Cecil County Council Questions Planned $19.9 Million North East Library; Local Taxpayers to Foot up to $16.9 Million Bill

September 23, 2015

Members of the Cecil County Council, who raised questions during this year’s budget deliberations about a nearly $20 million new library and administrative offices for the county’s public library system in North East, were briefed this week on the project, which could also set up a potential clash with the town over the fate of the old library building.

The county library system recently won a major national award for its services and library supporters have been vocal in county budget hearings to endorse the system’s budget proposals. So far, the Council has supported funds for land acquisition and initial planning for the North East facility but several councilors have expressed reservations about the added-on costs of moving administrative offices from Elkton to designated space at the new North East library.

“I think we can all agree” the county needs a new library in North East, Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) said at a council worksession attended by library officials on Tuesday. “But the question is how much can we afford.” Hodge noted that the new library was “competing” with other major projects and services, such as road paving, law enforcement and the county schools. “We have to allocate our scarce resources” carefully, he said.

Denise Davis, the library system’s director, outlined the need for a new facility to replace the small, aging library and explained that moving administrative offices from Elkton would free up space at the main library for books, computers and patron services and prevent the need for an expansion of that busy facility for many years to come.

Throughout her presentation, Davis broke up cost figures by various line items and increments in the building process, leaving some Council members trying to calculate the full costs without ever getting a bottom line figure from the director.

After the meeting, Cecil Times questioned Davis about the figures and she produced a spreadsheet totaling the cost over multiple fiscal years at $19,965,000—including land acquisition, construction, equipment, computers, and supplies. She estimated that the state would contribute from $3 million to $5 million. So county taxpayers would be asked to pay from $14.9 million to $16.9 million.

Davis told the Council that the old North East library, built in 1991 at county expense but on land owned by the town adjacent to the town police station, contains just 2,800 square feet of public space, eight public access computers, and parking for 12 cars. The new facility, to be located on land purchased from a nearby shopping center, would include 30,000 square feet of public space plus an additional 15,000 square feet of library administration office space. (The library administrative offices currently occupy 8,000 square feet at the Elkton facility, Davis said.)

It is the administrative offices segment that has raised concerns, with Councilor Dan Schneckenburger (R-3) questioning the projected cost of $330 per square foot for both the public spaces and administrative offices. “There’s no question we need a new library” in North East, he said, but the costs for the 15,000 square feet of administrative offices “should be costed at half that number.”

Davis said that the state would “normally” not contribute anything to the costs of constructing and outfitting administrative offices but she said the state might make an exception because it would be integrated into a new facility and would free-up space in Elkton that could be converted to public use areas. She said initially that converting some space in Elkton for STEM science programs for children could be done at little to no cost, but later in her testimony she said the library might come back to the county in the “CIP” (capital improvement budget) for money for further alterations of the space in Elkton.

Davis urged the Council to stand firm in support of the North East project, saying that any “waffling” by the county could undermine grant applications to the state. “There’s got to be strong county support,” she said. Any cuts or delays in allocation money in the county’s capital budget would “pull out the rug” on the state grant application, she said.

County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) said the library project was an “investment” in the future “and I support it completely.”

Hodge inquired if the library system had plans for the old library building and Davis said no. She pointed out that the town owned the land but the county owned the building, so any decision on the facility’s future would be up to those parties. “I know that will be an interesting process,” Davis said with a smile.

The county government has frequently been at odds with North East’s Mayor-for-Life Robert McKnight on multiple issues in the past, including the town’s setting of higher water and sewer rates for non-town residents and businesses served by the town facilities. That feud went to the state Public Service Commission with the result that the PSC ruled the town must conduct a formal rate-setting procedure and win PSC approval in the future for out-of-town rate hikes.

Hodge asked Davis to provide additional information about book processing and related activities that would be conducted in the administrative space at the new facility and he also inquired if she would be willing to reduce the size of the administrative space if the state refuses to give aid to that function under its existing policies.

Davis was reluctant to entertain that suggestion, saying it would not be “effective” to do so.

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8 Responses to Cecil County Council Questions Planned $19.9 Million North East Library; Local Taxpayers to Foot up to $16.9 Million Bill

  1. Jeannette H on September 23, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Only $19.9 Million–what in the world are they thinking! They can’t spend $5,000 for ground maintenance on the south side of the canal at the Stemmers Run park and boat ramp that the county executive wants to close, but she can find millions for administrative offices and a public library. Do we really need such lavish public libraries and administrative offices? I really would like to see statistics on current usage of this public library as well as the Elkton library and look at cost per resident using the facility in addition to cost per sq. foot.

    How many additional jobs is this new library going to bring in, what additional costs for labor and benefits, etc. for this new facility. Obviously a larger building, greater operating expense.

  2. Harold McCanick on September 24, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Another county department shrouding their agenda with diversion and deception,and another councilperson willing to rubber stamp it.

  3. Schoolmarm on September 25, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Where to begin….many of the statics the poster desires can be found in the CCPL annual report, copies of which are available in each of the system’s seven branches. Better yet, stop in the current tiny, tiny North East library where one can see some of the 50,0000 Cecil County library cards holders using facilities and services provided there. There is no doubt that North East needs a new library. Even when the current library was built it was too small for the population. NE is the county’s fastest growing area, so one should construct a new library with the future in mind.

    The administrative offices are for the entire county’s library system; thus will mean Elkton’s library will not need expansion in the near future. That saves money. Building a two story building will also lessen over-all expense. A county government willing to spend nearly 18 million dollars on athletic playing fields must also spend appropriately on its library system. The public library system is our country’s most democratic institution and it is worth every penny, and every million, spent on it as it benefits all citizens, not just athletes, or students, etc. Check a bustling library in the county and see.

  4. Ron Lobos on September 26, 2015 at 5:44 am

    The first thing I ask myself is where we are going to get $16.9M. The obvious answer is that taxes will need be raised. But then, that can’t be the source because all of the Council and County Executive campaigned on the promise that they will fight increased taxes. So either all of our elected council and the county executive lied to us in order to get elected, or they have a source to come up with this money that we are unaware of. Which do you think it is?

    One thing that should be brought to mind is that if the County Executive Moore had not over funded the CCPS for FY 2016, we could have bought and paid for this library in just 4 short years.

    The next thing, and the most important thing that must be done, is to prioritize what are the most pressing needs in Cecil County. While it is true that I am a big fan of the Cecil County Library system, is that really our most pressing need? I would venture to say that if we polled the voting public to find out what they think this county needs most in order to prosper in the future, they wouldn’t have mentioned a new Library for $20M. I don’t even think they would have mentioned the new Sports Park that we will be spending $9M on. My guess is that they would describe the most pressing needs of this county by using words such as: jobs, job opportunity, infrastructure, lower taxes, economic development, etc.

    I suggest that County Executive Moore and all of our Council members think this thing through one more time before passing this feel good proposal on to the people in the way of increased taxes or loans that will be felt by all for many years to come, just so they can feel good about themselves.

  5. Ed Davis on October 1, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Hope this has better long term planning than the 1991 bldg. did !

    • Harold McCanick on October 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      The one we replaced the windows on that didn’t need to be replaced?

  6. Ron Lobos on October 3, 2015 at 9:50 am

    I would love a new library, but I have a novel idea that addresses the most urgent problem in Cecil County. Drugs. What if we did what they did in Gloucester MA and put an announcement out to all heroin and opiate addicts. If you have an opiate or heroin problem, turn yourself into the police and we will help you. Spend this $19M on a program that will help find a way out of this hell hole for addicts.

    Library followers may have to drive an additional 8 miles to go to the Perryville Library, but this problem must be addressed first. It’s part of our humanity. Since June, 137 addicts have sought help in Gloucester and have received it. I believe we could do the same.

  7. Kennard Wiggins on October 6, 2015 at 10:21 am

    The existing North East library is a perfect example of how not to build a library. It was undersized and obsolete the day it opened as a result of trying to get by with less than the community deserved. Penny wise and pound foolish is the term that comes to mind.

    Conforming to the County Strategic Plan goals and to state standards for libraries, the new library will be a place to serve the approximately 26,000 residents in the fastest growing part of the County. It will at last be able to serve children’s summer reading programs, new business development, support for veterans, serve as a jobs resource for the underemployed, and more programs to numerous to list here.

    About half of our citizens hold an active library card, contributing to literacy, an informed electorate and continuing adult education and development. The Library serves as a community center and haven and offers an alternative to youth “in the streets”. I could go on, but suffice to say that the public library is among the most frequently used and popular services the County provides to its citizens.

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