The right thing for Boise to do is let voters decide the pricey library’s fate

Lindsay Atkinson Articles

In his recent guest column about the new Boise library, Mark Durcan wrote that it was “disheartening to see some trying to change the rules in order to derail the library initiative.” He was referring to a ballot initiative that Boise Working Together recently proposed to simply hold a public vote on the proposed new main library.

Unlike Durcan, I think a public vote is a great idea — and is in no way “disheartening.” A vote would clear up whether or not Boise residents actually want this library and, more importantly, whether they are willing to pay for it.

Durcan is co-chairman of the campaign that supports a new library, so it’s obvious what he wants. Unfortunately, his commentary conveniently ignored the many sneaky tactics and blunders of this big-budget project, which has caused concerned residents to ask for a public vote.

For instance, Durcan mentions that Boise residents won’t have their property taxes raised to fund the project. However, the city is skirting around voters to use taxes collected in other ways to fund the project, instead of through a direct levy or bond, which would require an election.

This skirting of voters is a tactic the city has used before. In 2006, voters rejected a $35 million bond to build four library branches in Boise. What do you see now? Four library branches.

The city still builds what voters deny by using other funding avenues. For example, the city’s urban renewal agency will give up to $15 million to the new library, without any vote from property owners.

Durcan also mentions that $12 million in private donations have been collected for the new library, and the city has an overall goal of collecting $18 million in private support. However, he fails to mention this blunder: Due to poor management in just the design phase, all of these private funds have already been eaten up.

The $12 million already collected via donations has been spent cleaning up a mess. The conceptual library design created by Boston-based Safdie Architects, the firm hired to depict the library, did not respect the hard-line $85 million city budget. The design Moshe Safdie submitted to the city has an estimated price tag of $104 million — a $19 million budget overrun. The original city budget has been blown by another $650,000 in moving costs for The Cabin, a structure that sits at the current library site but which has to be relocated because it was erroneously not included in the rendering of the new library. Plus, the city spent thousands on travel expenses for architects, including a first-class flight.

Mismanagement and missteps have led to cost overruns — before construction has even begun — of $19.7 million. So even if the city raises its goal of $18 million in private donations, that money has already been spent.

It’s not “disheartening” to see that some residents want a vote. It’s understandable. It’s inspirational. It’s holding public officials accountable for these blunders.

The Idaho Statesman published this column on Jan. 30, 2019. See that post here.