Leila Cornyn tells members of the Library Board she hopes they will not close the branch libraries. Leila read a similar statment at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

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Under the watchful eye of parliamentarian Joan Bundley, the Evanston Library Board approved a budget for fiscal year 2011 that was about 10 percent higher than requested by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. In preparation for the 2011 budget, Mr. Bobkiewicz had directed all department heads to create budgets for the 10-month upcoming fiscal year (March 1 – Dec. 31, 2011) that would be, on a pro-rata basis, 5 percent lower than budgets for the present fiscal year.

For the library, the pro-rated amount was $3.5 million.

Library Director Mary Johns told the RoundTable, “We submitted $3,894,926 to the City Manager through the budget process for FY2011.” That amount did not include an additional expense, or charge-back, of about $70,000 to cover the library’s share of early retirement (ERI) benefits – an item presented to the Library Board earlier this month.

The Library Board had initially decided against making fiscal decisions that would “increase the Library’s tax levy portion of the property tax levy [above] the fiscal year 2010-11 level as pro-rated on a 10-month basis, excepting only increases in personnel costs related to salaries and benefits, including those provided under union agreements.” On Oct. 4, members unanimously reversed that decision.

If the amount and allocations are approved by City Council, then both library branches would be funded for five days a week of operation through Dec. 31, 2011, but money allocated to purchase books and periodicals for the library’s collections would be decreased by about 20 percent.

‘Increasing’ or ‘Restoring’ Funding?

Paul Gottschalk, library services administrator, presented the board with an updated proposed budget that would fund services for both braches at their present service levels and locations and reduce money allocated to purchasing books and materials. Most other library services were increased in that proposed budget: children’s services, adult services, circulation, technical services, maintenance, administration and the two branch libraries.

Mr. Gottschalk’s proposal also offered two ways to reduce expenses by a total of $122,000: limiting the hours of the main library and replacing a full-time position that has been vacant for nearly two years with a half-time position.

Ms. Johns cautioned, though, that limiting the hours of the main library (by closing earlier or opening later or both) would require library personnel to perform the same work in less time.

Ms. Allen-Jacobi said she wished to keep the hours of the Main Library the same, because “closing [early] is a disservice to the community.”

Some Board members spoke of the need to be sensitive about the City’s overall financial problems; some wondered how the City Council would react to the proposed increased expenditures.

A back-and-forth discussion about how much, if any, to approve funding above the original amount centered around whether the Board was in fact “increasing” funding or “restoring” services that had been cut in previous budgets.

Ms. Gerson said, “We said we did not want to increase the tax, and now we have discarded that, and I’m not sure why.” She also said, “It’s a matter of how high the tax levy is, to be sending a message to the community that we are restraining ourselves. … There has been a need for economy, and I would like for us to show that we can compromise and maintain branches and have a reduced budget.”

Ms. Stone said she felt that with some of the proposed expenditures the Board was “not increasing, but restoring. We have to keep in mind we’re just getting back what we need. … What we’re saying to City Council is ‘You negotiate contracts. You added early retirement incentive costs.’ I don’t think we’re backing away from what we said to the City.”

Ms. Bush said, “This [budget] is a step toward what we need. If the Library Board sees a legitimization of cutting services, that says we accept a diminution of services [to the community.”

Dr. Stewart said, “We’re not restoring everything. There is a deep hole – about $100,000 cut – in the collections [part of the] budget. … We are already severely underfunded in collections – at $6 per capita.”

Ms. Bush said, “It’s our responsibility as trustees to ‘guard and preserve library services.’ This is just step number one in what we’re presenting to City Council.”

Ms. Stone said, “If we send the budget as it is to Council without reductions, what might Council do?”

Ms. Bush responded. “No clue. It’s a good question, but there’s no answer.”

Ms. Stone said, “City Council could say ‘Ha, ha, ha! We’re not going to give you this budget.’”

Dr. Stewart said, “We’re here to pass a budget for Evanston’s public library. We’re here to do our duty, not to second-guess other people.”

The Board ultimately rejected the proposal to limit the hours the Main Library would be open but accepted the half-time position.

Citizen Comment

Several residents spoke at the meeting, urging the Board to preserve library services, in particular the branches.

Donna Ryan said, “The branches are essential …; they are part of the community. … A lot of people wouldn’t have access to a library if it weren’t for the branches – particularly middle school and elementary school children.”

Audrey Niffenegger said she was speaking in a “two-fold role: As a writer, I hope you will not kill the branches and deprive me of future readers. … Think of your library as part of the schools. If kids can’t go to the library, they are going to sit home and suck up the Internet.”

Michael Tannen, a member of Evanston Library Friends, said, “It is my strong belief that City Council has not been playing fair. … You’re right on the facts and right on the law. When you pass the budget and the Council pillories you, we’ll stand behind you.”

First-grader Leila Cornyn told the Library Board members she had raised $200 to help save the branches. “I like the library but the North Branch is my favorite. … It is a fun place to relax and read,” she said.

Budget Moves to City Council

On Oct. 8 the City Manager presented his proposed budget. That budget allocates $3.7 million to library services, about $200,000 less than the Library Board’s budget. Mr. Bobkiewicz proposes to eliminate funding for the branches and allocate some of the savings toward purchasing additional books and periodicals. (See budget story on page 1.)

City Council has the ultimate decision on the budget, and the plan is for Council to approve the final budget on Nov. 22. Beginning with fiscal year 2012, the City’s fiscal year will coincide with the calendar year.

Library Fund Method Of Funding to Start Next Year

Although the Library Board voted in August to follow the State Local Library Act and create an independent library fund, that model will not go into effect until fiscal year 2012, because of the shortened time period for approving the budget for fiscal year 2011.

In order to “”practice”” having the fiscal year coincide with the calendar year, City Council has agreed to approve in November of this year the budget that will not go into effect until March 1, 2011.