Gift horse gallops in if voters allow

The Business Report in an April editorial endorsed the prospect of a special tax-supported district to fund libraries in Fort Collins and selected outlying areas, and urged a ballot measure to let the voters decide.

Now that the district proposal is on the November ballot, voters who favor the creation of a district similar to the one that supports Weld County libraries have new reasons to cast their “yes” votes.

At a late August public meeting, the Alabama-based developers of the proposed Front Range Village retail project on East Harmony Road outlined their vision, one that includes a southeast branch of the Fort Collins Public Library.

Bayer Properties Inc., flying well under the radar with its plans until that night, had said little about the library’s inclusion in the project. But with more than 150 neighborhood residents attending, the library proposal occupied a fair share of the stage.

Bayer’s commitment is this: The developer will commit 16,000 square feet of second-story “air space” to the Fort Collins library system, located in a Main Street-style building set well apart from the two big-box retail anchors, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and Super Target.

While the library has available a $5 million construction, equipment and furnishing budget for the branch, the cash-strapped city has indicated that it would not be able to commit to an ongoing operating budget.

In other words, unless voters approve a funding mechanism for the library, in the form of a special district, it’s unlikely the city would be able to take advantage of Bayer’s offer.

Reasonable voices in the business community have said the burden of such a district falls too heavily on business, and that enterprises would bear a disproportionate share of the costs.

But the prospects for building a first-class branch library in the fastest-growing part of Fort Collins, with Bayer’s help, are simply too good to pass up. Fort Collins is a city that has staked a fair measure of its Best-Place reputation on the quality of its educational institutions, libraries included.

Assuming the city’s planning and zoning board approves the Front Range project, the library district vote becomes more important than ever.

Mindful of the reasonable objections to the district plan, we urge a yes vote on the district question that would allow the city, in effect, to get something for nothing.