Evanston Library Board members Wednesday night were told that to maintain existing services under the independent funding model they’ve sought will require a nearly 11 percent boost in property tax revenue next year.

Board members stressed that they’ve made no decision yet about what level of spending they’ll approve.

The budget estimate, prepared by board members Diane Allen and Susan Newman and library administrators Lesley Williams and Paul Gottschalk, assumes a four percent increase in all existing expense lines and starts to build up operating reserve and capital reserve funds that the library will need to be able to handle budget emergencies on its own.

In planning for next year’s budget, Gottschalk said, city departments have been told to assume that costs will rise four percent, but that the departments will have to cut spending enough to fully absorb those increased costs.

The reserve funds proposed are extremely modest by most municipal government standards.

The operating reserve — which would have to be drawn on if tax revenue or other funding sources failed to live up to projections — is set at $100,000 — or less than two percent of the $5.01 million budget.

“That would keep the doors open for about a week,” Gottschalk said.

The City of Evanston by policy maintains a reserve of at least one month of general fund revenue and in practice has maintained reserves equal to about two months worth of spending.

And the city, with many different revenue streams, has much more flexibility in dealing with a budget shortfall than the library will as a separate entity dependent on the property tax for nearly 90 percent of its revenue.

Top: Board member Diane Allen discusses the budget planning document. Above: Newly appointed board member Ben Schapiro was sworn in just in time for the budget debate.

The capital reserve — also pegged at $100,000 — falls far short of what will be needed to cover a projected $1.5 million in library capital needs over the next five years.

Board members — clearly feeling squeezed between EPL Friends members demanding increased spending on branch libraries and a sense that many taxpayers will demand that they show at least as much budgetary restraint as the City Council — scheduled two special meetings for next month to work on the budget.

Those meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays Aug. 17 and 31.

The board faces a September deadline for adopting its first tax levy under the library fund model.

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Library issues

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Does Wally understand his own budget?

    It appears to be getting more confusing here by the minute.  Wally is proposing mid year changes to the current budget.

    Next year he claims the budget faces a 1,5 million short fall and he wants to take 2 million out of operating for capital.

    Now the city staff is saying they have been told.

    In planning for next year's budget, Gottschalk said, city departments have been told to assume that costs will rise four percent, but that the departments will have to cut spending enough to fully absorb those increased costs.

    The translates to 3.5 milloin cut,in the total operating budget to make up the 4%.  forget about the total budget which is the capital since at mid year now Wally is adding to this year budget.

    This appears to be 7 million dollars to operating, this make no sense. Add on top of this Wally said no cuts to police, fire or water. Other departments would need more than 4%.

    Does any one understand what is going on here?

    Things appear to be spinning out of control!



    1. Say what?

      Ponzi said:

      "The translates to 3.5 milloin cut,in the total operating budget to make up the 4%.  forget about the total budget which is the capital since at mid year now Wally is adding to this year budget.

      This appears to be 7 million dollars to operating, this make no sense."


      Yes, Ponzi, this make no sense.  No sense at all.

  2. Confusing

    Why would going on their own require such a huge property tax hike? Is this because they need to gather their own operating reserve capital?    What if EPLFriends helped them get this money?  I'd donate money to get the library out of Wally's control.

    1. Pay for what you use?

      Or, you could make a $1 gift to the library for each book you borrow. If everybody did that, it would raise about an extra $1 million a year — 20 percent of the total projected budget.

      1. Pay for what you use


        While it's not really in keeping with the spirit of libraries, I actually would support something like this- (As an aside,   I actually do end up paying almost $1 book, because I"m guilty of chronically bringing in books late :0 

         It seems that many arguments against the north branch are that it is taking resources/money from the main library.  What if the north branch, and only the north branch, charged a "convenience fee" for checking out books in this location?    I wouldn't want to see $1 for every single book, because I think this would dissuade families of small children from checking out lots of kid books.   However, what if there was an overall fee for each checkout? 

          What is the figure on the # of patrons that check out materials?  How much money would be enough to sustain the north branch if something like this went into effect?

        Still not sure the exact figure on what it costs to keep open North Branch?

           Many of us North-siders lament that we can use our bikes/walk to north branch, and we want to keep  library access local.  If the north branch closes, most of us who use it will have to pay anyway for gas, to park, or to take public transportation- so maybe those who use the north branch should just pay for what we use…. 

        I would rather do this that completely split the north branch location from the main library. I place a high value on the services of the professional staff operating out of main.

        1. Cost of North Branch

          Hi Jen,

          The budget figures distributed at Wednesday night's library board meeting project that the cost to operate the North Branch for 2012 will be about $211,000.

          That's roughly four times what the Friends claim to be spending on the volunteer-run Twig.


          1. $211,000?

            Thanks Bill-  

              So this argument is about saving $211,000?

              What % of the city budget does this represent?  The library budget?

              I asked the board members of EPLFriends what it costs to keep open the Twig.  They say:  $58,000.  But no body is taking a salary at the Twig.

              How many patrons does North Branch have?

          2. The argument…

            Hi Jen,

            The argument is about how much the city is going to spend on library services and how those services are going to be distributed equitably.

            Having one professionally-staffed branch library in one corner of town is — to many people — inequitable. Having any branch libraries is seen — by many people — as a luxury the community can ill afford.

            (Of course there are other people who hold the opposite view on both questions — that's why there's an argument.)

            It's not clear how many patrons either of the libraries have because no count is kept of the number of unique visitors each building gets.

            In terms of total number of visits — not visitors — in the past four months the main library has had 175,000 … the north branch 22,600.

            For the month of June the number of books circulated from the north branch was 7,090 … about 10 percent as many as the 70,316 circulated from the main library.

            (All these numbers are from the board meeting packet for its Wednesday meeting which you can find online here.)

            — Bill

          3. LIbrary Facts without fighting.

            Bill- thanks for the information-  

              Here is a summary for all the readers who've followed this debate of all I've found about our library system.      I definitely will get a life this weekend, promise 🙂

            If anyone sees errors, please clarify.

              My goal is not to create another argument thread on this blog, but to put the facts on the table, so we can all discuss rationally some options. It's long, so brace yourselves… 


             I. LIbrary System Underfunded as a Whole

             Here is a comparison of how Evanston funds our library compared to some other communities-

                           Per Capita         Per Capita  Levy          Levy as % of Revenue
            Evanston                     $57.64              $50.72                    88.0%
            Champaign                  $96.72            $90.88                     94.0%
            Des Plaines               $119.36            $108.31                 90.7%
            Arlington Heights        $175.75             $169.66               96.5%
            Skokie                         $207.00              $194.45                93.9%
            Northbrook                $211.47               $189.44                 89.6%

             From the above figures it appears that our library, as a whole, is grossly underfunded compared to other communities. The median home price in Evanston this past year was $299,500.  For comparison, the median home price in Skokie is  $195,00, but they pay 4 times into the library fund than Evanston does.  Of course, they have Old Orchard to supplement their taxes. But Des Plaines?  Their median home price is $155,000 and they still afford to give almost double to the library compared to Evanston.   Makes me wonder why a town that prides itself on educational excellence does not place higher value on libraries, as a whole?

            2.  North Branch is a Luxury that  we can not afford

            From these debates, I've sensed the feeling that paying $211,000 a year to keep open the North Branch is a luxury and must be cut due to budget constraints, because there is no place else to cut.   Here is a summary of all the money spent by city council just this year.  One might call it investment, but for the most part,  I call it waste that could be cut-

            • $325,000 to purchase vacant property on Howard Street in Anne Rainey's 8th ward district (with the intention of re-selling it to a theater company, but no money has been re-claimed yet.)
            • $100,000 Grant for a feasibility study to discover if the old theater that sits vacant above the Gap building downtown can profitably be re-built.    There is still no theater in this space.  Nothing has been printed about it recently, and a private self-financed developer just proposed plans to create a theater where Tom Thumb now sits, in downtown Evanston.
            • $20,000 Grant to developer at Main/Chicago to pay for portions of their marketing materials.   Not sure why this development group could not take their own risk?
            • $100,000 to clean up the site at 2424 Oakton Street in order to prepare for a Gordon Food services building.  Gordon Food services has not actually purchased the lot yet, or made any written commitment to buying the space after the location is cleaned. Furthermore,  city staff only recommended $40,000, but Anne Rainey convinced the council to spend more (the site is in her ward)
            • $41,450  Five buildings downtown Evanston  receive matching grants from city funds to beautify their exteriors
            • $55,000 city grant (to match a federal grant of $220,000) to conduct a feasibility study on the development of a new EL stop location on the yellow line in Evanston, which is also in anne rainey's district.    This is only puzzling when one looks and sees that just two months prior, the CTA was thinking of shutting down two purple line stops due to limited funds and low ridership.

            • City Council  debates in March, 2011 to give themselves a pension for their part time service.  The city has to match these funds.

            • $700,000 per year to run the 311 call center
            • $1.26 million dollars per year for the Evanston Township Assessor. What does the township do you ask? The Deputy Assessor of  Evanston Township wrote this on the Evanston now blog on June 28th, “The Evanston Township Assessor has programming designed to locate comparable properties to contest your assessed value to either the Cook County Assessor or the Cook County Board of Review.” Basically, they provide advice to property owners about how to challenge their tax assessments – This information regarding tax assessments (i.e. getting PIN numbers, finding the assessed values of neighboring properties, etc.) is now easily available on the both the Cook County Assessor's web page and even on the City of Evanston's "About my Place" link.      Sounds like it could be cut?  The alderman needed to call for a study to look into it.  No editorial on how much this study will cost us taxpayers.  I could not find further information about whether or not the alderman decided to cut it or not.

              In addtition,  to just one household, $211,000 to keep open a library is a ton of money.  But to the city of Evanston 2012 projected revenue of $88,160,093(correct me if I"m wrong, I found this on the city website), the north branch represents just 0.2%.  

            EPLfriends wants to fundraise to supplement the $211,000 to keep open the North Branch.


             3. EPL friends should change their name because they are misleading people and taking money from the main branch 

             From the library board last night, two people spoke up that the EPLfriend name is misleading or taking money away from the Main Public Library.   I looked up the two fundraising methods listed for the Main branch:  Evanston Public Library- Fund for Excellence (raised $80,000 in 2011) and Book sales (raised $11,794 in 2011).    I do not have the figures from 2009 from when before EPLFriends existed in it's current form. Have donations from either of these two sources gone down, possibly indicating that funds have been siphoned away from the main branch?  The library board's 2012 budget predicts that the 2012 income from these two fundraising areas will be the same as in 2011, so they do not appear concerned that people will give money to EPLfriends instead of the Main Branches funds.

            4.  Having just one branch is not equal, so it's not fair.

             Here is an interesting figure from the Library Board packet-  

            Children’s Summer Reading Report – May-June 30, 2011

              Location    Total Registered          Total Visits         Minutes read in June
                  Main               1626                         1246(7.5%)                  229390
                   North              468                            321(8%)*                    57490
                    Twig             213                         125(18.4%)*                 20620
                     Robert Crown 139                     64(34%)**                         7885
                       SRS                76                       17(23%)#                           3880 

            Totals 2402 1773 319,265
            *Percentage represents the % of visits that occurred at a location other than where registered initially. All
            those registered at Twig that played elsewhere played at Main. All but one of the players from North who
            played elsewhere played at Main.
            **The Robert Crown players played at Main and SRS in addition to Crown.
            #Summer Reading Stop kids also played at Robert Crown(3) and Fleetwood(1).


            From these figures, it appears that all areas of town- North, South, West, and Middle have local access to the summer reading program, in  part thanks to the all the taxpayers and in a  part thanks to donations from EPLfriends members.  From the June Library Activity Sheet I've located, it appears that the summer reading game is the largest children's library outreach program during the summer.  During the month of June alone, the library staff, paid for by taxpayers,  lead assemblies at 5 Evanston Schools, including 1,245 children.  

            5.  It's selfish to keep North Branch because only a few people use it

            .  I am looking at the library board statistics that show that just during the month of June 2011,  7,643 people visited the north branch and collectively checked out 7,090 materials.  This represents approximately 10% of the users and materials checked out in the entire library system.

            6.  EPLfriends are just a mean group of rich selfish people who are just all about "me, me, me".

             Nodbody actually wrote that anywhere, but it definitely feels like there are many people in the community who have that held that thought right inside their teeth.  I don't have any facts to prove you wrong, other than to say- I'm sorry you feel this way.  I hope that you will give us a chance to prove you wrong.  

            Evanston needs to rise above this fight. 

            To the library-  Please let EPLfriends become a partner with you!  .  Let us fundraise with you, for you- Yes, to keep the north branch, but also to expand the other great work you do. 

            To everyone- get behind our library system!  The city council has not been adequately funding the library, as a whole. The library board members should never have been placed in their current situation.  ALlow the library to take control of their own budget, and support them!



  3. Evanston is a small enough

    Evanston is a small enough city that a single, central library can serve the entire community.  During the school year, school libraries can meet the needs of children in the neighborhoods.  Perhaps the Library Board could simply grant monies to schools for increased hours and use of these de facto neighborhood libraries, and utilize community centers as mini-libraries (perhaps as places with access to the library's book search system to request particular books, and as local places to pick up and drop books off.)  If EPL Friends has the non-property tax income to operate additional neighborhood libraries, then God bless them.  The Library Board itself can then focus itself on priorities EPL Friends cannot.

    1. North Branch is only community center in 6th ward

      This is not a bad idea in theory, but no elementary school will be able to do this.  For safety reasons, schools have to be very controlled about who is allowed in and out of the building.

        Having community centers fill the role of mini-branch libraries is also a also not a bad idea.  There are books available at some of the park facilities already- including Robert Crown, Fleetwood Jordain, and the Levy Center, to name a few. 

      However, the north branch is the only community facility within the 6th ward.

        Therefore, if we are talking equitable access to services, what about the 6th ward tax payers?  Like it or not, many of us think that the North Branch is our local community gathering point.  


      1. North Branch is where?

        The north branch library is actually in the 7th Ward, although close to its boundary with the 6th.

        See ward map here.

        The city's three community centers are located in the 4th, 5th and 7th Wards … so most Evanstonians get along without having one in "their" ward.

        But the 6th Ward does have some lovely parks, and the city's newest fire station, and its only forest preserve.

        — Bill

        1. ridgeville gives more programs on teh south too…

          Yes- It's on the border, oops-  But most facilities are bordering 2 or 3 wards- and the north branch is the only thing that lies on the 6th ward border.    Every other ward also has something or borders a facility, except for the 3rd ward- and they now have the Mighty Twig.

                But putting aside this argument, because I admit it's sort of a stupid point on my end- 

                What if the North Branch library became something like the Ridgeville park District.  For those of you who don't know, South Evanston, including all of the 8th and 9th ward as well as southern ends of the 2nd and 4th ward,  has it's own park district, on top of the services provided from the regular Evanston park district which the whole town property taxes support.   This is from their website:   "The  Ridgeville is a separate governmental agency based exclusively in south Evanston. In 1939, residents voted to set aside a portion of their property taxes for a separate, local park district that would meet their need for accessible green space and cultural opportunities. Because we’re a public agency, Ridgeville events are always free, and our classes and camps are always affordable, with special subsidies for RPD residents."         

            Is anyone complaining that Ridgeville offers duplicative services to the regular evanston community services?  It appears that the south end of town also wants to preserve some "homey" community services, housed in building that looks just as "loved"  as North branch.   

            I can't speak for everyone in the 6th and 7th wards, but I'd pay an extra few dollars to create a North End Library Fund of some sort-  How much money is required to keep open north branch and how much would that translate per $1,000 of property taxes if only the 6th and 7th ward residents paid for it? Before getting all upset  at more taxes, can someone find the dollar amount and post it?     

          What exactly does it cost to run NOrth Branch? 

          1. A separate Library District was rejected by Friends/Board

            They could certainly do this. And it was part of the "sustainable funding" report that the EPL Friends-dominated task force that was done last year.

            However, they recommended that the board not take this action precisely because it would have to go to the voters first (shudder!) and they knew people would reject it.

            Also, the library board would then have to be an elected body directly accountable to the voters (another shudder!).

            The Libray Board NEVER gave a satisfactory answer to why they didn't pursue this reasonable option. Instead they exploited a loophole in an antiquated state law to pursue their idiotic plan to "save the branches."

            The real culprits here are the city council. Their phlegmatic response to the board was despicable. They basically let the Library people do what they wanted to.

          2. Mayor’s role

            I don't think this is totally accurate-   The mayor chose the library board members, hand picking board members who are anti-branch libraries- 

            As and EPLfriend member, I would rather have voted for board members who have library experience than the people Tisdahl chose.  

             I do agree that the real culprits are the city council. Anonymous AL above has it all right up there.  There is no leadership in this town.

          3. Redistricting is the solution

            So the 5th ward has to have a school, and the 6th ward has to have a community center….perhaps we can solve all of these problems by redistricting.   Next time, let's make sure that all nine wards have a sufficient number of facilities. 

            I don't know why this matters to anyone…if you live at Central & Hartrey,  is Chandler too far away because it is in a different ward?  If you live at Central & Green Bay, are you going to stay away from the parks that are in the 6th ward?

  4. A good library or a bunch of also rans ?

    Take a look at the books and magazines the EPL Main already can afford—or more importantly cannot afford.

    Instead of having one good or very good library, the 'Friends' or whatever these "Me, Me, Me" groups call themselves now, want to drain resources to their little book nooks.  Yes they probably never made any gifts to EPL-Main before these campaigns, but now they and those who go along with them are trying to drain interest, resources, budget and time from the one good library.

    There is and always will be only so much money. As long as the Council wants to take up every hair-brain project, zone/tax/delay every business [except the 'chosen winners' they make gifts to], the city finances won't improve and more recreations centers [and even recreation], library support and other such things will have cuts.

  5. City Council needs to show some chutzpah

    In my humble opinion, this entire library episode is needless and tragic.

    If the City Council and city manager had taken proper steps to make the necessary cuts in services and labor and freeze pay raises and overtime pay early on this Recession – say in 2008 when the Council gave themselves a 20 percent pay raise – we might not be in this mess.

    Instead, the Council waited until last year to layoff employees, raised taxes and fees, increased the duplicative Evanston Township Assessor's Office by 80 percent and spent about $1 million and hired another 20 union employees for a new 311 Call Center. At the same time, the Council eliminated the branch libraries – a pittance in the city's budget.

    So good folks organized to try and keep the branches open and then the Library Board decides to do an end around and declare itself a taxing body. So now Evanstonians will get a new tax from the Library Board, governed by members who are NOT elected officials. Meanwhile, the Library Board now will operate on its own and will surely levy taxes to the hilt  – afterall, they are appointed not elected – as they banter back and forth with the City Council and city manager. 

    The Library Board should at a minimum be an elected board. It is not and that will cause future problems.

    Meanwhile, our City Council continues to find ways to sell off assets and consider closing down more community services such as Chandler, the Ecology Center, etc. all the while giving pay raises to government unions. The city manager has said recently that there should be no layoffs in the police and fire departments. 

    Labor is by far the biggest cost items in our budget. At the very least, pay raises and overtime pay should have been frozen years ago because it was crystal clear way back in 2008 that property tax revenue would be on the decline for years to come.

    There does not seem to be any serious effort from our City Council and city manager to look for ways to consolidate or privatize services. Other cities are privatizing ambulance and sanitation services and then cutting staff. Evanston has two fire stations about a mile apart on Central Street. Why not close down one of the fire stations, layoff some firefighters (none have been laid-off in this Recession) and then create a tri-city fire service agreement with Wilmette and Skokie.

    Since this Recession, our City Council has NOT engaged in any creative or serious cost cutting solutions in our budget, just minor items such as the branch libraries or selling a park and building to Chiaravelli School.

    We could have our branch libraries, parks, recreation centers and so on and not face annual tax and fee increases if our City Council would just show some chutzpah and make hard decisions on the single-largest expense in our budget – LABOR!!!!!


  6. Libraries Yes, Friends No

    Before we have to hear one more time what great supporters the Friends are of the library and it's mission, let's talk about the fact that the Friends recently filed a FOIA request to obtain the list of donors to EPL's Fund For Excellence. One can only imagine what they are going to do with these names and addresses. Sounds competitive and undermining to me. Behavior like this is unethical and in a time of budget crisis that threatens the health of the library system as a whole, unconscionable.

    1. Force EPLFriends to Change Name. Yes!

      I suggest we petition city council to use our tax money to conduct a research study on this topic:

      How many charitable, but feeble minded people, have mistakenly given money to EPLfriends, instead of the Fund for Excellence? 

       If the study finds that many people have been confused by the obviously unethical, unconscionable  efforts of this so called Friends group to privately fund library activities, I suggest we use tax payer money to enforce a new ordinance- 

      No privately funded charities of any kind should be allowed to supplement the declining Evanston city services, except for those whereby the majority of citizens approve of the charity and believe that it's cause is worthy.  All those charities who try to raise private financial support for any "unworthy" cause should be chained to one of the many empty storefronts throughout town- For public stoning.  Or perhaps we could use books in this instance.

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