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Library board eyes tapping more city funds

Evanston Library Board members, who won their freedom from city budget control just months ago, are already considering asking the City Council for additional money from several sources.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, at which the board voted to close the south branch library, members discussed trying to get funds from the Community Development Block Grant program, the West Evanston Tax Increment Financing District and the city’s Economic Development Fund.

But as the board envisions tapping those additional funding sources, city staff is working to determine how much the library may have to pay the city for services and facilities the city already provides the library.

Library administrator Paul Gottschalk said the transition committee preparing for the switch to a separate library fund tax levy is considering whether the library levy will have to pick up debt service payments on the downtown library building and on a recent $2 million renovation of the downtown library’s children’s areas.

In addition to that, the library may have to pay rent to the city for the north branch library building and perhaps for the main library itself — as well as for services like accounting, payroll and human resources now performed for the library by the city

Those possible additional costs may dramatically limit the board’s ability to increase library spending in 2012, unless it seeks voter approval of an increase in the current 0.23 percent cap on the library tax levy.

Given the acrimony that accompanied the library’s break from city budget control, it’s not clear that aldermen will be receptive to giving the library a pass on paying for the full costs of its operation, or providing them extra money from sources that already have many competing requests for funding.

The board also discussed trying to raise more money through private donations, and learned from Gottschalk that a three-and-a-half year fundraising campaign for the children’s area improvements raised $480,000 — or an amount on an annual basis similar to what the private EPL Friends group raised this year in an effort to keep the branch libraries open.

One option the board did not discuss was trying to raise more money through fees charged the 10 percent or so of Evanston residents who actually check out books from the library — even though the library now recovers only about 5 percent of its costs from its users — compared to more than 40 percent for city recreation programs, over 60 percent for cultural programs and nearly 80 percent for programs at the city’s Ecology Center.

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