By a 6-2 vote, City Council passed the ordinance permitting the Evanston Public Library’s tax levy for next year, ensuring the Library’s operating budget will be funded in 2018. The levy, which allows for a 5.1% increase in the operating budget over last year’s number, did not come without controversy. The vote came on Dec. 4, after Council held the matter at its Nov. 27 meeting.
Failure to pass the levy could have been dire. Without a Library Fund tax levy submitted by Dec. 14, property taxes could not have been collected, and the Library would have been effectively de-funded.
The Library Board held a special meeting on Dec. 7. “We heard quite clearly Council’s concern about increasing property taxes,” said Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons during the meeting. She then proposed a reduction in the then-proposed budget.
The proposal removed two expanded services – one mobile library van, budgeted for about $155,000, and one library vending machine to be installed at St. Francis hospital. The adjusted budget dropped from an increase of 8.6% to 5.1%.
Former Library Board president Michael Tannen said the 5.1% increase includes “$270,000 in unavoidable costs – $250,000 in mandatory union negotiated pay increases, and a $20,000 increase in mandatory payments to the City of Evanston.” The Library pays the City each year for administrative services such as human resources and financial services.
Director Lyons said she negotiated with the City and agreed to increase the service payment in line with the union wage increases, so each year both sides know how much the library payment to the City will be.
The Library board expressed disappointment the Library van had to be cut. Board President Ben Shapiro called the move “a significant cut of Library services to schools” and neighborhoods not currently served by the Library.
“We continue to do outreach,” said Director Lyons. “This would have been an expansion of services,” and taking the van out of the budget is not a cut of any existing service. She said the Library would continue to pursue the van, and hoped a donor would step forward to fund the project. She said she was working with Northwestern, since the University recently obtained a donated van from a private corporation.
Library board Member Shawn Iles said he was “really disappointed the van is being eliminated from the budget. The public came to us saying they were not happy about equity; the van would be very visible in places where people feel like they’re not getting equal treatment.” The van would be “one of the places we could point to and say, ‘We’re being responsible with your money.’”
“The other reality,” said Director Lyons, “is City departments were asked to cut 4%. City employees are losing their jobs.” The message from Council was, “everyone else is cutting. Can’t you look at the amount of increase you are seeking?” she added. “That’s why we are here.”
The Library board voted unanimously to amend the budget, taking out the van and vending machine.
At Council the following Monday night, a number of residents rose to support the Library, including two residents from Over the Rainbow Association.
Some aldermen were not swayed. “It is not my intention to shut down the library,” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, but “we have a budget deficit.” Referencing the 4% department cut, she added, “It was my hope they would make a cut. … I don’t hate the Library. … I grew up with a bookmobile and so on and so forth – I love it. I would have preferred other cuts that don’t impact residents but were a little more internal.”
“When I saw you reduced the budget I was thrilled, then I saw you kept the consultant. You need to cut the consultant,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. The budget includes over $200,000 for an equity assessment conducted by an outside consultant.
Over the summer, residents appeared at every Library Board meeting demanding an “equity audit.” Mayor Steve Hagerty demanded the Library add the equality assessment – if not, he said, he would not reappoint but would replace the current Library Board members whose terms were expiring.
In late August, the Library engaged DeEtta Jones of DJA Consulting to complete the equity assessment. The Library’s 2018 budget includes about $240,000 for consulting services.
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, praised the Library, saying it “serves returning citizens, the homeless, and start-up businesses.” She said when she started her own business and had to choose between insurance premiums and a copier, she chose insurance and went to the library to make copies. The Library “was there to support me when I started my own business,” she said. Her kids also used the library for ACT prep, she said.
But she said, “I am very disappointed to see [the van] is what is being cut. … I was prepared to vote in favor of putting it back in.” The Library levy requires a “yes-or-no vote,” and Council has no power to amend the Library budget either up or down.
The levy passed 6-2 with Alds. Rainey and Fleming voting “no.”