Are libraries, including the proposed Oakton Library, worth going $52 million in debt? Fairfax County voters will decide that at the polls on Nov. 2 in one of four bond questions.
The four separate bond referendums appearing on the ballot would authorize the county to sell a total of approximately $325 million worth of bonds. Each of the four will pass or fail independently. One would raise $52.5 million for the county's libraries, said Lois Kirkpatrick, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Library System.
Of that, $7.6 million would be used to build the new Oakton Library on Hunter Mill Road, adjacent to the Unity of Fairfax Church.
In part, the new library would help to relieve the Patrick Henry Library on Maple Avenue in Vienna. "It's always filled. It's always crowded," said Linda Byrne, a member of the Friends of the Oakton Library.
Patrick Henry is the busiest of the county's 12 community libraries, according to information released by the county about the bond issue. "We are anticipating that [Oakton] will relieve some of the burden off of Patrick Henry," Kirkpatrick said.
IN ADDITION to its current population, the Providence District, which the Oakton Library will serve, is expected to see a 15-percent increase in population by 2020, Kirkpatrick said.
Byrne also cited a study done in the late 1990s, which found that a new library would be needed. The site for this library, which is a 3-acre parcel donated by the developer of the adjacent Oakton Village housing development, fell within the area recommended by the study, Byrne said.
Oakton, like Patrick Henry, would be designated a community library, as opposed to a larger regional library. Fairfax County has eight regional libraries.
Patrick Henry, Kirkpatrick pointed out, serves 54 schools, and Oakton will help cut that number down. "We're open when the school libraries are not," she said.
As a result of the high number of school-age residents that Oakton is expected to serve, the library will likely have a substantial collection of reference materials. "We try to make each branch responsive and reflective of the community it serves," Kirkpatrick said.
A typical community library is stocked with 120,000 items, Kirkpatrick said. These items include books, of course, but also videos, compact discs and the other items that modern libraries stock.
Purchasing all the items for a new library takes 16-18 months, and in this case the estimated cost for the library is $3.4 million, Kirkpatrick said. She estimated staffing costs will be between $700,000 and $800,000 for the first year the library is open.
The money for stocking and staffing the library comes from the library system's operating budget, which is not covered by the bonds. The bonds pay only for construction of the building and some of the internal structures.
County taxes that are used to fund libraries only cover operating expenses, said Roberta Longworth, executive director of the Fairfax County Library Foundation. "The only way to build new branches or renovate existing branches is through the sale of bonds," she said.
If the referendum passes, the library could be open as soon as 2007.
In addition to acting as a library, the facility could provide a focus for the Oakton area, Byrne said. The proposed building would have meeting space available to area residents. "It's going to serve us very well here," Byrne said. "It's close to the school. It's close to the nursing home."
NONE OF this is disputed by Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, but he doesn't like the proposed bond sale. "I have no problem with the library," he said. "It shouldn't be funded through bonds."
Money raised through bond issues is paid back, with interest, over 20 years. The county will pay approximately $234 million this year to pay off past bonds, according to Purves.
The county sold about $198.7 million in new bonds this year, said Len Wales, county debt manager. Interest payments on this year's bonds will total $88,968,245 over the 20 years of the bond, Wales said.
However, over the life of the bond, the money doesn't have the same value. As a result of inflation, the money borrowed today will be worth less when it is paid off.
The total average interest paid on the bonds sold, when inflation and the depreciating value of the money is taken into account, comes to 3.56 percent, Wales said.
After looking at the amount paid and amount sold, Purves said the county is in essence selling bonds to pay off old bonds. "They never should have used bonds," Purves said. Therefore, he added, the county should not sell any more bonds until it finishes paying off its current debt.
Without selling new bonds to pay for the old, the county would have to cut approximately $200 million from its capital budget, Purves said. Capital budgets pay for building new facilities and making major renovations to older facilities.
The amount of debt as a percentage of the total county budget cannot exceed 10 percent. It is currently 8.6 percent, Wales said.
Since the percentage must remain consistent, selling new bonds will not increase the amount of taxes paid by county property owners. This means that the current level of increase in new services can continue without any cuts or increases in taxes.
However, Purves pointed out, if bonds are not sold, the percentage of debt service would drop, and therefore the tax rate could also potentially drop. He estimated that paying off the current debt accounts for 16 cents of the $1.13 tax rate paid by homeowners.
"Bonds are for when you need an amount of money that is more than you can afford in debt service," Purves said.