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Renton voters should consider everything, even the library what ifs | Editor's Note
Some people call them "what ifs."
It's better to call them risks. Think of that age-old tactic of listing out pros and cons before you make a big decision.
But whatever you call them, they have to be considered, even if they seem far-fetched or are fueled by misinformation or misunderstanding or are red herrings, something that distracts from the real issues at hand.
I bring this up because it would be a shame that if, when the library vote is finally taken and certified, that someone says, "We didn't know that," or "Why didn't you tell us that?" The first is the result of not becoming informed and the second is the result of those with information – including about risks – not sharing that information.
In the case of the library those obligated to share what they know are the City of Renton, the King County Library System, the two library camps and the Renton Reporter.
Tracey Compton and I thought a lot about how we would report and write the story about an issue we – and a lot of other people – thought was settled: is the library vote advisory or binding on the City Council?
Zonetta Fontes, Renton's assistant city attorney, told the City Council on April 9 the ballot measure essentially tells the public to either choose the current library site or the site west of the Piazza and is not an advisory vote, according to the meeting minutes.
Then, as we reported the library story, we started hearing that maybe the vote, under certain what ifs, would in the end have to be just a sense of the community's wishes. In reporting this, we're not trying to spread misinformation or create fear. It has to be considered because the risks are real possibilities.
It was a real possibility that the wording "two replacement libraries" on agreements between the City of Renton and KCLS meant that the Cedar River library would be replaced. For whatever reason, that possibility just didn't resonate with everyone.
I don't want that to happen again; a lot of Renton and KCLS officials and citizens on both sides of the issue feel the same way. KCLS sent out a letter to Renton residents about its $13 million estimate to refurbish the Cedar River library because it's in the business of providing information to people.
So back to the what if.
The City Council is caught between a rock and a hard spot.
Politically, it can't ignore the wishes of the people – where to locate the downtown library. After all, the council was the one that asked voters the question, with a healthy push from about 6,300 Renton residents.
But then there's the hard spot, the what ifs, the risks. To ignore those potentially could put the city's finances and services at risk, or less dramatically, mean more money from taxpayers or something that's not quite a state-of-the-art library.
THE RISKS: The city does not have the extra $3.6 million on hand right now to bring the Cedar River library to KCLS standards, based on the current KCLS estimate. Permitting could take a long time, making the bond dollars less valuable and construction costs higher. KCLS simply says it wants the city to honor its agreement to build at the Big 5 site, with the possibility of a lawsuit its ultimate stick.
I am not trying to scare you or misinform you. The main thing is that you know the possibilities, the risks. Know, too, that both sides, KCLS and Renton, seem willing to sit down and try to fulfill the public's wish if at all possible.