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Separating library from city up for discussion

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Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, should learn to night whether anyone else on the City Council agrees with her that separating the Evanton Public Library from the city would be a good idea.

The City Council's Rules Committee will receive a report from the city's Corporation Counsel tonight on the legal options for switching library governance from the existing appointed semi-autonomous library board within city government to an independent library district controlled by an elected board.

Rainey has objected to recent large increases in library spending adopted by the board, which so far have been rubber-stamped by the City Council, despite exceeding a library spending cap imposed by referendum. She, alone among the aldermen, has pushed for forming a separate library district, which would relieve aldermen from any responsibility for the library.

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar's memo says there are two possible paths to establishing a separate library district:

  • The library board could adopt a resolution calling for conversion. If that resolutions was approved by the City Council within 60 days, the conversion could be done by a Circuit Court order.
  • Alternatively a binding referendum on the conversion could be placed on the election ballot if at least 10 percent of the city's registered voters, roughly 4,500 people, signed a petition calling for the referendum.

Farrar said other issues including property transfer, liability for debts and establishing the tax rate for the new district were beyond the scope of his memo.

Were it established, a new library district, like most local government entities in Illinois, would be subject to a tax cap and would require referendum approval to exceed it.

Under the current system the library the library benefits from the city's home rule power to impose property taxes without limitation and can exceed its tax cap without voter approval if aldermen agree to the higher spending level.

Illinois has more local government entities than any other state in the union — which many observers believe contributes to inefficiency and overall higher tax rates. Evanston just went through a years-long process to abolish one of those local government entities — Evanston Township. That may make other aldermen reluctant to support creation of a new government entity.

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