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Ellsworth library referendum shows slight support

A poster up in the Ellsworth Public Library (312 W. Main St.) urges supporters to sign a petition supporting a larger library. David Clarey / RiverTown Multimedia

By a razor-thin margin, Ellsworth residents showed support for taking on a $3 million loan to help fund a new library in a non-binding referendum.

The votes tallied 572 supporting the loan and 553 against the loan, and leaves library officials, supporters and village officials with a better, albeit minor, sense of how the village residents feel about taking on a tax hike to support the library. The Ellsworth Public Library Building/Space Committee is set to discuss the results, and potential next steps at a Nov. 12 meeting.

“It’s a non-binding referendum, but it certainly shows support for the project,” said Paul Bauer, head of the library’s building and space committee. “It demonstrates that to the village trustees … [and] we look forward to working with them.”

The non-binding referendum is based on a plan to renovate and use the BMO Harris Bank Building on Ellsworth’s Main Street as a new shared home for the library and bank. The library would self-fund, through fundraising, $2 million of the projected $5 million total cost.

The 19-vote win for the library’s supporters doesn’t quite paint a clear picture though of next steps, and the library’s director Tiffany Meyer admitted she still wasn’t sure of what’s to come.

“We’re kind of still in limbo,” she said. “At this point we’re all just kind of looking forward to what these next steps might be.”

Because it is an advisory referendum, despite the result, any action is strictly up to the village board.

The board would likely want to see progress on fundraising efforts before they took on a loan, said Curt Wandmacher, Ellsworth Village Board trustee and rep to the library’s board.

But before the library seriously starts fundraising efforts, it wants a support plan settled with the village, Bauer said.

“It’s really hard to raise funds until we get all the players to the table,” he said.

Wandmacher would have preferred it to be a wider margin of victory one way or the other, but he said this process shouldn’t “drag out for four to five years” despite the close margin.

“By then, the referendum wouldn’t have any meaning,” he said.

Village and library officials have explored upgrading the space since 2012, and a long-range library plan recommended upgrading the 2,880-square-foot space to a roughly 13,000- to 16,222-square foot facility.

If the board was to move ahead with taking on the loan, it would cost about $14.50 extra a month in taxes for residents, based on a $150,000 home value, according to a library fact sheet.

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