CRYSTAL LAKE – The city’s voters will be asked in November whether the city should borrow $30.1 million to build a new library.
The Crystal Lake City Council voted Tuesday, 7-0, to place an advisory referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot at the behest of the Crystal Lake Public Library Board, which has long argued that the 126 W. Paddock St. library is aging, cramped and inadequate for modern needs. Although the ballot question is nonbinding, the voters’ answer will give direction to the City Council, which has the power to borrow the money without a binding referendum.
Supporters of the library’s plan filled the City Council chambers, but the entire affair lasted only about 10 minutes – Mayor Aaron Shepley told the audience that the issue before them was not the merits of the idea, but merely whether to put the question on the ballot.
Library board members want to build a 75,000-square-foot library at the site, which would about double the size of the existing 40,000-square-foot facility. The wording of the referendum states that building and equipping the new library would increase property taxes an average of $132 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000.
Library Director Kathryn Martens said that the need for a new library is real, and that three assessments conducted over the past two decades back up that need.
“We are now at a critical juncture, looking at $9.1 million to only repair the existing out-of-date building and still not resolve our inefficient electric heating system, poor building access or inability to provide 21st century service. This is the cost of doing nothing,” Martens said.
Voters in 2004 rejected an advisory referendum, but the library board approached the City Council with the results of a community-engagement focus group that concluded that building a new library is the best option. The group, named Future of Crystal Lake Library Under Study, met monthly from March through June.
Shepley said before the City Council vote that the library board did its homework before approaching the council with the request. The library board is appointed by the City Council and cannot issue debt under state law.
“The library has spent a good number of years getting to this point," Shepley said. "They have done more due diligence than just about any group that I’ve seen."
The results of the advisory referendum have no legal impact on the City Council’s decision-making process – it could choose not to borrow the money, even if voters support the plan.
But even if a majority of voters signal support for a new library, the issue could be a touchy one for City Council members if they decide to move forward. Discontent with McHenry County’s property tax burden has increased in recent years, and three of the City Council’s six members will be up for re-election in April.