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The city of Boise released early renderings in 2018 of its tentative design for the future main library. 

BOISE — The city of Boise might use cash to pay for the new main library in order to avoid a new state law requiring a vote on projects that use urban renewal funds.

On Wednesday, city spokesman Mike Journee said the city is considering using its capital fund to pay for the library project, removing the need for long-term lease financing through an urban renewal agency to pay for the roughly $85 million project. The proposal still needs to go before Boise City Council for deliberation and a vote, which he said should come up “in the next couple of weeks.”

By using cash, Journee said this would save the city an estimated $15 million by eliminating the need to pay interest on the lease payments to the outside agency that took on the debt for the project on behalf of the city. It is unclear how using significantly more cash than originally budgeted for the project could affect other projects in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan or other initiatives.

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The question of whether a vote would be needed on the library project has been swirling since state lawmakers passed HB217a at the beginning of April. Under the legislation, if the combination of urban renewal dollars and other public funds makes up more than 51 percent of a project cost, it will have to receive 60 percent voter approval before moving forward. The amended version also requires there be a minimum of $1 million urban renewal funds used to trigger a vote.

These changes were for projects using urban renewal funds to build public buildings, libraries and sports parks. Because of the timing and inclusion of specific provisions including sports parks and libraries, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter was deeply critical of the legislation. Journee called it “a direct partisan” attack on projects the city is working on and the city’s use of urban renewal in general.

This is separate from the recently qualified citizens ballot initiative that would ask voters if they would like to vote on the main library or sports park projects in November.

Margaret Carmel covers the city of Boise. Follow her on Twitter @mlcarmel or reach her by phone at 757-705-8066.

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