The Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees will likely have to amend the 2012 library budget passed at after discovering that the city intends to charge the library rent for the use of the city-owned North Branch building, 2026 Central Street.
The City of Evanston’s proposed 2012 budget, released Oct. 8, includes $75,800 in expected revenue from renting out the North Branch space to the library. In past years, the library has not paid for use of the North Branch space. Though the city also owns the Main Branch library space, there is currently no indication that the city intends to charge the library for the use of that space, as well.
At Wednesday night’s board meeting, Paul Gottschalk, administrative service manager for the Evanston Public Library, said that the new rent was part of the city’s recent attempts to increase revenue and reduce expenditures to balance their 2012 budget from a near $2 million deficit.
An Oct. 19 memo from Library Board Treasurer Dianne Allen stated, “The Library did not anticipate this expense therefore the Board’s FY2012 budget must be revised by either increasing the Library property tax levy or by reducing expenses.”
The library budget adopted at last month’s board meeting included the equivalent of a 6.1 percent levy increase to the library’s share of city property taxes from an adjusted 2011 budget, estimated to add an additional $6.67 to the property tax bill of a $300,000 Evanston home (totaling the library’s portion of the property tax bill at $122.96).
If the board votes to fund the newfound rental costs by increasing the tax levy even further, the amended budget would require raising the levy the equivalent of 8 percent, equaling an approximated $9.53 increase to the property tax bill of a $300,000 Evanston home (totaling the library’s portion of the property tax bill at $125.82).
However, the board could instead choose to eliminate one or more expenditures rather than raise its levy.
Last month’s approved library budget included funding to both keep the North Branch library open at current service levels and create a new community engagement librarian position, but both expenditures were hotly debated, with some board members saying that they thought it was unfair to raise property taxes throughout Evanston to continue funding for a library that only serves the city’s north side.
“I am a property tax payer and the people in my community are, and we are not receiving the same services as on the north side,” said Board President Sharron Arceneaux said. “My children and my neighbors’ children would not be able to get up here and tell everyone how wonderful it was to skip to the library…In my neighborhood, it’s mostly minority children that need the most help… We are putting money into one of the wealthiest areas in the town. We’re not putting that same money into the west side of Evanston.”
Last month’s library budget , with one board member abstaining, and the board has gained a new member since then.
A third option for the board would be to renegotiate with the City of Evanston for rent-free use of the building.
In past months, as the library board has made preparations to become an autonomous governing body after voting last year to adopt a new library fund model, the board has looked to solidify its relationship with the city through a Memorandum of Understanding.
But Allen said that at no point during discussions did the city representatives mention any intention to charge the library rent for use of the North Branch space.
Evanston resident Jeff Smith spoke at Wednesday’s meeting saying that The Local Library Act, the Illinois statute that allows city libraries to adopt a library fund model of governance, states that any building constructed for library purposes would become the library’s and that there is no suggestion that any payment would be necessary for the transfer.
“We have two buildings that were built exclusively for library purposes and a tax payer who has been paying and will continue to pay taxes for library purposes, I’d like to see those buildings remain and no rental required,” Smith said. “It makes about as much sense as the fire department paying rent to the city for a fire station…This board should take whatever action is necessary…to assert and clear clean title to both existing library properties.”
Though Article 5 of the Illinois Local Library Act covers how a library board adopting a library fund model can rent, buy, remodel, expand and fund library buildings, Evanston Patch could not find any statement within the document regarding the transfer of building ownership or the ability of the city to charge rent.
Additionally, though the library board has already voted to adopt a library fund model and it has been tentatively approved by the city, the Evanston City Council has not passed an ordinance to make the change official. And while library board members insist that the Illinois Local Library Act provides the board the legal right to make the change if it votes to do so, Gottschalk said that it was still up in the air as to whether conversion would officially take place.
The library board will vote to amend its 2012 budget when it reconvenes on Nov. 9.