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Library levy attempt failed in past

The Evanston Library Board’s current attempt to impose its own tax levy on local residents isn’t a new idea. It was tried before, 14 years ago.

It was 1996, two years after the city finished constructing a $23 million new library building, and in an earlier era of financial austerity that had seen 76 jobs eliminated from the city’s payroll so far that decade.

The Evanston Library Board’s current attempt to impose its own tax levy on local residents isn’t a new idea. It was tried before, 14 years ago.

It was 1996, two years after the city finished constructing a $23 million new library building, and in an earlier era of financial austerity that had seen 76 jobs eliminated from the city’s payroll so far that decade.

The library board was headed by a former alderman, Cheryl Wollin, who would later serve another term on the City Council.

During the budget debate early in the year, as recounted in Evanston Review articles, Wollin and the board pressed for more money to add books to the library’s collection and for other programs.

But aldermen, including Art Newman, 1st Ward, said that the city had devoted $23 million of its $59 million five-year capital improvement budget to the library, and it was time to shift the emphasis to park improvements and other projects deferred because of the library construction project.

In the spring the library board presented a strategic plan to the council calling for a funding increase, but by September the board was balking at participating in preparation of a "no-growth" budget for the coming fiscal year as directed by the then city manager.

In November the board demanded in a letter that the city impose a separate tax for library services.

Wollin’s letter conceded that "in the past the City Council has occasionally exercised its home rule power to provide a library budget that was greater than the library’s maximum tax rate of .23 percent would provide."

But the board said that for 1997 the maximum statutory levy would generate an extra $40,000 for the library and they wanted that money to add a new technical services position.

In December, City Attorney Jack Siegel told aldermen that as a home rule community Evanston wasn’t bound by the state statute giving the library board authority to set its own tax levy.

The library board responded in February 1997 with its own legal opinion, reaching the opposition conclusion while citing the same Rockford case relied upon by Siegel.

But having apparently considering suing the city to press its point, the library board dropped the idea after aldermen, late in the city budget process, agreed to fund the technical services job the board had asked for.

Wollin didn’t respond Tuesday to voice-mail and e-mail requests from Evanston Now to discuss the old dispute or the new controversy over library funding.

If you’ve got a library card, you can delve into news accounts of old city issues from the comfort of your home using the library website. But for stories from before the mid-1990s you’ll have to head to the library’s third-floor reference section and consult the bound volumes or microfilm. You can also find news archives since 2006 by searching here on Evanston Now.

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