Evanston aldermen Monday night postponed a vote on next year’s library tax levy after disagreeing sharply over the library’s spending plans.
The discussion over a proposed 8.6 percent increase in the library operating fund tax levy spilled over into concerns about the library’s plans to spend $15.3 million on renovations to the downtown library and construction of a branch in the planned new Robert Crown Center — even though a tax levy for the capital spending wasn’t on the agenda.
Four aldermen spoke against approving the library levy.
Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said she couldn’t support such a big increase for the library — given the city’s other spending needs.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said nobody she’s heard from objects to what the library wants to do, but that the library board seems to be out of control in its spending. She also said many of her constituents don’t support the planned branch at the Crown Center.
“I haven’t seen any effort to trim the funding request,” Rainey said, suggesting at least $1 million could be cut from the projects.
Alderman Judy Fiske, whose 1st Ward includes the main library, said she’s been a big library supporter, but now “even people who love and use the library” have been telling her they question the spending increases
Alderman Tom Suffreden said he’s opposed to the library’s governance by an appointed board.
Under state law the library’s budget is set by a board appointed by the mayor. The City Council’s only oversight of the appointed board’s decisions comes from its authority to trim the library’s tax levy when it exceeds a referendum-approved tax cap — as it has for the last few years.
Three aldermen said they backed the planned tax levy.
Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward would include the new Crown Center branch, said libraries are a contact point with the city for many residents — who can find it more comfortable than going to city hall.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, whose 3rd Ward includes the Chicago Avenue library branch, said she strongly supports the plans. The library has changed the most of any service the community provides in recent years. Wynne said, and it does so much with relatively few resources.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said his son spends more time in the library than in any other public facility in town — showing him the value of the library’s programs.
Wynne said Evanston substantially underfunds its libraries, compared to Skokie and Wilmette. Rainey responded that neither of those towns have chosen to operate more than one library.
But Wilson said people in “a huge swath of town” are effectively denied library services because there’s no library in their neighborhood.
Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the $10 million main library renovation porject would add about $600,000 a year in bond debt payments to the city’s budget starting in 2019 and continuing for 19 additional years after that.
Aldermen Fiske and Fleming moved to hold a decision on the library operating levy until the Council’s Dec. 11 meeting.
The city faces a Dec. 15 deadline to deliver its tax levy data to county officials.