New Canaan Library in presenting its operating budget for fiscal year 2020 in the coming weeks will request that municipal funding bodies increase the town’s planned contribution to the organization’s widely anticipated rebuilding project from $5 million to $10 million, officials said Monday.
Though the organization will not make a formal capital request this year, “We have shared with every person that will talk to us that we are hearing from the community an expectation that the town should be in at a more significant number,” library Director Lisa Oldham said during a meeting with members of a Board of Finance subcommittee.
“Mainly I hear $10 million,” she said at the meeting, held at the library. “We have shared that with everybody. When we come to talk to you, it is likely that our ask will be more in that range.”
She addressed Neil Budnick and Chris LeBris, members of the Board of Finance Library Liaison Subcommittee. Library Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Butman and Treasurer Harry Spitzfaden also were in attendance.
The comments mark the first time that library officials have referred to the would-be appropriation at a public meeting.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan during a recent press briefing mentioned the figure, and that caused some leg work on the part of the library, Oldham said. For example, many people in town immediately felt they should have a chance to view the library’s rebuilding plans, she said.
In addition, since the first selectman “leaked” the $10 million number, Oldham said, “I got a pledge in for $500,000 from somebody who said they would only give us money if the town was in for $10 million.”
Budnick asked why Oldham couldn’t say as much to the Board of Finance in requesting the larger figure in New Canaan’s fluid five-year capital plan (currently earmarked for $5 million).
Oldham said she is not prepared to give a full “presentation” to the town funding bodies and that the library is “not in a position to formally ask for any money from the town until we have enough private money to know this project is moving forward, and we expect that to be in about a year.”
Echoing what Moynihan had said during the Nov. 21 press briefing, Oldham said, “Here is the thing that I have explained to everybody who will listen to me: If you change number to $10 million, we know it helps us get more private money. The more private money we get, the less we are going to ask from the town. There is a very good reason for making it $10 million.”
Ultimately, Spitzfaden said he would be happy to tell the Board of Finance how upping the figure would help with the library’s fundraising process.
Budnick said it’s likely that someone on the Board would note that the line item is one of the largest in the five-year plan and would ask, “Can you tell me more?”
“You should expect that,” Budnick said.
Oldham said, “This is why I have been hesitant all along, because I know I am not going to be able to respond.”
She added, “Just to be fair, we have had a conversation with every single one of these people, so they actually know the answer.”
To that Budnick said, “We are representing the taxpayers.”
According to Moynihan, the estimated cost of the library’s project has risen from about $25 million to $30 million.
Oldham said during the meeting that the library’s capital campaign has been underway for about one year.
“It’s a quiet capital campaign if we could keep people from town government from leaking it all over the place, actually,” she said.
Asked by LeBris how much money is sitting in the capital campaign now, Oldham declined, citing the presence of the press.
“It is not something that is out there as a public thing,” she said. “I will decline to answer.”
Though a figure was made public as of July 31 with the library’s annual financial statements, “Things have moved significantly since July 1,” Oldham said.
Butman noted that statements on the capital camping include funds received as well as five-year pledges.
“So really what you are looking at is in some cases one-fifth or two-fifths of the total,” he said. “Although the number is high enough now that we have set up separate accounts at Bankwell to manage short-term securities and get a decent rate of return.”
The library and town officials spent part of the meeting talking about the process by which the five-year capital plan changes.
Saying the current $5 million figure for the library did not require any presentation by the organization, Oldham noted that the five-year capital plan now includes a $6 million figure for Waveny House (see page 55 here) that appears to have been plugged in by the first selectman.
“No entity asked him to do that,” she said. “I am struggling with understanding why there is there process for us that seems to be different from the process that happened for the first $5 million to go in or for example the Waveny money. I don’t understand. The process piece eludes me … I am very confused about why I am being asked to make a capital ask.”
LeBris said that as “the asking entity,” the library must come before the town funding bodies to change the earmarked contribution.
“I think all entities, at least from public statements, would probably be supportive,” he said.