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Largo considers borrowing for library

If Largo borrows money for the $8-million to $10-million project, work can begin sooner, officials say. A study says the library must nearly double in size.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000


LARGO -- City commissioners say the city may borrow about $4-million to pay for a new library.

The move would be an unprecedented one for Largo; city officials say they have never borrowed money from a bank or issued bonds to pay for a city project.

"This was a major decision," said City Manager Steven Stanton. "Largo has never done anything like this before."

The estimated cost of a new library, $8-million to $10-million, is too high to pay out of the operating budget, commissioners said. But by borrowing a large portion of the cost, commissioners think the city could start construction as early as 2002 -- a year earlier than previously planned.

Commissioners discussed the idea Saturday during the second day of a "visioning/strategic planning workshop" at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.

Though considered one of the major attractions in downtown Largo, the library is undersized, according to a study completed in December. The study concluded that Largo needs a library of about 68,000 square feet, nearly double its current size of about 36,000 square feet.

"A majority of the commission believe the needs warrant sooner rather than later," said Commissioner Marty Shelby.

Under the city's present long-range plan, commissioners agreed to spend $4-million in Penny for Pinellas funds for a new library in 2003. If commissioners decide to borrow money or issue bonds, design plans for the new library could begin as soon as this year, Stanton said.

The new plan would call for borrowing $4-million and seeking another $4-million through grants. The rest of the potential cost would be covered by the fundraising efforts of library supporters.

"This is going to take a major community effort to get this thing accomplished," Shelby said.

There was no consensus at the weekend workshop about whether to issue bonds or borrow the money from a bank. Largo would pay back the money with future Penny for Pinellas funds.

Although commissioners have not decided on a location for a library, they are seriously considering the east part of Largo Central Park.

Commissioner Pat Burke, long opposed to any plans to build on park grounds, said she would reluctantly agree to the suggestion if it meant the city would not build on the western portion of the park.

"It breaks my heart," she said.

During the mayoral campaign, Bob Jackson said he would be willing to issue bonds to pay for a new library in a timely manner.

Jackson, who became mayor in April, said he supports the idea and thinks it will allow the city to spend some of the Penny for Pinellas money on other major projects such as road improvements, a new fire station and land purchases for more playground space.

"It allows you to do other things," he said Monday.

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