Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect a correction in explaining the cost increases in the library budget.

Fueled partly by $43.1 million in federal Covid relief dollars, city officials are looking at a less vexing budget pictures this year, even the possibility of banking a surplus at year’s  end.

It’s a different story with the Evanston Public Library, though.

Main Evanston Public Library at 1703 Orrington Ave.

Library Board trustees spent their Sept. 7 meeting mulling the possibility of a tax hike after going several years with zero percent increases.

At the meeting, held in person as well as virtual, Interim Library Director Heather Norborg presented trustees with a $9.1 million Operating Fund budget for 2023.

The library is anticipating an estimated $508,727 in increases related to union contract negotiations and the city’s recently-issued class and compensation study. Another $300,000 or so is attributable to increases in service and supply contracts, officials said.

That’s with officials trimming costs in their budget for 2023 where they could, Norborg pointed out, “without affecting the levels of engagement, programming and communication that we are currently providing.”

She provided trustees with three scenarios to close the $800,000 gap. Option A would keep the tax flat, as the Board has done the past three years.

Options B calls for a tax increases of 10.9% percent, while Option C proposed a 3.9% increase.

Depending on what course trustees decide upon, the choice would affect the library’s fund balance, which currently stands at 33%, a level the library has worked to build up.

“Because of this balance, we do not anticipate needing to borrow money or incur any additional debt [this year] to pay our bills for the rest of the year while we wait for the second installment of the tax levy [due to a delay at  the County],” Norborg pointed out.

In 2011, the then Library Board adopted its own funding model in an effort to move away from the jurisdiction of the city and perennial underfunding.

Under the model, trustees now are responsibility for drawing up their own line item budget, but Council members could still reject the budget they submit and request that it be revised.

Currently, roughly 3 percent of the total taxes paid by Evanston property owners goes to the library, with the city accounting for nearly 20% and the two school districts close to 70%.

Officials had considered a 4% increase last year but then dropped the request.

Had the increase gone through, the owners of a home valued at $400,000 would have seen their taxes to the library increase from roughly $296 to $329, estimated Karen Danczak Lyons, the Library’s Executive Director, at the time.

Other expenses

Norborg pointed out that the library is scheduled to take on two major capital projects in 2023 — a $700,000 upgrade to the boiler system in the main library and a $250,000 upgrade to the lighting system in the building.

“Maintenance of the existing boilers has become increasingly difficult,” she told trustees, with replacement parts no longer available.

Both of the projects were identified as high priorities in the recent Building Reserve Study, developed by Wiss, Janney, Elster in January 2022.

During discussion at the Sept. 7 meeting, Library Board trustees noted that the library was making do without the American Rescue Plan Act funds that has allowed the city to maintain a cushion in its budget.

In addition, several pointed to the major upgrades the library funded at the North Branch library, before the property reverted back to the city after the branch’s closing.

Earlier  this year, City Council members authorized the sale of the property for $900,000 to allow Lush Wine & Spirits to expand their establishment. The funds were not shared with the library.

“This seems like a good time to ask that question [about sharing the funds],” one Library trustee said at the meeting.

During the meeting, trustees did not make any decision about which of the options to go with. The Board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget Sept. 21, and could act at that time.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Disappointing to learn that the library was not reimbursed by the City for the improvements they paid for on a property that was later sold. I don’t know how much was spent or for how long the improvements were utilized in this location. If the Library paid for these improvements, they deserve to be compensated once the building was sold/closed.

    Shutting down the location and ignoring the financial impact on the Library system was wrong.

    I’m guessing the City saved money by closing the location, plus the City made money on the sale. And the Library wasn’t compensated?

    I support the library trustees who are now asking to have some of these funds reallocated to the Library.

    The Evanston Library is an incredibly important asset to everyone in Evanston. The Library and it’s entire staff need our support to continue providing their high level of services. I’m frustrated that we continue to ask public employees to do more while also stripping away their funding/budgets.

    I want our tax dollars supporting programs that elevate the community. Taking funding away from the Evanston Library is not the solution.

  2. Why are Evanston’s libraries chronically underfunded, especially compared to all our neighbor libraries? Certainly the library should at least share in the proceeds of the sale of the North Branch library building, especially after the library funded major upgrades before its sale. I am familiar with many of our neighboring libraries, and they obviously have a bigger budgets, especially per capita, for buying books and media. Our library deserves better.