Members of the Evanston Library Board voted 6-2 this evening to levy their own tax on property owners next year, asserting that they need a predictable and stable funding source.

Board member Diane Allen-Jacobi and Chair Christopher Stewart were among those voting for the tax levy.

Board member Dona Gerson argued that the board was moving too fast in imposing the tax this year and that it should take a year to gather community input before making the switch.

“This is too fast and disruptive, to say ‘We’ve found this power. We’re going to use it. Now step aside,’” Gerson said.

But member Susan Newman said she’d studied the idea extensively and felt strongly that the imposition of the tax levy “is a very good move.”

Gerson said that in talking with library board members in other communities she’d learned that the separate library tax levy worked well in some towns but had been the source of much friction between library and municipal officials in others.

Board member Dona Gerson said the group was moving too fast.

After agreeing to sever the library from the City Council’s budget review process, the board members then discussed how much to raise spending in next year’s budget — but reached no decision, directing staff to prepare three different budget scenarios for increases ranging roughly from zero to 10 percent.

They also speculated about how much capital costs they might incur if a new location is found for the South Branch library.

Gerson said, “Pretending that we’re not going to increase the tax levy is a charade.”

But member Diane Allen-Jacobi said she didn’t see the board “proposing an increase in any budget at this point.”

The current spending level for the library would cost the owner of a $600,000 home $366 a year, and under the state statute the unelected board would have the power to raise that to as much as $658 a year — an 80 percent increase.

Three aldermen attended the library board meeting, and Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that as a taxpayer he believed the move to a separate levy would be “a serious mistake.”

“The public perception,” Wilson said, “is that because this is not an elected body, the board would not be accountable to taxpayers as elected bodies are.”

“You should take seriously those kinds of taxpayer concerns,” he added. “Because you exercise restraint doesn’t mean that the next library board will.”

In addition, he said, having the separate tax levy “runs the risk of politicizing the appointment process” for future library board members.

City Attorney Grant Farrar said that while the state library statute seems to leave the municipality no discretion in carrying out the tax levy set by a library board, court cases interpreting the statute “are all over the map.”

Years ago the library board had pushed for its own levy, but had pulled back when the then city attorney threatened to file suit to block the move.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that the library board, by setting its own levy, might have to absorb the cost of some services the library now receives from the city that aren’t included in the current library budget.

But he said it was too early to estimate how big those charges might be.

Update 11:10 a.m. 8/5: The two board members who voted against imposing the tax levy were Dona Gerson and Lynette Murphy.

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Library board eyes grab for your wallet

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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15 Comments

  1. predictable and stable funding?

    Per the story – the library board wants "predictable and stable funding".

    Here’s my take – perhaps I am all wet on this, so shoot me down if I am…

    Doesn’t each one of us want "predictable and stable income"? Don’t businesses want "predictable and stable patronage"?

    Where in today’s economy is predictable and stable anything?

    Translation of the library board statement – "we don’t any authority over us on funding and we will not yield to decisions that might favor other city functions at our expense"

    We elect the members of the city council to look over everything upon which our money is spent (within their purview), debate the demands coming from each and make a decision that the council believes is in the best interest of the citizenry. We elect them to use their informed judgement so that we, the citizenry, do not have to stay on top of every consumer of our taxes.

    Suppose we had a board for streets and sanitation, one for the police and the fire department and so forth? We’d end up with each telling us they absolutely must have X amount of dollars – with nobody riding herd on them. This is a recipe for putting more of a burden on the taxpayer by placing more elective officers on a ballot,  bypassing the council.

    The more that the city council oversees, the less the decision making on funds allocation is forced onto the voters.

    Of course the library board is unhappy with decisions by the council. Ask city employees if they are a happy group.

    Declaring independence of the council on funding for the library is not in the public interest.

  2. Vote out all Democrats and petition to remove the Council

    Does anyone understand the significance of this cheap charade?

    1) A typical home or condo owner is going to shell out hundreds more a year for this new taxing body.

    2) This library board is not elected – it is appointed in three year terms – giving the mayor and the Council even more power and political influence and taking away an equal amount from voters.

    3) This was sudden and fast with NO public hearings on this matter.

    4) Now the Library Board is talking about opening ANOTHER branch?

    5) There was no public discussion between members of the Council and the Library Board as to how much money the library would get from the city.

    6) Where is the outrage from Mayor Tisdahl and Council members? They had to know this was going to happen.

    7) My Lord, Evanston is dominated and controlled by a one-party government system where party bureaucrats run roughshod over the masses. Robyn Gabel is not elected yet she is now making legislative decisions as our state rep and she sat idly by as she watched her only other potential opponent get unfairly kicked off the ballot – no choice for voters this year. And voila – Gabel wants to raise taxes.

    In a time when we need tax relief that calls for less government,  school district consolidation, elimination of the duplicative Evanston Township Assessor Office and closing down one of two fire stations on Central Street, what do we get? No layoff of existing firefighters and a costly court battle with the unions, the EXPANSION of the Evanston Township Assessor’s Office, higher school taxes, and now a library tax amounting to hundreds of dollars to each property owner. Does ANYONE understand we are in a deep recession with a state unemployment rate near 10 percent and billions in state debt?

    This is what happens when there is no political diversity, no political opposition, when one party rules absolutely with absolute disregard for its constituents. It is the arrogance of this one-party that not long ago had a supermajority in the Congress and Senate (now only one vote shy of that) and control of the White House.

    I suppose right now all the Democrat movers and shakers are out whooping it up, celebrating King Obama’s birthday. For the rest of us – "let em cake."

    Tonight’s vote has convinced me I have not given enough money to the local Republican party. I’d rather donate my money to the Republicans than to the Democrats, controlling every aspect of government.

    I can see November from my front porch. My wife, once a diehard liberal Democrat, and I will be out canvassing and campaigning to oust Schakowsky, Quinn, Giannoulis, Periwinkle and other Democrats. And we will be active to vote out everyone on the Council, including the mayor when the time comes.

    If you are outraged by this new tax shoved down our throats as well as continued spending and borrowing by our so-called leaders – some of whom were not elected – Quinn, Stroger, Burris and Gabel – then you would and should do the same, regardless of your political loyalties.

    We can start a petition to remove the mayor, everyone on the Council and the Library Board.

    Vote out all Democrats in November and beyond.

    Yes we can!

    1. Al, you are being silly again

      "We can start a petition to remove the mayor, everyone on the Council and the Library Board.

      Vote out all Democrats in November and beyond."

      Al,  you have previous posted messages in favor of KEEPING the branch libraries.

      Now, you suddenly get upset when your fellow library lovers propose levying taxes to keep your beloved North Branch library open.  And you propose an irrational, nihilistic ‘solution’  ( remove everybody!).

      The mayor and council were elected just a year ago, Al.  I didn’t vote for Fiske or Tisdahl, but they won.  Now you propose just firing everyone…as if new aldermen will make more money appear for pensions and libraries without raising taxes.

      I am against this library tax, and against keeping the branch libraries.   Al, you seem to be in favor of keeping your pet library, while not paying for it.   You are like the tea partiers who want to stop government healthcare, but keep their Medicare.

      1. Incorrect, Mr. Who Knows

        Incorrect, Mr. Who Knows.
         

        I was ambivalent about keeping the North Branch open. I also was proud, amazed and supported the two grass-roots groups that worked to keep the branch libraries open – Friends of the Evanston Library and Save Our Branches.

        These groups raised almost $200,000. If they have any decency they should return the money.

        I’m outraged because there is a NEW unelected taxing body in town. And it came unexpected in the middle of the night with no public hearing.

        I had hoped the North Branch Library, which I have used in the past, would remain open with the help of a grass roots movement. Now, I am so disgusted with the Soviet-style tactics from the Library Board that wielded itself taxing power that I want the branch libraries to close
        no matter what.

        The Mayor and most if not all Council members had to know the Library Board was preparing to do this. This was discussed and strategized behind the scenes. What does the Mayor and our Council members think about the UNELECTED Library Board voting itself the right to tax hard-pressed residents?  Hardly a peep from them.

        The mayor and the Council members are likely complicit in this shameful and disgraceful display of taxation without representation.

        Read your history, Mr. Who Knows. 235 years ago, brave sunshine patriots risked their lives to revolt against a king’s taxation without representation. It is in our DNA to revolt against such
        travesty.

        America is a republic – we elect representatives to vote for our interest in government politics. The Library Board is not elected and this unelected body voted itself the power to tax and the power to
        raise those taxes. And our elected representatives say or do nothing about it.

        Yes Mr. Who Knows,  Evanstonians can sit idly by and watch our elected officials do little to provide tax relief and remain silent when an unelected and unchecked body of government decides to enact a new tax with the power to raise taxes at will.

        With a depressed economy, heavy taxation, high unemployment and massive foreclosures in Evanstion, it is clear these are times that try men’s souls.  We need common sense back in government, and ALL of us need our inner sunshine patriot to shine.

  3. No. Just NO.

    It seems I recall something I learned in school… something about about taxation and representation. Since the Library board is NOT elected, they do not represent anyone’s interests except their own.

    If this tax is only directed toward those who pay property tax, then ONLY property owners should be allowed to use the facility free of other charges. You can have a multi-tiered system of cards:

    Tier 1: All access cards for Property Owners and Renters (who pay tax via rent). Open borrowing, no reservation fees, no late fees, priority scheduling for meeting rooms, etc.

    Teir 2: Partial access for Students. University students do not pay property taxes so they get to visit, but not borrow materials.

    Teir 3: Everyone else must pay their fair share by "buying in", so charge for admission, add up hourly fes to sit and read or use it as a warming or cooling center, or just loiter. Charge to borrow books and other materials.

    Alright, so the above was written partially tongue in cheek, call it an example of how the creation of a caste system of The Privledged can be started. Next step: Only taxpayers allowed to vote?

    Then again, with tongue not-so-much in cheek,  I can and will refuse to pay a tax levied by an unelected board that as gotten that power by "Divine Right" of political appontment.

    It would be interesting and amusing to know how each member of the board voted on this issue, and WHO appointed them to the position.

     

    1. Mayoral Appointments

      It would be interesting and amusing to know how each member of the board voted on this issue, and WHO appointed them to the position.

      The Library Board of Trustees, contact info and term expirations can be found on the Library website here:

      http://www.epl.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=110&Itemid=208

      They are appointed to 3-year terms by the Mayor, and can be re-appointed once (so, 6 years maximum).  We’ve had two mayors in the last 16 years. Only one Trustee has a term expiration after April 2012 (appointed in 2009), so only one has been appointed by Mayor Tisdahl. All the other Trustees were appointed by Mayor Morton. Unless these appointments differ from any other city board, the appointments are formally approved by the City Council.

      Ann Rainey reports on her message board that one of the two "no" votes was Trustee Lynette Murphy. The other has not been confirmed there, nor here.

  4. Who appointed the clowns to the library board?

    We all know who appointed most of the clowns to the libray board the Mayor. These people telling us there will be no tax increase out of one side of thier mouths and then talking about increasing the budget out of the other side of their months. I find it interesting the City is taking action against the fire fighters for wanting to set their own staffing level which would set possible tax increases, now these clowns want to set their own funding level. Looks to me this is the same thing uncontroled taxation. City staff better collect up all the real costs here and tell the clowns. This may not look so good once all the real costs are figured out. What is interesting here is Wally in charge to fire and hire the library director ( Mary Johns ) or is the board? Who gives her direction? The board or Wally? There are many hidden costs the silly clowns on the board have no clue about. Remember some twenty five years ago a former city manager set the water charges to water customers in other cities, now we hardly make any money on the deal, ten or tweny years from now if a large expense occurred it will be interesting to see how the clowns ( new set of clowns ) will handle it!

  5. NO WAY

    This Board is out of line.

    You want the money for your libraries – EARN IT.  Charge those that use the library… to… use the library.  Very simple concept. 

    Do not lean on me, and us, the residents of Evanston to fund your initiative.  No entitlement.

    Finally, the power of this Board invites corruption if they are allowed to institute the tax.  Lots of revenue rolling in and frankly little accountability I would assume since today to begin with, they cannot seem to figure out exaclty how much money they need to keep the doors open.

    I hope someone takes legal action to block this.

    1. Separate library levy

       I am incredulous at the position of reader "Dan," who says that only those people who use a library who should pay for it.  The idea of a free public library, like free public education, is rooted in fundamental concepts of American democracy –that an informed public is necessary to an ordered, democratic society– and dates to the 18th century and our founding fathers.

      At the same time, I believe the Library Board, though apparently operating within its powers under State law, is imprudent when it decides a matter that  has such serious implications.  (Again harking to the 18th Century, it has some resonance with Louis XIV declaring "Now, I am KING." )

      The Library Board should proceed slowly, fully describing the current situation and the steps it has taken to contain its budget without damaging its essential mission.  It should assure adequate opportunity for public input and regard for the other tax demands on the services necessary for the welfare of the Evanston community.

      (This includes a less confrontational (we’re doing it and we dare you) approach with the City Council, which has been struggling with the budget).

       

  6. If the Library Board has this much power—-

    They should also be able to [and have the guts] to stand-up to the "Me" crowd of branch supporters who are too lazy [fearful] to come downtown for the EPL Main.

    If we do away with the duplication of materials and all the salary, rent, heating/cooling for the branches, maybe we won’t need all these taxes and can also afford to increase what seems to be a smaller and smaller budget for new materials [look at the’new book’ shelf].   Then again getting rid of all the romance novels and ethnic/special interest magazines should balance the budget itself.

  7. How do we stop this?

    Admittedly, I’m not up to speed on how this sort of decision is made and executed, but it seems totally unfair and absurd for a library board to be able to tax or adjust taxes on the community without approval by the community or at least the elected city officials.

    I don’t know what part of town they live in or who the board represents, but in my area and amongst all that I know, there is strong opposition to further tax increases to support multiple libraries this day and age. Let’s spend our taxes on police and fireman—we’re cutting them and can’t pay their pension fund and the board (city?) wants to have our money go to multiple libraries in the computer age? We have a nice large library downtown and public transportation–if that is what we can afford, then close the rest. If we have any branch libraries, they ought to be in the areas of town whose houses are less likely to have computers and are less able to afford to get to the library, but also contingent upon the community actively using the resource enough to warrent the expense of it.

    If I knew how to change the direction of what I just read, I would. Guess I’ll write several aldermen and see if that helps. Doesn’t sound like they have the power to stop this though…scary.

  8. Say what?

     We need to know the name of the law that allows unelected bodies to tax us so we can lobby with our state representatives to repeal it.

    Is there a library foundation?  have a fundraiser.  Let the people who really love the library raise what they can.  All the churches, community centers like the YMCA and YWCA, and other community causes (women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc) are having to raise funds or cut services.  

  9. This is absurd.

    The INTERNET and e-books has replaced librarys. Those that still use the library should pay for it! The taxes in this city have almost made it unliveable to want to live here as it is. Give us another reason to sell and move!

  10. Remove the entire Library Board!

    It is, if I understand correctly, within the purview of the Mayor to remove the members of the Library Board. She should do this immediately. No elected leader should stand for an unelected Board assessing a tax levy within her jurisdiction. 

    Too, Library staff members, all of whom are on the City payroll. should be instructed to cease preparation of any budget/plans for an independent tax levy or also be removed. The Library staff is employed by the City of Evanston and must answer to them. Their action cannot be allowed to stand, even if we have to close the branches in order to pay the legal fees. What a tragedy that our fine Main Library is now jeopardized by the elitists who think they must have a branch right down the block in the richer neighborhoods, and we should all pay for it.

    The Mayor cannot lose this one and still maintain authority, along with the City Council, over the City of Evanston.

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