Branch libraries cling to life

Evanston aldermen today appeared to reject creating a separate library taxing district, but asked the city manager to develop a plan to keep the branch libraries open for one more year.

At the City Council’s budget workshop session Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said a new library board would not be likely to reduce the total tax burden on Evanstonians and would be more likely to increase it.

So, she said, it doesn’t solve the problem for people like her who are interested in keeping the tax burden down so the city doesn’t increase the risk more residents will fall victim to foreclosures.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, whose 3rd Ward includes the South Branch library, said she’s opposed to cutting the branches and wants to give library supporters a year to come up with funding solutions for them.

"It would be cutting off our nose to spite our face if we don’t give them that time," Wynne said.

She said that, like the mayor, she opposes creating a separate library taxing authority. "The main library building still has significant debt remaining, she said, and a new library district likely would be unable to pick up. She also said she doubted a separate district would keep taxes down.

Wynne added that she also opposes funding the branches through a special service area tax district that would target properties near the branches.

But Alderman Judy Fiske, whose 1st Ward includes special service districts for downtown development, said the idea had merit.

"If you’re going to argue that branch libraries stimulate business traffic, then we should try that option," Fiske said.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward adjoins the South Branch and might be included in a special taxing district for it, said he’d like to see the special tax district idea taken off the table. Wilson said he wanted to see a library funding plan that serves the entire city, including the west side.

Alderman Jane Grover, whose 7th Ward includes the North Branch, said the city needs a better business plan for the branch libraries and suggests that if the city, as proposed, hires a development officer, that new staffer could help in finding additional revenue sources for the libraries.

But Fiske said she has doubts about the long-term fund-raising capability of the branch library supporters, though she wants to see both the branches and remain strong.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she tended to support the idea of a one-year reprieve for the branches to try to develop new funding sources and Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said he agreed that that might be a workable solution.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, urged that the city manager look into ways to deliver branch library services to the west side of town and also consider the possibility of using more volunteers to staff the branch libraries.

"As we consider how to pay for these things, we also need to think about equity," Jean-Baptiste said.

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