When the library board of trustees asks the town council Tuesday to approve a special election for a bond referendum to support its renovation project, it may be for less than expected.
Gene Mihaly, chairman of the board, requested a bond question that would give voters the option to outlay $1 million to subsidize the $5 million project. That was at the council’s Aug. 22 meeting.
Since then, however, Mihaly has been handed a check for $400,000 from an anonymous donor. While there is no reason to believe the check won’t clear, said library director Lisa Sheley, the trustees are being cautious about reducing their request to $600,000.
If the donation is successfully deposited into the board’s account, the proposed $600,000 bond, if approved by voters, would not burden taxpayers because it would be reimbursed by the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services.
Voters approved a bond in 2018 for $1 million to support the project, and then passed another bond in 2020 for $1.5 million. While taxpayers will most likely be on the hook for the ’18 outlay, the trustees promised voters that the ’20 bond would be completely reimbursed through the state agency.
The trustees have since learned that OLIS will reimburse them $2.1 million for the project, which is $600,000 more than expected when they sought the ’20 bond. That overage, Mihaly said, will be used to fully fund the bond that the board is currently seeking. The remainder of the money to finance the project will come from grants and donations.
The reason for the third bond request is because of rising construction costs. The lowest bid from three contractors, which was submitted Aug. 10, was 25 percent more than estimated. EW Berman’s base bid was $4.27 million with $377,400 added to install a dumbwaiter and replace the roof. While these options were considered alternatives, Mihaly called that a misnomer because they are necessary.
After money for furnishings, fittings and architectural services are included, the final cost is just $2,600 shy of $5 million. With bonds, grants and donations, the trustees have $4.04 million on hand; that is without counting the pending $400,000 check or the third bond request.
The trustees are asking the council to streamline the special election because the bid from EW Berman expires 90 days after it was submitted. If the referendum is not considered before that deadline, the trustees will have to solicit bids for a second time, which Mihaly believes will result in higher bids.
According to Mihaly, he had “zero” inclination about the $400,000 donation. After the news was reported last week about the trustees being $1 million short, Mihaly was casually talking to a woman about what it would take to finance the project without further burdening taxpayers. The following day, she walked up to Mihaly and handed him a check for $400,000.
“I nearly passed out,” he said.