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Evanston Library Board members and staff painted a different picture Wednesday night of the financial details of a proposed memorandum of understanding being negotiated with the city than City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz offered this morning.

Evanston Library Board members and staff painted a different picture Wednesday night of the financial details of a proposed memorandum of understanding being negotiated with the city than City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz offered this morning.

The library’s administrative services manager, Paul Gottschalk, in a memo to the board, said that the city will cover future debt payments for already completed capital improvement projects at the library.

In the memo he said “the city will transfer funds for debt service to the library for inclusion in the library’s annual budget,” a position he repeated in discussion with the board members.

Those debt payments start at about $1.2 million a year and will total more than $8.2 million before they’re completely paid off in 2027.

But Bobkiewicz, in a phone interview with Evanston Now, said the obligation for paying the debt would shift from the city’s portion of the property tax to the library’s portion.

Assuming the library does not increase its spending, the issue of which body hits up taxpayers for the debt service payments should have no impact on the total tax obligation homeowners face.

But the difference in which body pays the debt is significant because $1.2 million would add roughly a third to the library’s current budget and would significantly limit the library’s ability to increase spending while staying under its .23 percent property tax cap.

The current library budget would work out to a tax rate of .128 percent without the addition of the debt service.

The two library board members involved in negotiating the memorandum of understanding with the city — Diane Allen and Chris Stewart — didn’t dispute Gottschalk’s interpretation of the debt payment issue.

But the text of the draft memorandum itself refers to establishing a library debt service fund that would reimburse the city for the debt it took on to fund the library projects.

The library board members did challenge various other aspects of the proposed agreement — ranging from a provision that would have the city manager continue to appoint the library director to one that would have the city loan the library operating funds until payments from its first tax levy are collected.

Board members also expressed disappointment that the agreement didn’t offer the library a share of the city’s general fund reserves.

Some board members said they felt the city manager was trying to “bully” the library, but Allen and Stewart suggested that compromise was needed to avoid a prolonged dispute with the city that might drag on for years.

The Library Board plans to vote on the memorandum of understanding at its July meeting and Bobkiewicz said he plans to be present for that session.

The Libray Board has sought to align the funding mechanism for the library more closely with the state library act, while city officials have argued that the act’s provisions don’t necessarily apply to a home rule municipality like Evanston. 

As the board meeting ended, Stewart, the board’s current president, announced that he’s resigning immediately, ahead of the scheduled end of his term on the board in November, because of scheduling conflicts with his college teaching responsibilities.

During the meeting Gottschalk also provided a report listing at least $1.5 million in new capital improvement projects the library staff believes the board will need to fund within the next five years.

Top: A handful of branch library backers watch the library board in action. This morning, board member Diane Allen, writing on the 8th Ward message board, criticized the low turnout for the meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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