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Aldermen wash hands of libraries

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.

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