LOCAL

Galesburg City Council delivers another split vote on funding community center

Samuel Lisec
Galesburg Register-Mail

GALESBURG — Galesburg will move forward with preparations to sell bonds to fund a new community center after a 4-3 vote in City Council.

City Council members Kevin Wallace, Dwight White, Jaclyn Smith-Esters and Sarah Davis voted in favor of a resolution supporting the sale of general obligations bonds. Bradley Hix, Wayne Dennis and Larry Cox voted against it.

The city administration will now move forward with developing an official statement for the sale of the bonds and meet with a credit rating agency to establish the city’s credit rating. 

The bonds will be worth approximately $5.3 million. The final sale is expected to be brought to the council for approval in March 2023.

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Hix asked Gloria Osborn, the city’s director of finance and information systems, what she anticipated the interest rates on the bonds would be. Osborn said it is too early to know, but a preliminary report showed the true interest rate cost to be 3.6%. 

Hix also asked whether the money acquired through the bond could be used to improve the city’s streets and roads. Mayor Peter Schwartzman said the bonds will be restricted to funding a new community center, a measure he sought support for so there would be no ambiguity or chance for the funding to be diverted to other projects down the road.

Schwartzman also argued that the bond could allow the city to use more of the funding it will gain from the increase to its home-rule sales tax — an estimated annual $950,000 — for improving streets and roads. 

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Dennis asked how the city will cover the rest of the cost of renovating Churchill Junior High, the site the city decided would be the location of the community center.

The city’s last estimate stated the renovations will cost an approximate $7.35 million. Parks and Recreation Director Elizabeth Varner has also given a rough estimate that the center’s annual operating costs would be $587,000.

City Manager Gerald Smith said he was aware that the mayor and a number of city council members are looking to secure fundraising. Smith also said the $5.3 million bond would allow the city to prepare the center in a phased approach.

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Heather Acerra, who is running against Jaclyn Smith-Esters in the upcoming City Council election, said during public comment that she feels disturbed by how people who are against the vote for the bonds are characterized by people who support the resolution.

“You are about to approve a ton of money for a property before the programs have been defined and lined up,” Acerra said. “And it's very unfair for you folks to say that people who are concerned about fiscal management, to say that they don't care about kids or that they don't care about Galesburg.”

Andrea Bejarano-Robinson said during the meeting’s public comment section that she moved to Galesburg in September and would like to see the city support a community center because a center she frequented in Minneapolis while growing up “saved my life.”

"My childhood was changed because of a community center. My mom adopted me and she had a heart transplant and I had nothing to do. I was a lot like these youth now," Bejarano-Robinson said. “I'm 42 now and I have children and I have a community that I want to invest time in and I have my children saying ‘We want things to do.”

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During his closing comments, Schwartzman said he plans to host a forum at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in The Vault for members of the public to discuss possible operations and programming to be held in the community center.