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Library: 'Who is going to pay?'
Council concerned about financing move of Athens-Limestone facility

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — "The main thing on the table is who is going to pay, and who ain't going to pay."

That's what Athens City Councilman Jimmy Gill said the city needs to know before it can support a plan to move the Athens-Limestone Public Library into the former Kroger building on Jefferson Street.

The library's board will vote Monday whether to borrow money to buy the Kroger site, which costs $700,000.

The council also plans to vote Monday whether to help the library pay interest on a loan.

Head Librarian Susan Todd and library foundation president Frank McCollum met with the council Thursday to discuss help with paying interest. An anonymous donor pledged $40,000 toward the first year's interest if the city and county would pay the next three years' interest.

On Tuesday, the Limestone County Commission approved paying $20,000 a year for 2008-10 on the interest if the city would ante up the same amount for those years.

"They've put the monkey on our back," Gill said. "I'm in favor of a new library, but what will this do to our appropriation? Will you be asking for an increase there, too? That's my concern."

Renovation costs are estimated at $4 million. Increased operation costs are estimated at $73,786 to $94,786 more a year.

The city appropriated $106,000 to the library this fiscal year. The county gives about as much between an appropriation and TVA in lieu of tax money.

Councilman Johnny Crutcher said the city cannot afford to increase appropriations and may not be able to help pay interest when it expects to have about $19,000 in surplus this fiscal year.

"We may can squeeze out $20,000, but you're going to have to do fundraising to take care of the other," Crutcher said.

McCollum said the foundation wants to hire someone to provide training on raising money. The foundation also is pursuing two private grant groups and talked to Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, about government grants.

"We also want to approach donors about making three- to five-year pledges," he said.

At the Kroger site, Todd said, the library would have room to rent meeting rooms and sell books through Friends of the Library to generate revenue.

The library's current site is adjacent to the Julian Newman Elementary campus and is landlocked.

The building turns 67 years old this year. McCollum said architects estimated that to build a new library the same size as the Kroger building would cost $8 million.

McCollum said if the foundation fails to raise money to renovate the library, then it can sell the site to pay back the loan.

"We're buying it cheaper than any other property has sold in downtown," he said.

The site includes about seven acres.

Councilman Harold Wales said the city may have to make cuts elsewhere to help the library.

"Guys, can we afford to be without a library? That's my question," Wales said.

The council will address the issue again. Its work session Monday starts at 3:30 p.m. at Municipal Court in the new Athens Police Department. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.

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