The Zephyrhills City Council should abandon permanently the idea of relocating its public library — an ill-conceived scheme that is being considered for the third time in four years.
Changing direction now, after hiring an engineer and architect to plan the renovation and expansion of the library at its current site on Eighth Street, could have long-term implications detrimental to the city's image.
A wishy-washy council that ignores its own professional staff and citizen advisory boards doesn't exactly spur confidence that it will act decisively on other matters intended to spur economic development. And less than three months before voters will choose whether to renew the Penny for Pasco sales tax, the public must have faith in the city's stewardship.
Last week, council president Jodi Wilkeson promised to resurrect the twice-considered and twice-discarded plan to put the library in the former Wachovia Bank Building on Fifth Avenue, the main east-west street through downtown. A 2008 feasibility study found the 9,700-square-foot vacant bank would not suffice as a library. Among the drawbacks: an inability to house books on the second floor without steel beam reinforcements; questions about wind load and asbestos; the existence of a vault and stairwells that curb unusable space; and the need for extensive renovations, including a new roof for a building built in 1973. In other words, it's a fixer-upper that, in the end, is projected to add just 1,600 square feet of space for books.
The council affirmed that decision again in November 2011 and began advertising for an engineer and architect to plan an expansion of the current 4,500-square-foot library next to City Hall on Eighth Street. The city has $1.5 million from the Penny for Pasco to pay for the improvements, and the expansion could add as much as 6,000 square feet of space depending on cost projections.
However, last week, proponents of the bank location asked council to reconsider. One of the illogical arguments offered was that a library building on Fifth Avenue — less than two blocks from the current location — would be a magnet for downtown activity and a boost to businesses.
This idea is simply about enriching the private sector. The building owners, TAK Properties LLC of Dade City, acquired the building for $550,000 in February 2009. The current asking price is $995,000, according to the real estate website LoopNet. The city said the Library Advisory Board was quoted $855,000.
It's still pricey. In 2008, when the city passed on the bank building initially, the price was $600,000. The Pasco Property Appraiser's Office values the building, for tax purposes, at less than $400,000.
Incidentally, the owners paid nearly $8,800 in property taxes, including $2,560 to the city of Zephyrhills, on the building in the current fiscal year. Taking prominent downtown property off the tax rolls is not financially prudent when a reasonable, government-owned alternative sits approximately a 10th of a mile away.
This is a no-brainer. The city has the ability to get a larger library with adequate parking on land it already owns. Or, it can cave to a special interest, buy an overpriced building and shoehorn a smaller library to fit the space. That course of action will leave the public with a vacant library building less than two blocks over and a reduced tax roll.
This doesn't need a third vote. The city of Zephyrhills needs to expand its Eighth Street library.