Unable to reach agreement on any other course of action, Evanston aldermen voted Wednesday to hand over control of library spending to the Library Board.

Alderman Judy Fiske’s plan for special library taxing districts went down to defeat.

The aldermen, deeply split over whether to have branch libraries and how to fund them, voted to provide the Library Board the same amount of money recommended by the city manager, but give the board discretion over how to spend it.

The city manager had recommended closing the branches and modestly increasing funding for the main library downtown and other outreach efforts.

The approved funds will only pay for a half year of branch library operation at current levels, unless offsetting cuts are made at the main library.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, had proposed creating Special Service Area taxing districts to fund the branches, but branch backers, unwilling to pay extra for the extra service they receive, persuaded aldermen in neighborhoods near the branches to oppose that measure.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said people living near the north branch library already pay high property taxes and shouldn’t have to pay extra for the library.

Alderman Mark Tendam

Joining in opposition to Fiske’s SSA scheme were aldermen who have voiced support for closing the branches, or have objected to their unequal distribution around town.

SSAs, if adopted, would have given the Library Board an additional revenue source beyond the tax-cap limited library property tax levy it plans to impose on Evanston taxpayers starting in 2012.

And, a report presented to aldermen Monday indicates that if all Evanstonians were to have access to a library within walking distance of their homes, the city might need as many as five or six more branches than the two it has now.

The library funding debate is sure to return to the City Council within several months, as the aldermen and Library Board try to work out what costs the library should have to pick up from the city as it asserts is taxing independence for the 2012 fiscal year.

As the board was told by experts it invited to a seminar Saturday, the city could charge the library rent for the city-owned buildings it occupies, as well as seeking reimbursement for administrative services it provides the libary and payment for remaining bond debt used to build the main library.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Library Board – Do the right thing!

    I am unable to attend tonight’s Library Board meeting, but I want to ask the Library Board to do the right thing and use the monies approved at last night’s City Council meeting to expand Collections and improve outreach services vs. using them to continue operation of the branch libraries.

    In the past, you have used libraries in other municipalities as examples of how they operate under the Library Fund.  What you failed to mention in those examples is that none of these libraries (Arlington Heights, Skokie, Northbrook, DesPlaines, etc.) have branches…all operate with one main library and funding goes toward providing the best services possible through that one main library.

    I attended the Library Funding Forum held back on August 28th.  At that time, I asked the question whether the move to the Library Fund model was being done to ensure the existence of the branch libraries or would funding go toward other services.  The answer I received at that time from the Board was no decision had been made on the branch libraries and the monies were desired to minimize the cut in the Collections budget.

    With that response, I hope the Board will do what it stated at that meeting and use the funds accordingly.

  2. What was the vote?

    Bill, Could you give us the roll call for the SSA amendment and other votes pertaining to the Library?

    1. Roll calls

      Roll calls were in our live coverage here.

      But, to recap,

      Only Fiske and Jean-Baptiste voted in favor of setting up SSAs for the branch libraries.

      Only Fiske and Burrus voted against the motion to give the library board a free hand in spending the money budgeted for libraries for FY 2011.

      — Bill


  3. High taxes?

    I am curious about what Alderman Tendham means when he says that branch library supporters pay too much in taxes: I would respond by saying that all of us are paying a lot of taxes, but many of us don’t get a branch library out of it.  

    Bill, is there any kind of rubric out there comparing tax rates/incomes/etc. around the City?  Are the northside residents in point of fact sending more of their incomes to property taxes?

    1. More taxes

      I think that what Tendam  means is that the people in the 6th ward have more expensive houses, so they are paying more money in taxes…therefore, they deserve to have a branch library in addition to their new fire station.

      1. North Branch

        The north branch library is in the 7th ward.  There are no libraries or community centers in the 6th ward.  The 6th ward has 3 parks, 3 pocket parks, and the lone Cook County Forest Preserve District property in the city.  Feel free to continue to begrudge the fire protection provided solely to the 6th ward residents. 

  4. Where’s the leadership?

    It’s disappointing to see the council unable or unwilling to exercise some leadership on this issue. It doesn’t bode well for the future when really difficult issues like pensions have to be addressed.

  5. $ for libraries

     I thinkt Judy Fiske’s proposal (at last night’s concil mtg) to  allocatie $150,000 of the city manager’s large discretionary fund to the libraries needs to be followed up on. I was sorry that that piece of her proposal was not amended to the final motion that gave the library board control. ??

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