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Whittier considers bond issue to renovate Central Library

WHITTIER — Local voters will decide on a $22 million general obligation bond to fund renovation of the Central Library and related parking improvements Nov. 7, but how long it will take to pay off the bonds won’t be determined until the City Council meets July 25.

Council members July 11 directed city staff to consider aspects of a 15-, 20- or 30-year payoff plan and report back. The vote was 4-1 with Councilman Josue Alvarado dissenting, a city clerk spokesperson said.

A decision to go with a bond issue was made June 27 with the council telling staff to report back July 11 with the proper resolutions and ordinances for the vote.

The proposed ballot question is: “To expand 58-year-old Whittier Central Library to meet 21st-century needs, including: providing a children’s area for story times, parent/child reading, and children’s book collections/technology; improving senior/disabled access; expanding/updating computer/technology center; space for up-to-date book/resource collections; relocating the Veterans Resource Center for better service; and related improvements; shall the city of Whittier issue $22 million in bonds at legal rates, requiring independent citizen oversight and all funds for Whittier Central Library only?”

Two-thirds voter approval (66.67 percent) is required for passage, City Clerk Kathryn A. Marshall said in a report to the City Council.

Support for the measure in the November 2017 election was 67.5 percent on the initial test and 68.2 perccent on the final test according to a survey, Marshall said in her report.

Prior to June 27, the council considered and rejected other funding means including a hike of the sales tax or use of existing funds.

It was noted that the fiscal year 2016-17 budget projects a general fund reserve of more than $23 million, but officials decided to retain that for emergency purposes and possible future budget shortfalls.

A sales tax increase was considered unfair to residents who already face one percent increase on a county homeless tax and a transportation tax, the latter approved by state voters Nov. 7. The current Whittier sales tax is 9 percent, which goes to Los Angeles County. California cities receive one percent of their sales tax back.

The survey reported a 67 percent majority favoring the obligation bond with no statistical difference between those favoring a special election this November or the municipal election in April 2018, Marshall said.

The council called for resolutions telling the city attorney to prepare an impartial analysis for printing in the sample ballot, to authorize its members to write an argument in favor and/or against the measure and to authorize rebuttal arguments to be submitted.

Officials also must approve a change in their 2017-18 budget to pay the estimated $296,000 cost of the election.

Ross Financial is to be appointed financial advisor, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company as underwriter and Quint & Thimmig named as bond counsel at an estimated cost of $210,000.

The proposed action also calls for hiring a public relations firm to conduct a public education outreach effort explaining the special election and its effect.

In a report to the council, Marshall noted that on Feb. 28 it authorized Godbe Research to conduct and analyze a voter survey for a possible funding measure for the expansion and renovation of the Central Library, 7344 Washington Ave., and improvements to parking there.

On May 9, council received the results from Godbe Research on the methodology and process for conducting the voter survey to determine community interest in a library construction bond with funding that cannot be taken by the state, Marshall said.

Part of the survey was to determine if the expansion and renovation of the Whittwood Branch Library in 2012 affected overall voter sentiment.

It found support for the bond higher in Districts 1 and 2,which are closer to the Central Library, than in Districts 3 and 4, closer to Whittwood.

Concerning a sales tax hike, Marshall said, “Whittier has the immediate capacity within tax law to add up to 0.75 percent additional sales tax, which could fund the debt service on a library construction bond and provide additional funds for general services.”

Alternatively, the city could forego issuance of a bond and could accumulate $22 million by fiscal year 2021-22 with the sales tax increase, the report stated.

Such an increase would positively impact the city’s general fund budget projections over the next five years, it added.

The report notes that Whittier is one of the few cities in the region that has not increased its general sales tax to meet local needs.

“Whittier has the long-range capacity for up to a 1 percent increase under state law, but Los Angeles County Measure H sales tax for homeless services, approved by voters in June 2017 uses 0.25 percent of that amount for 10 years,” Marshall said in her written report.

 

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