Library funding dispute stalls tax levy vote

A rendering of a portion of the renovations planned at the main library.

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.

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Comments

Library not in touch with the community

Alderman Rainey hit the nail on the head. 

Eliminate all branches and focus funding on updating/maintaining the main library. Access is not a real problem in such a small geographic area as this city, with all its bike lanes and public transportation. 

As to the actual budget item on the meeting’s agenda—operating expenses—why does the library want a $500,000 increase? Programs, personnel? How is it the library has the audacity to increase its operating budget when all other city departments are required to cut their budgets? Several of these departments are forced to layoff people or leave vacancies unfilled. 

The library’s credibility as a team player is obliterated. Its spending desires are out of control and tone deaf in the next couple of budget-challenged years ahead. Accessibility isn’t something a board can buy...it is an attitude/culture. One, it seems, the self-focused library doesn’t possess.

Two recommendations: 

Two recommendations: 

1.) Postpone any rennovation to the Main library until parking is resolved. Currently it can be difficult to find parking in the open lot near the library next to the Women's Club. This will get worse if a building goes in on this lot. 

2.) Instead of a new library facility as part of the new Crown Center, why not put a branch into the Dodge-Dempster shopping center. There is plenty of space and plenty of parking. Putting a library in this location will serve residents on the west side and will be easier to take children to than the North and South branches and the Main library; all have limited parking. 

Library location

I like your second suggestion, but it's less of an option since the city doesn't own that shopping center (I'm assuming....). So, not sure what the terms of a rental agreement/buyout would be. Whereas they own the Robert Crown Center and can do with it what they please. But, yes, that location would make a lot of sense, I think.

I don't really buy the argument that there needs to be a library in every neighborhood though....seems like there is a benefit to making one really nice library rather than having three mediocre ones. If somebody wants to get to the main library from a certain location in Evanston, it's really not that difficult. How lazy are people....If the library is super important to an individual, then they can certainly prioritize living closer to it when considering housing options. People make choices in life -- not everything has to be perfectly equal and it may just be that somebody has to take a bus for 15 minutes to get to the library whereas somebody else only has to walk 5 minutes.

Finally Common Sense pops-up Will it die ?

I'm glad the Council started to face reality. The library renovation cost, purpose and design it way out of line wiith reality. Strenghten the Main instead of draining it for the sake of the branches---Crown would go the way of the west side branch [Simpson].  Eventually the library Board, city government and schools will have to realize eventually taxpayers will run out of money and cut bone not just the fat.

Take back the control from the Library Board --that experiment failed---and put it back under the control of elected officials and make sure they are competent and hire competent staff.

Close Down Library Branches

Instead of incurring more expense, it seems prudent to close all of the branch library locations and focus on the main library instead.  Evanston is the only suburb that I am aware of that has more than one library location much less 3 (and possibly 4 if we add another at the Robert Crown Center).  How much money would be saved by eliminating the expense of extra brick and mortar locations, personnel to staff those locations, and additional books, etc. to fill those shelves?  That money could be invested in the main library location and any renovations needed.  There is no justification as Alderman Wilson has stated to include library locations in every neighborhood.  No one is being denied library services.  That's a ridiculous statement!!!

Great Ideas

Thanks to all of you for your wise comments.......we can only hope that people are listening.  Multiple libraries in one town are ridiculous, and a waste of money!  Make the main one the ONLY one, and make it fabulous.    Everyone can get there by many modes of transportation.  Let's see if the right people can see this.

Town access

Quote: But Wilson said people in "a huge swath of town" are effectively denied library services because there's no library in their neighborhood.

This was stated right after comment that Skokie and Wilmette only have one main branch. Why is Evanston special? Can everyone in Skokie walk to the main library branch? Definitely not. However, Skokie library has their wonderful Bookmobile that travels to different neighborhoods throughout the week. Patrons can reserve holds and pick up on the bus. That has to be a lot more cost effective than local branches.

Other library folly

Why does the library have a sociologist ? I think they also have a Hispanic outreach employee---others ?
Don't the schools, churches, city hall cover all the non-library services? If they are suppose to but don't, maybe they need to get an overhall and let the library operate as a library.
Maybe if EPL was run as a library instead of a all-in-one liberal think tank, their budget would be more reasonable and our taxes would be lower.