City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the mayor’s budget task force Tuesday that city staff is exploring the possibility of creating special taxing districts so that neighbors of Evanston’s branch libraries would pay for them.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the mayor’s budget task force Tuesday that city staff is exploring the possibility of creating special taxing districts so that neighbors of Evanston’s branch libraries would pay for them.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the state Special Service Area legislation under which the districts would be created has rarely been used for libraries but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the legislation that would prohibit such a use.

The districts are more often used for economic development and infrastructure projects, as with the downtown special service area in Evanston that’s used to fund the Downtown Evanston marketing and management organization.

Bobkiewicz said officials are also looking at the possibility of a separate city-wide taxing district for the library, but said the more targeted taxing district seems to be “the cleanest way” to address the problem.

Lyons said it will cost more if a separate library district is created, based on his experience in other communities.

Supporters of a separate district, “after swearing up and down that it won’t cost more,” Lyons said, will find that a separate district adds duplication of administrative costs.

“The first cost is $50,000 for an accounting system, then money to hire an accountant or bookkeeper,” Lyons added. It’s not mismanagement, he said, just that those things and more are needed to run a separate district well.

None of those costs would be required for a Special Service Area because it would be run by the existing city administration.

“There hasn’t been a groundswell saying the library now is mismanaged,” Bobkiewicz said, “My sense is it would get overly complicated to have separate management.”

If the City Council decides to use the Special Service Area approach, it may be difficult for taxpayers in the affected areas to resist the move.

The state legislation governing establishment of the districts requires that a majority of all property owners and all registered voters in the district sign petitions objecting to its creation within a 60-day period in order to stop its formation.

Lyons said the added tax bill for such a district would be dependent on the size of the area included within it, which would need to be worked out based on data showing where most current patrons of the branches live.

But he said that as a formula for thinking about the cost, if the budget for a branch was $250,000 and properties in the proposed district had an assessed value of $100 million, the city could set a tax rate of 0.25 percent to cover the budget. If there were 1,000 properties in the district, making the average assessed value $100,000, then the cost per year for the average homeowner would be $250.

Members of the mayor’s budget task force were divided on the merits of the special service area concept.

Aleks Granchalek said he was concerned about the negative option or “reverse referendum” approach required of taxpayers objecting to formation of the district.

Raymond Summers said that, given the different levels of wealth in different parts of town, some neighborhoods might opt to pay for a branch library while others wouldn’t feel they could afford one.

Jeanne Lindwall said a special service area would make sense because libraries serve as an anchor for the business districts in which the are located, giving a reason for business owners as well as residents to be part of the taxing district.

But Lou English objected to any tax increase at a time of such financial strain. “I live in Northwest Evanston,” he said. With the kids going in and out of the bakeries and the good business other merchants are doing, English said, “the Central Street corridor will thrive without the library.”

Granchalek said he said he has a hard time believing the South Branch is an economic engine for its shopping district.

English said, “We have a beautiful main library downtown. In a town of just eight square miles that’s easily accessible given our transportation system, let’s face it, kids can walk to the main library.”

And Candace Hill said, “Skokie does fine with one library. Wilmette does just fine with one. The only thing is that over the generations some people in Evanston have gotten a real attachment to the branches.”

Former alderman Steven Engleman, noting that the branch libraries have been a hot-button issues for decades and the task force’s primary task is to look a long range budget issues, suggested that the group shouldn’t take a stand on the branch libraries and just offer information to the City Council.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Library tax
    Sounds like another tax by the liberal elite who are used to having everything handed to them, don’t want to have to travel more than a few blocks for anything and want on those who can’t afford more taxes to pay for their “style of living.”

    While those north of McCormick and east of Chicago Ave. can probably afford a new tax, I suspect those from roughly Howard to Dempster and Chicago Ave. to Ridge and south of McCormick will not welcome a tax.

    And the idea of having to petition to avoid a tax strikes me as a liberal ploy since the lower the income status, the harder it is to get petitions signed—just look at studies concerning census cooperation.

    If people absolutely want branches, perhaps the better way is for those in the area who want it to ‘adopt’ the branch and pay its expenses or have the branches charge for each book checked out.

    After all this is a luxury for those who supposedly want to walk to the branch—though I suspect we would find 90+% drive—so like any luxury they should pay for it.

    Just like with the historic district in NE Evanston, the rich liberals [with the most valuable property] will find ways to get themselves excluded and places like NU dorms included.

  2. Grasping at Straws
    I live next to the South Branch library, but I prefer to use the Main Library. It is not much further to take the kids there, it is nicer, and it has a better selection.

    Why should I have to pay extra just because I happen to live near the South Branch library? Just because it is there doesn’t mean I am using it.

    I understand layoffs hurt, and it is a hard decision to make to close the branch libraries, but this proposal to appease a few people, keep the branch libraries open, and save jobs just does not make sense.

  3. Wait for all the facts
    There’s more than one way to skin this cat, and if done right would not end up costing anyone more than they are currently paying. We are waiting for more information and will respond once we know more, but for now, please don’t assume that a different solution equates to a more expensive solution.

    Funny that Hill mentions Skokie and Wilmette as they are both funded in a way similar to that which we propose, but in much smaller communities, where one library probably makes more sense.

    English says, “the Central Street Corridor will thrive without the library.” The merchants say otherwise, calling it a “death knell” for Central Street. The hugely expensive Central Street study done by the city a few years back said it was integral to the success of the district. South branch patrons feel the same.

    Find out more at http://www.branchLove.org

    1. Skokie isn’t a much smaller community
      FYI – Skokie isn’t a “much smaller community” but in fact has a population of nearly 69,000, according to the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community. Like Evanston, Skokie has a significantly diverse community, both in socioeconomic and racial/ethnic terms. Its library is rated in the 97% percentile of American public libraries, with a HAPLR score (the rating system for public libraries) of 855 vs. Evanston with a score of 749, putting it in the 88% percentile.

      Evanston has long raised the most private dollars of any of our peer libraries through the Fund for Excellence, which covers 20-25% of collection purchases, and through its endowment, which has a long history. This is very unusual in municipal or library district libraries in Illinois.

      To compare the branches of San Francisco, a much larger city where neighborhoods are significantly different than each other and distances are greater, to Evanston, a town under 8 square miles with excellent public transportation, is really apples to oranges. Branch libraries in large communities or in county library systems have a real function for access. Here in Evanston they are simply a convenience that over and over has been shown to serve a small portion of the population and primarily people who live within a relatively short distance.

  4. library
    75 ILCS 16/Art.10 provides for a way to convert the present system that is overseen by the City to one overseen by its own elected board. Wilmette operates this way. Lighthouse and Ridgeville Park Districts do too. Changing who oversees the would not change the tax rate.

    The current levy of $22 per $5000 of taxes provides $63 per capita to all libraries in the Evanston system. Wilmette, a separate library district, funds at $140 per capita. Winnetka is at $151. Glencoe is $198. We are the lowest on the north shore. See figures at Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    There is a foundation that accepts donations for the libraries. I think if people want to give extra money to a library, that mechanism is already in place. It raised something like $80,000 last year.

  5. Library Tax
    The idea of a special tax should be put to rest fast. The issue is that hard choices must be made. That is why we have elected our alderman. Evanston is facing a dramatic fiscal crisis. We cannot have everything. With a fantastic main library nobody will be denied access to the resource. People may have to drive a bit. It is a better option than an additional tax. Maybe if the City of Evanston had an economic development plan that could generate tax revenues, we would not be in this position. Building upscale condos is not economic development. Evanston needs a broad economic engine to support such luxuries as neighborhood libraries.

    Make the hard call.

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