Library project is doneMembers of the Hudson Joint Library Foundation believe they presented voters with the best deal possible for a new facility but it wasn’t good enough.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Members of the Hudson Joint Library Foundation believe they presented voters with the best deal possible for a new facility but it wasn’t good enough.
Referendum questions calling for $5 million toward the $10.5 million cost to purchase and refit the former NMC building and another $1 million to operate the new library had to be passed in the city of Hudson, village of North Hudson and the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph. While voters in the city and village said yes to the $5 million toward the building, the towns rejected the building purchase, and all four municipalities said no to the additional operating funds.
“This was the best deal we could get. This was a building in the right location that could easily be refitted to make a wonderful library. Half of the cost of the project was going to come from philanthropic gifts. It was a very good deal, but the voters have spoken and the project is dead,” said foundation member Bye Barsness who led the effort along with several other foundation members.
Barsness said that the proposal failed for a number of reasons, not the least of which was current economic uncertainty. He also believes that the way the questions were worded, much of it statutorily required, might have been confusing to voters.
“Raising taxes is never popular and less so now than ever. But we also had a very short time to get the word out. We needed broad community support. I was disappointed that the newspaper didn’t endorse the project and the city and the towns didn’t promote it. We needed to take a page from Obama’s play book and have a better ground game, but there just wasn’t time,” Barsness said.
Foundation member Susie Gilbert said she has never been as passionate or committed to a project like she was to the so-called Lakefront Library. In addition to working on the referendum, she had made contact with numerous philanthropic organizations in the area about the project and was confident that the $5.5 million in donated funds for the project could be raised.
The day after the election it fell to her to contact those organizations and ask them to withdraw grant applications for the project. The Phipps Foundation had already pledged $500,000 to the project as well as $30,000 from the Hudson Library Foundation. These, along with several other donations, were earmarked specifically for the NMC building project.
“It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. So many of the groups we contacted were excited about the project and believed as we did that it was the perfect location across from the lakefront and near The Phipps Center,” said Gilbert.
She agrees with Barsness that the package they put together for voters was the best they could do.
“Somebody else will have to take the lead now and come up with a new plan. It is going to be a long time before I get excited about another library project,” Gilbert said.
Foundation member Jeff Zais made numerous presentations about the project and what it would cost taxpayers throughout the area. “The proposal was a bold attempt to solve most, if not all, of our library problems in one package,” he said.
Zais said funding the library is a difficult and complex issue that includes relationships among the city, village and towns, an unfair county funding system and budget limitations imposed by the state. “Combining solutions to all of the problems proved too complex. We will have to move forward by working on issues individually.”
Barsness thinks it will be awhile before municipal leaders address a new library. “Any project is going to be difficult. It’s possible that it will come up in conjunction with something else like a public safety building, but I doubt that there will be the same philanthropic support for something like that.”
But as for the riverfront library across from The Phipps Center that he and others envisioned, he is resigned. “We tried hard and we’re holding our heads high.”