Library guarantees ease concerns of Rehoboth commissioners

Officials from both groups agree to form task force to guide transition
March 10, 2023

It took personal guarantees to not leave the city, the proposed creation of a task force to help with the transition and the suggested designation of a liaison, but it appears Rehoboth Beach commissioners have reached an understanding of why the Rehoboth Beach Public Library needs to open a new main building outside city limits.

Library officials are planning to move the main facility to Warrington Road south of Route 24 to better serve the Rehoboth district, while also keeping a satellite location downtown.

A March 6 workshop was the first opportunity for commissioners to respond to the library’s announcement. 

Mayor Stan Mills said several letters were sent to the city – all were against the move. Some said the city should not allow it to happen, he said.

City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas clarified that the city could not simply prevent the library from moving. In Rehoboth, the library is not an extension of the government, he said.

Library board Vice President Kay Wheatley and Secretary Tucker Kokjohn attended the workshop on behalf of the library. Wheatley said the library has always intended to keep a site downtown.

Kokjohn said it was a blessing when they learned of a deed restriction for the library’s lot closest to Summer House which requires the land to remain a library – the library sits on three lots. Kokjohn said it’s the board’s preference to have a single-story building on the deed-restricted lot, so it worked perfectly.

Commissioner Jay Lagree asked a series of questions related to who determines the service area and if there was data backing the move. Successful cities don’t throw away assets, he said. He suggested the creation of a task force to help with the transition.

Wheatley said the state determines the service area, with Rehoboth’s covering north to Route 24 and west to Angola. Most of the area’s growth has occurred outside city limits, she said.

For the most part, commissioners understood the need for the move, but they urged the library to be much more forward with information.

Commissioner Tim Bennett said there could be traffic issues with the new building because traffic issues aren’t specific to downtown Rehoboth Beach.

Kokjohn acknowledged that to be true, but he countered, saying parking issues don’t go both ways. The new building will have 175 parking spaces, he said.

The city already has commissioner liaisons with a number of groups, including Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, Rehoboth Beach Main Street, Rehoboth Beach Museum, and Cape Henlopen Senior Center, and resident Carolyn Diefenderfer suggested a liaison be designated for the library; commissioners agreed.

Wheatley said the library anticipates moving quickly because there’s $3 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds hinging on the library being open by December 2026. The downtown renovation would be completed in 2026 or 2027, she said.

Kokjohn said the library’s new director will undertake a library usage study to make sure the downtown location meets the needs of its users in the future.

Commissioner Francis “Bunky” Markert said the city isn’t against the library serving its entire coverage area; it’s about what the city is getting, versus what it’s losing.

“We applaud the expansion, but don’t leave us in the lurch,” he said.

Library’s donation request approved

With questions answered and a path forward proposed, the library and the city got back to the original issue – the library’s request for a $75,000 donation as part of the city’s next fiscal year, which begins April 1.

Later that same day, during a budget meeting, Wheatley and Kokjohn were back before the commissioners, assuring them the city’s donation was only going to be used for the operations of the current library.

Mills said constituents have said the library shouldn’t get any money that could be used for its move.

Capital funds and operational funds are kept separate, said Wheatley.

Kokjohn said if the library didn’t get the money, it would have to spend $45,000 in savings. Next year, it would only get worse, he said.

Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski pointed out the library was having a hard time meeting its operational budget now. How would it work in the future? he asked.

Wheatley said they will get more funding from the state and county, and there would be a larger area for the Friends group. Through ARPA funds and the state’s Bond Bill, the library already has $7 million in capital to put toward the new facility, she said.

In the end, commissioners approved the requested amount.


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