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Library vote opens budget can of worms

The Evanston Library Board’s vote Wednesday to break free of the City Council’s budget control and establish its own tax levy may not provide as big a long-term boost to library spending as the plan’s supporters hope.

The Evanston Library Board’s vote Wednesday to break free of the City Council’s budget control and establish its own tax levy may not provide as big a long-term boost to library spending as the plan’s supporters hope.

The six library board members who voted for the tax levy.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons says that as a separate fund, the library will need to assume responsibility for a variety of costs that now don’t show up in the library line item of the city budget.

Lyons told Evanston Now Thursday it’s too early to tell just how big those costs will be, but that over the next month or so his staff will be researching the issue to come up with numbers.

The city now provides a variety of services — including payroll, human resources and legal representation — to the library department that aren’t charged back to it.

In addition, Lyons said, its not clear whether the bonds that funded construction of the new downtown library have been completely paid off yet. If not, he says, the cost of remaining payments would need to be shifted to the library levy.

And future library capital improvement projects akin to the recent renovation to the children’s and teen areas of the library, or the projected creation of a new south branch library, may have to come out of the library’s tax levy. In the past those improvements were paid for from the city’s capital improvement fund.

Because the library board’s levy is subject to a state-imposed tax cap expressed as a percentage of the community’s equalized assessed valuation, the recent decline in property values — unless it soon reverses itself — will also affect the library board’s ability to fund its programs. And unlike the city, the library board doesn’t have other sources of tax revenue, beyond the property tax, to draw upon.

In voting for the switch based on applying the library’s existing line item budget to the current equalized assessed valuation, the board was assuming it could — if it chose — increase library spending by as much as 80 percent before hitting the state-imposed tax cap.

But how much head room it will actually end up with apparently won’t be known for some time yet.
 

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