HAWAIIAN GARDENS — City officials may abandon a plan to build a combination library and senior citizens center because of a dispute with county library officials over who should pay to run the new library.
The complex, first proposed by former City Administrator Charles E. Bryant almost two years ago, would cost $4 million to build. Recently, officials of the Los Angeles County Public Library requested that the city pay an additional $1.75 million over 16 years towards operating costs.
City officials, angered by the request, complain that they cannot afford the extra cost. They also claim that since they have offered to build the library with city funds, the county should pay to run it.
"We figure we are splitting the cost with (the county)," City Administrator Darwin G. Pichetto said. "That's only fair."
Library officials, however, say the city should contribute to the operating budget because city officials suggested the new facility.
Loss of Tax Revenue Cited
The county simply wants to receive a share of potential tax revenues that were lost when the new library site on a vacant lot on the east side of Norwalk Boulevard at 221st Street was declared redevelopment land, library officials say.
The city's annual payments would range from $55,000 in 1989 to $209,000 in 2005 under a schedule drawn up by David Flint, the library's chief administrator. The payments would help cover librarian salaries, subscriptions and new books.
The two sides met privately last week to discuss the issue, but were unable to reach an agreement.
If the county is unwilling to back down, the city should "do some serious rethinking" about whether Hawaiian Gardens can afford to build the 22,500-square-foot building, Pichetto said.
The complex would include kitchens, activity and meeting rooms for senior citizens and a 7,500-square-foot library, three times the size of the current storefront facility at the newly renovated Hawaiian Gardens Town Center at Norwalk Boulevard and Carson Street. County library staff members would run the library, and while city staffers would maintain the senior center.
The city does not pay the county to run the existing small library, which was moved to the Town Center from the old City Hall early last year as an interim measure. Construction was scheduled to begin this spring but has been postponed until the cost-splitting issue is resolved.
Pichetto said that although the financing for construction was set aside in the city Redevelopment Agency's 1986-87 budget, the additional operating costs would bankrupt the agency's operating budget of about $2.5 million.
"We don't have those dollars" to both build the complex and pay the county, Pichetto said.
Mayor Suggests Abandoning Project
As a result of the dispute, it might be best for the city to abandon the project and leave the library at Town Center, Mayor Kathleen M. Navejas said. "Maybe that's the best place for (the library)," she said.
Flint said the county is not trying to undermine the project. But he said that the county public library loses about $1.7 million annually to city redevelopment agencies.
When land is set aside for a redevelopment project, the county loses any additional taxes that may be generated by the new development unless there is an agreement to do otherwise. The revenue goes to the city Redevelopment Agency. The county library receives 2.8% of property tax revenues collected by the county.
Flint said it costs the county about $100,000 a year to maintain the small Town Center library, and that a new facility would increase operating costs to about $154,000 in the first year. Even with the city contribution, the county would pay almost two-thirds of the library's annual operating cost, Flint said.
"Somebody's got to pay for that," Flint said. "While we appreciate having a new building (at the city's expense), we then have a disproportionate burden on other cities. We don't think that's fair to the rest of the district."
Agreements With Cities
Flint said the county public library has 24 agreements with cities to rechannel a portion of their redevelopment money to the county to defray operating costs. Cities participating in a "tax increment pass-through" agreement include Montebello, Walnut Park, Norwalk, Paramount and Bell.
"We're trying to get to that level with Hawaiian Gardens," Flint said. When a city decides it needs a new library, he said, the county is expected to go along and operate it for free. "We're expected to buy into that forever," he said. "There has got to be some burden carried by the city."
City Council member Donald E. Shultze said he supported the new library proposal, designed by Anaheim Hills Architects Inc., but now believes that the site would be better suited as a retail center providing city tax revenue. As a public facility, the library would not produce revenue for the city.
Shultze, a member of the council committee studying the project, said he will recommend that the senior center be built on another site and the library remain in the Town Center.