Good news for Atherton on funding for new library

Atherton's existing historic council chambers will be part of the library in the plans for a new civic center, and the style of the new police/administration building will echo that of the historic building, with stucco walls and mostly clay tile roof. (Photo by Natalia Nazarova/The Almanac)

In what Atherton Councilman Rick DeGolia called "a huge win for us," the governing board of the San Mateo County Libraries Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has agreed to advance the town approximately $10 million in property tax revenues to help it pay the costs of building a new library.

DeGolia announced the JPA's decision at a Sept. 19 City Council meeting.

The town has been working since June to redesign its new civic center, which includes a library and an administration/police building, after the lowest of the only two bids the town received to build the complex came in around $15 million over budget.

Council members had vowed to reduce the projected cost of the library to $16 million, about the amount of property tax revenues the town expected to have to build the library. But council members balked at making cuts to the size and design of the library to get to that figure and asked the JPA board to instead approve advancing the tax money to the town.

The library is to be funded with property tax revenues that are set aside for library use only. Currently all library property taxes go to JPA member towns or cities that generated them. But Atherton and the other JPA members recently voted to change that arrangement and, in the future, will give half the funds exceeding what is needed to run the libraries back to the library system.

In anticipation of the JPA board's approval of the advance, the council voted on Aug. 17 to make only $3 million in cuts to the library design, leaving its size and most of its design features intact.

The JPA board voted to have the staff of the town and the library system work out the details of the advance after the town gets bids and knows how much the building will cost.

DeGolia said the JPA board approved the advance of the money because "it meant so much to them to not sabotage" the design that had earlier been approved for the library.

City Manager George Rodericks said the current estimated cost of the library, including contingencies and redesign costs, is $22.9 million. The advance of the property tax revenues would give the town slightly more than that to build the library, he said.

Council members also came to an agreement on two design changes to the civic center's administration/police building that they could not agree on at an earlier meeting.

Council members said they want the roof of the Santa Barbara Mission style building to be a combination of clay tile and asphalt shingles, with the shingles in areas not visible to the public and where solar panels might be installed.

Council members also agreed to make a new council chamber and emergency operations center an alternative design that can be built if the bid comes in low enough for the town to afford it.

Council members had been warned at an earlier meeting that their failure to eliminate the new council chamber from the plans and to reduce the size of the building's lobby meant donors of as much as $2 million could withdraw their pledges. The warning came from Didi Fisher, a former Atherton council member and mayor who is one of the heads of the Atherton Now group, which has raised $6.5 million for the new civic center.

While some council members said they did not want to make the council chamber and emergency operations center optional, council member Mike Lempres said structuring the plans in that way will " show the taxpayers generally that we're trying to be prudent."

"I'm a little scarred from our last experience" of receiving a bid 40 percent higher than estimates, he said. Lempres said he doesn't trust the figures consultants and town employees have provided that say the town can afford the slimmed-down civic center design. "I have zero confidence in those numbers," he said.


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