City still paying for ‘new’ library

Evanston is still spending over a million dollars each year to pay off bonds issued to finance the new downtown library building constructed in 1994.

The reference area in the downtown library.

In a memo to aldermen, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons says bond payments on the library building will total $1.24 million this year. They are scheduled to stay at roughly the same level for the next two years and then gradually decrease until the last payments are made in 2027.

Lyons says the original 20 year bonds issued over a four-year period in the 1990s were refinanced over the past several years to get lower interest rates and in some cases the payback period was also extended.

The amount of any bond debt has been one of the missing data points in the debate over funding for the library. Until the issue of establishing a separate tax levy for the library arose, payments for the library building were treated as just one piece of the city’s overall general obligation payments.

Library board members, in arguing the library is underfunded, have used as their reference point for comparison to other communities the library’s operating budget, which totals $4.2 million this year.

But most communities in Illinois they’ve compared Evanston to operate with separate library tax levies, which include payment for the cost of capital projects.

Lyons said the library also receives a variety of administrative services from the city which would need to be charged back to the library if it established a separate tax levy.

He said there are a variety of ways to determine those costs, but as an initial estimate, he suggested that the library’s share of the costs of the city’s Administrative Services department could be about $240,000.

Lyons noted that if the city were to set those costs at a price the library board thought was uncompetitive, it would be free to try to take on those tasks itself.

He said that would be likely to raise overall costs to taxpayers, because the city would be unlikely to be able to reduce its staffing if it lost the work from the library, given that the library represents only about 5 percent of the city’s general fund budget.

"Cooperation and shared administrative services is the best way to ensure the lowest cost to the taxpayer," Lyons concluded. 

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