Council: Go ahead, finish library

Columbus Council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday to spend the last of the $6 million in sales tax money on the city’s new library and revise the terms of a land swap with the Muscogee County School District.

The twin votes elicited no dissent, and mean the library board can proceed with completing construction of the $50 million Macon Road facility, while the “memorandum of understanding” or MOU amending the land swap with the school district goes to the school board for consideration Monday.

“We’re glad that’s over with, finally,” Mayor Jim Wetherington said after Tuesday’s votes. Councilors likewise seemed relieved to have the issue off their agenda, for now.

But the final terms of the MOU left those who wanted a park paid for with library sales tax money feeling bulldozed.

Speaking for the Education Park Coalition, Josh McKoon said his group had sought three goals in a compromise to resolve disputes over spending the last of the 1999 library sales tax funds:

*That $3 million be spent on a park-like expanse of greenspace on the remaining 23.7 acres of Macon Road land bought with library sales tax funds. The library site occupies 14 of the 37.75 acres of that property.

*That none of that property be declared surplus and sold off.

*That the property be reserved for public use, not for residential or commercial development.

“There’s nothing in the memorandum about any three of those points,” McKoon said Tuesday.

The MOU sets the goal of spending at least $3 million on landscaping around public buildings to be built on the library property, but specifically defines landscaping not only as trees, shrubs and grass, but also “hardscape” such as stone walls, brick patios, tile paths and wooden decks.

The MOU states that once council approves the library board’s budget for spending the last of its sales tax money, the school board may deem the construction project complete, after which all the land bought with library sales tax funds will be transferred from the city to the school district.

That initiates the land swap the two bodies agreed to in March. The school district will give the city 6 acres of land on which to build an aquatic complex, a city service center and a parking garage. The city will give the school district the Firestone property it owns at 3120 Macon Road and some vacant Veterans Parkway land next to the Mildred Terry Branch Library, which the school board wants to expand.

The library board has to request sales tax money from council because the city collects and distributes such revenue. Appointed by the school board that ultimately owns local libraries, the library board directly oversees the library construction. Once that construction is deemed complete, the library land bought with sales tax funds is transferred from the city to the school board.