meeting or with a referendum has been a controversial topic since Councilman Paul Syzmanski proposed it last month.
Most council members said a referendum was the most transparent and fairest way to decide because more people come out for elections and the all-day voting is easier for residents’ schedules. They also said it eliminated the risk of residents triggering a referendum, which would leave the council with little to no say on when that referendum would be held.
Advocates for the town meeting said there’s a greater chance of the project failing at referendum because residents who don’t want to pay for any projects will oppose it and waiting until November delays the project.
The council approved adding the project to the ballot for the Nov. 6 election in a 6-2 vote with councilmen Peter Mullen and Doug Skelly opposing. Szymanski was absent.
A town meeting is still scheduled for Sept. 26, but will now be informational with a question-and answer-session and without a vote.
“Making your town a better place by improving the library and spending the money is worth it because the value is there,” Mullen said. “If this goes to referendum, you run the risk of this not going through.”
Mullen said there were no objections from council members for the $4 million turf project to be decided at a town meeting a few years ago and the library should be treated the same.
Skelly, who was on the turf committee, said that until the town process changes and a specific amount is set to automatically require a referendum, these projects should be decided at town meetings.
Other council members countered the $6.5 million was too high to be decided by a small group of residents who turn out at the meeting. Both council members Katy Francis and Tom Esposito said residents still tell them they’re angry the turf project was voted on at a town meeting instead of a referendum.
“I’m going to support the referendum, but I will also support the library and stand in front of any camera you want to tell constituents we need this and we need this now,” Esposito said, adding the public’s support is apparent from meeting turnout and comments he has heard in the community.
About 50 people came out for the special meeting to support the library Monday, and dozens have packed other meetings throughout the approval process.
Councilman Mike Nahom said he originally opposed the library project and thought it was not needed, but has become a supporter after learning about the usage numbers and the bond rating. He said other library advocates will have to work hard to educate people like him to make them supporters as well. He said he will help spread the message so the project passes.
Some council members said this is the first time that all of the boards have supported the proposed library project, which is a good sign for how the community will receive it.
This is the third time the town has tried to renovate and expand the library. New Milford has not renovated its library since the 1970s. In that time, all but one other library in the state have been renovated. The project would expand the library from 15,000 to 22,000 square feet, adding much-needed community meeting spaces and enlarging the children and young adult areas.
The current library project is expected to cost $8.5 million. Money from the trustees, a state grant and the Waste Management Fund are also being considered for covering the other $2 million not included in the bond.