Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl told aldermen today that “a strong group of people” in Evanston are willing to seek private funding to keep the branch libraries open.

Tisdahl, speaking at the City Council’s first budget workshop of the year, said it was not clear, based on her conversations with the city’s legal staff, whether it would be possible to set up special tax districts to fund the branches but that the city should look for other ways to garner private funding for them.

More than a dozen residents who live near the south or north branch spoke in opposition City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s plan to shutter the branch libraries as one step toward closing the city’s projected $9.5 million budget deficit.

A few mentioned the idea of private funding, but most simply said the city should continue to pick up the tab for the branches and even open more branches to serve neighborhoods that now lack a branch library.

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes properties close to the south branch library, said he will hold a ward meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the McGaw YMCA to discuss budget issues.

He said people need to consider “not just what you would like to keep, but also what you can live without.”

He said the city is facing difficult financial times and that some things will have to be cut.

Library Director Mary Johns, interviewed after the session, said she’s worked in communities both with and without a branch library structure.

She said she was encouraged by the interest in finding private support for the libraries, but noted that there’s a long road from such expressions of support to actually having a steady revenue stream available.

One speaker had suggested opening coffee shops in the library branches to generate additional revenue, but Johns said it’s not at all clear a coffee shop would generate enough profit to do the trick — not to mention the issue of the impact a city-owned coffee shop might have on existing privately owned shops in the neighborhoods.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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21 Comments

  1. How Much Do City Employees Make?
    How many city jobs make over $100,000 a year?
    Let’s start with those before closing branch libraries.

    1. That’s a ridiculous
      That’s a ridiculous suggestion. The professional staff at the Civic Center are grossly underpaid in comparison to the demands and responsibilities of their position. Do you want to encourage another mass exodus like the ERI? These individuals are holding our city together.

      1. Willing to risk an “exodus”
        I think I and other taxpayers are willing to take the risk that professional staff will leave. Where are these people going to go precisely? We have an official unemployment rate of 10% with a real unemployment rate of 17% or higher. No one is hiring!

        You state that professional staff are “grossly underpaid in comparison to the demands and responsibilites of their position.” You did not say that they are underpaid compared to the compensation that they would be able to get in the private sector. If these people are so underpaid, then why do they not look for work elsewhere? Are they just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts?

        No, I think the reason they do not seek work in the private sector is because they realize that they have a cushy job with little to no risk of being laid off and would most definitely have to take a pay & benefit cut if they had to get a job in the “real world.”

        1. No risk of being laid off?!
          Hello, haven’t you been paying attention?! 36 people are being laid off from the City of Evanston and not all of them are low-paid part-timers. No, they may not be making $100,000 a year, but they are making over $75,000. And guess what – these are real people who live in Evanston, own homes and pay taxes. Yes, they pay the exorbitant Evanston taxes just like you do. They have families to support. And they are going to lose their jobs in this economy, through no fault of their own. They are victims. Your cavalier attitude about cutting people’s jobs is callous. Yes, the City needs to cut the budget. Yes, no one wants more tax hikes. But how about showing a little sensitivity to the poor City employees who are losing their jobs.

          1. City layoffs
            1)You are making an assertion that City employees face the risk of being laid off just like emplyees in the private sector do. Your evidence of this is proposed layoffs that have not even happened yet. Try supporting your assertion based upon layoffs which have actually occurred in the past, and relating those layoff rates to those in the private sector. You will find that public sector employees historically rarely ever lose their jobs when compared to employees in the private sector.

            2)City employees do pay taxes, but they receive 100% of their salaries FROM THE TAXPAYERS, which means that they are a net recipient of tax dollars, not a net contributor of tax dollars. That is precisely why firing them will save taxpayers money.

            3)I don’t see why I have to be any more sensitive to City Employees losing jobs as I am to those losing jobs in the private sector.

          2. Compassion
            I have tremendous compassion for anyone losing their job in this economy. That is why I want to try and ensure that the fewest possible City employees are laid off. Yes, we have to balance the budget – but not necessarily on the backs of hard-working, tax paying individuals.

            You seem to work on the assumption that City employees are some kind of parasites who take taxpayer money and provide nothing in return. I suggest that they work for their salaries and provide valuable services – services which are often unseen or unnoticed by the citizens they serve. We’re laying off staff who often provide services to other staff members – IT staff who make sure all the computer systems used in the City keep working; the Fleet Services staff who ensure that the trucks keep rolling; Library Technical Services staff who maintain and catalog library materials. Sure, the City can try to do more with less. But let’s not minimize the contributions that these individuals have made to keeping the City functioning.

            No, the layoffs haven’t actually happened yet. But 36 individuals have been told that they won’t have jobs after the end of February. Those people don’t feel any security in statements like “public sector employees historically rarely ever lose their jobs when compared to employees in the private sector.” They need to figure out how they’ll pay their mortgages and feed their families after February.

          3. Compassion for taxpayers
            The bottom line is that the majority of the City’s expenditures are for the salaries and benefits of City Employees. Therefore, the only realistic way to balance the budget is to reduce the salaries and benefits paid to those employees, because tax increases are not going to happen in this economic climate. Therefore, we need to see layoffs, salary cuts, and benefit reductions.

            I do agree with your statement that we shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of hard-working taxpayers. We just disagree on who these “taxpayers” are. I think the taxpayers are the people who actually pay the taxes. You seem to think that they are the people who receive the tax dollars.

          4. They Pay Taxes Too
            Guess what, the people whose salaries you pay (with your tax dollars) also pay taxes in Evanston. Those dollars you pay to them come back to the City in taxes. I guess it’s better to lay them off, tho, because then they can stop paying taxes and their mortgages, put their homes in foreclosure, start using local social services. . . Yeah, it’s always good to fire people.

        2. It is unfortunate
          It is unfortunate that you are so unaware of the facts. Several individuals have already left City employment for far more prestigious and lucrative positions. The best known is the professional who is now Director of Scheduling for United States Senator James Webb.

          1. Tragic Loss
            What a tragedy to lose such a valuable resource as a Director of Scheduling. Now our alderman will have to find a way to schedule their own appointments. I am surprised the City of Evanston has not fallen to pieces.

            Is that really the best example that you could come up with? Taxpayers of Evanston, you better not put pressure on your aldermen to cut the salaries and benefits of City employees, or we may risk losing another Director of Scheduling!!! The horror!

          2. Data?
            How about providing some data showing how City of Evanston employees are overpaid compared to the private sector? You are fond of making these assertions but I don’t know where you’re getting your information.

          3. Levy Center Custodian is
            Levy Center Custodian is compensated $67,000 per year. That is one example. National average is $31,000 in salary.

  2. Branch libraries & library coffee shops
    Oak Park Public Library has a small but well attended coffee shop at the entrance to their Main library. The library also has 2 branches with hours and collections similar to Evanston’s. Oak Park also has a budget crisis but they are not closing any library branches nor are they laying people off.

    1. Coffee at the Library?
      It’s bad enough that school children have to ‘run the gauntlet’ of homeless people lined up in front of the main library, now you want to provide another attraction for them? They congregate at every Starbucks and Grocery store already, shaking their cups. Bad idea. Unless, of course, you want our fine library to start looking like a Greyhound bus station.

  3. private aid
    I have no problem with the libraries staying open, but only if they are funded with private money, not with taxpayer money.

    1. Let’s save the West Branch Library
      I presume the purpose of a branch library is to reach out to those who are otherwise unable to get to a central library. If so, I suggest that the Central Street and South Branches serve a population that is clearly able to travel. The North Branch is located in an area which can generally afford transportation to the central library. The South Branch is located more closely to the central facility.

      I suggest we close BOTH and open a West Branch library. This is an area which can clearly and demonstrably use such a public facility.

      If the vigor to save the library branches were for those other than they who use it as a purely social activity (e.g. retirees), there would be much greater merit.

  4. Can be replaced ?
    Surely anyone who has worked for a private company will recognize the way things go:
    Someone is hired as the ‘savior of the company’ or the best _______ there is and we must pay them $$$ to get them to come here. If the company makes alot of money those people are given big bonuses and ‘ordinary people’ nothing. If the company has losses it is blamed on the ‘ordinary’ worker and the ‘saviors’ are given big payouts so they won’t leave.
    After a few years it is obvious that person did not produce what was expected and they are let go and a new ‘savior’ comes in and the prior one is labeled a failure who should never have been hired [though the Board/management never takes responsibility] and they may even imply the former ‘savior’ took all kinds of valuable documents and [his hand-selected] people with him.
    You will probably hear this argument made more and more about the bankers and others on Wall Street. Any one who has worked there or really any corporatation will recognize this and that most of the highly paid management could be as easily replaced with someone from the phonebook. There are very good and successful managers, but they are only recognized years later after several business cycles—for most companies it is a crap-shoot as to whether a manager(s) will perform better than anyone else. On Wall Street this is called the “traders option”—bet big and if it turns out you get a big bonus, if it is a loss you just go to the next firm, and then the next,…, and may even land back a prior company when they forget how bad you were or now thing you have “learned so much” from working a many companies.

  5. Raise funds for a bookmobile
    It would make so much more sense to raise private funds to support a library bookmobile instead of maintaining the branches. Or maybe we can get Northwestern to buy us one! 🙂

  6. $67,000 Custodian
    Well, I hate to see people get laid off. I’ve been laid off and get by but just barely.

    I have reviewed some of the salaries of those being laid off and can tell you they are severely out of line with norms. For example, the Levy Center’s custodian cut will save the city $67,000! Even if this is a fully loaded number it seems WAY OUT OF LINE. Perhaps if we had been paying reasonable salaries things wouldn’t be so dire now. How about the national average of $31,000 for starters? Add in a customary 30% for overhead (health ins., vacation, etc) and you have a total of $40,000.

    Based on this alone, we should re-evaluate all the salaries paid.

  7. Thinking outside the box for solutions
    Private donations, a public/private partnership and fundraising are only some of the ideas being put forward, as is the possible conversion to a Library district [like Wilmette’s], unlike the Special Service Assessment the city is proposing [more typically used for decorative brickwork or streetlights, and which, to our knowledge has never been used for libraries]. There are many more ideas and a host of talented people working tirelessly to find a solution that is best for all of Evanston, both now and in the future.

    We are asking for a one-year reprieve to table the library cut discussion, with a decrease in service if necessary at the branches to minimize the expenses so that we can find a viable long-term economic solution. It does not need to be all or nothing right now.

    We can do this, Evanston. But we can’t do it in three weeks. We are a smart community that values education. Closing libraries is not the answer and is not ultimately going to help our community. Find out more and sign a petition of support at http://www.branchLove.org

    We have the will, we have the skill, we need the time.

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