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Library board takes up budget debate tonight

Evanston’s Library Board meets tonight amid few signs that its clash over funding with the City Council is heading toward an early resolution.

At Monday’s lengthy City Council meeting some board members voiced opposition to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s proposed compromise ordinance on library funding while others said they wanted to wait until the board’s own meeting tonight to discuss it.

They also said the board tonight will review a number of budget scenarios developed by the library’s staff.

At the City Council meeting roughly two dozen residents spoke in support of the library board’s plan to impose its own tax levy.

But aldermen noticed that most of the speakers were from north Evanston and appeared to have been prompted to come by an e-mail missive from the Evanston Public Library Friends group that urged them to "man the lifeboats" and abandon any reliance on the City Council for funding.

The e-mail dismissed the mayor’s compromise ordinance — which would have established a floor for library funding at this year’s spending level. It also noted a presentation on pensions the mayor had arranged for Monday’s meeting that was billed as forecasting possible bankrupcty for the city and called them both "scare tactics" that could "cause us to lose our libraries."

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that when he held a ward meeting on library funding a few months ago, most of those present felt the city’s budget crisis made it appropriate to close the branch libraries.

He said he thought the joint session of the council and library board was meant to establish a dialog, but it appeared to have been turned into a public relations battle instead.

Noting that some library supporters had said that the so-far unspecified increase in taxes the Library Board is proposing would only amount to the cost of a few trips to Starbucks, he said many people in Evanston can’t afford to go to Starbucks and can’t afford a tax increase of that size.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said there are areas of the city that have not embraced the library board’s perspective, but so far have not organized to draw people out to public meetings. "It may be wise — to make that decision to draw people out — in the future," Jean-Baptiste added.

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