By JEN CARDINES
At the Feb. 13 meeting of the library board, officials were still hopeful that library expansion could be a topic of a town referendum this fall with a $1 million construction grant due for expiration. During the Feb. 27 Town Council meeting, Ed Pocock III said that there will likely be no library referendum this fall.
In a passionate speech, Pocock said that this isn’t the right time, but he noted that he was just one member of the council.
“I’m being told by folks that I run into that somehow in my position as a mere council member, I’ve killed the library proposal that would be going forward,” Pocock said. “And the only way to clear something up like that is to talk about it publically.”
Pocock was referring to the library expansion and renovation plans that were proposed for referendum. Aside from the new roof, the building has not been updated or renovated since it was built in the 1970s. While library officials hoped for a 2017 ballot referendum, there is no date scheduled yet.
According to Pocock, this is not the time for such a project. With a looming state budget crisis and a big project getting underway for the town’s aging waste water treatment facility, the library expansion project will have to wait.
While Pocock was addressing the Council and public audience, he discussed the debt ceiling that Southington is facing. There is a financial ceiling gap that the town has as far as how much debt it can take on.
“When we passed the sewer plant referendum in November, we hit that ceiling,” he said. “If we exceed that ceiling, we’re at a point where we’re no better than what the State is doing.”
Pocock affirmed that he is not against the library, but said that he is not in favor of putting something on the ballot just to see if it swims. He wanted to ensure the public that he did not “kill” the library proposal, and wanted to put the issue to rest.
“I have a history as former chair and member of this council, where I will not vote for something that I feel is going to die in referendum,” Pocock said. “Or if it is something that isn’t in line with other promises that were made by other groups.”
The councilor mentioned some other capital projects that are under consideration, such as renovations to Flanders and Kelley elementary schools. Neither has been updated since they were constructed.
The Board of Education has plans set to evaluate those projects, which will require a referendum in the coming years as well. None of these projects are likely to be scheduled for referendums this fall.
Last fall, Southington Public Library director Susan Smayda spoke about the need for renovations when the library co-sponsored a candidate forum. Smayda said that Southington has one of the smallest public libraries per capita in the State of Connecticut. She also said that an expansion project was in the works.
Earlier this year, Town Manager Garry Brumback predicted that the issue will be resolved in the upcoming years, but he did not expect it to be a part of his budget.
“The library will hopefully go to referendum in 2018,” the town manager told the Observer. “We have enough projects on the books now and, while the Council supports the library renovation, we are focusing on the projects we have already approved.”
Recent Library Board minutes show that there is an imminent need. The building has seen a deluge of repair issues in recent months.
There was a flood in the boiler room on Jan. 24 due to a broken valve in the heating system. It was also discovered that the new roof is leaking. Two days later the sump pump had to be repaired when a PVC pipe broke.
The facility faces continual challenges because of its age and needs attention. However, the funds are coming up short in Southington.
Pocock said that, with the town’s financial ceiling gap, the state of Connecticut’s economy, and promises made to school renovations, this is not the time. He then added that he does not necessarily speak for the entire council.
“If there is a majority of folks who believe this November the library should move forward, then I say go with God, pass it, and do what you have to do,” said Pocock. “But I will not be one who will be supporting the library moving forward for those reasons.”
Smayda and the Library Board presented council chair Michael Riccio with information to give the council members and said that they are still hoping for a 2017 referendum.