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Boise mayor recommends library project be put on “pause”

Posted: 3:57 PM, Aug 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-16 17:57:49-04

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Dave Bieter Friday afternoon recommended city leaders put on “pause” its plans to build an $85 million main library campus project -- and to no longer pursue a special election on the project this November.

In a letter to the mayor and City Council members, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said, “As you know, I have expressed my reservations about the City’s legal authority to request such elections. … I chose to exercise caution in refusing to place such a Special City Question on a ballot, without a Court weighing in on the matter.”

McGrane went on to say he requested advice from both Idaho Secretary of State Laurence Denney and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the matter. “… the chief election official of the State shares my opinion that the City is not legally authorized to seek elections on Special City Questions of this nature.

“I believe a new Main Library is vital to the future of our city and I will remain dedicated to making sure we have one,” said Bieter, who also consulted with Boise City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg, the sponsor of the ordinance passed by the city council in July calling for the November special election, in making the recommendation. “However, with little time before ballots must be printed, and to avoid further confusion among residents, a court action simply isn’t viable at this time.”

What complicates the issue even more: the project planning team informed the city this week that cost estimates for the project have come in higher than expected. The hot construction market and volatility in the cost of building commodities have escalated project costs at a rate that outpaces the city’s efforts to trim costs. “As a result, estimated project costs are above the city’s planned $85 million budget -- with no guarantee that costs will not continue to escalate,” according to a news release from Bieter’s office.

Since the special election is unlikely to move forward, Bieter has cancelled Tuesday’s scheduled public hearing related to the vote, which had been planned for the city council’s regular 6 p.m. meeting. He also cancelled Tuesday’s planned 3 p.m. council briefing on the project -- to give the city more time to understand its options around project finances. “Tuesday’s briefing was planned to cover the project’s next planning phase and cost estimates, among other topics. Much of the information planned for the presentation could change as a result of the new cost estimates,” the release said.

“Our planning process worked exactly as it should by showing us these external market forces are putting too much pressure on our planned budget,” said Bieter. “The prudent option at this point is to pause the project so we can better understand our options going forward.”

Bieter said he will recommend the city explore a number of different options to address the project’s finances. These include, but may not be limited to, exploring greater philanthropic involvement; assessing whether an easing of market forces could help the project’s financial position; and possible design adjustments, the release stated.

“Once there’s a better understanding of how this new information impacts the project, the City of Boise will hold an open house for residents to give them an opportunity learn about these details and how the project will move forward,” it added.

“I continue to be committed to a new main library that meets the needs of our community with a fiscally responsible plan,” Bieter said. “Pausing our planning for the time being is a judicious and reasonable move to ensure a new Main Library is built for generations to come.”