I literally walked into a story Wednesday evening when my wife and daughter and I visited the public library. When we entered the building, there were fans everywhere and the place was oppressively hot. The air conditioner had quit working on a 91-degree day.
When I got to work Thursday morning, I made some calls and wrote a news story about it.
What I discovered was that back in August, the City Council deemed a proposed replacement of the library’s HVAC system so important that council members took from several other department’s budgets to come up with $105,000 for the library. But the HVAC replacement still hasn’t been completed, because the engineer’s estimate came in at about $125,000. That leaves the funding $20,000 short.
Coincidentally, the library’s air conditioner incident came just three days after the City Council voted unanimously to donate up to $30,000 for the operation of the Mitchell Middle School pool next school year. That’s $30,000 to keep open a pool that is not city-owned (the city owns two other pools), and that everybody acknowledges will be closed sometime in the next few years, if not next year.
The pool people asked for the money. Nobody from the library has come to the council, at least that I know of, to ask for the additional $20,000 to do the HVAC project. I suppose that’s the simplest explanation for why one project is getting funded and the other isn’t. It’s also important to remember that the decision to close or keep the Middle School pool open still lies with the Board of Education, so the city’s $30,000 for the pool might never get spent.
I’m not taking a position on either issue. Both the pool and the library are important to the community. But here are some numbers to consider: The pool is used by 81 swim-team members and some of the hundreds of Mitchell Middle School students; the library is used by 11,000 cardholders from Mitchell and the surrounding area.
Again, I’m not saying either facility is more worthy of funding than the other. I’m just saying that this is probably an illustration of the squeaky wheel getting the grease — or, in this case, the money. In fact, Councilwoman Geri Beck, who is the council’s liaison to the library, told me that yesterday:
"It could be that the squeaky wheel gets the grease," she said, "and maybe the library people are just more patient when it comes to these kinds of things."