(Editor’s note: The original story was changed to now read, “The library is anticipating an estimated increase of $508,727 in personnel costs.”)

Evanston Public Library trustees directed library staff members on Wednesday, Sept. 21, to prepare a 2023 budget with a 3.9% tax levy increase — the first tax increase sought by the body after three years of flat budgets.

The Evanston Public Library at 1703 Orrington Ave. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Library Board trustees voted unanimously to go with the 3.9% increase to cover a deficit pegged at close to $800,000.

The library is anticipating an estimated increase of $508,727 in personnel costs, officials said earlier, arising out of union contract negotiations and the city’s recent class and compensation study establishing salary levels.

Another $300,000 in increased expenses is due to increases in service and supply contracts, officials said.

Given “the current climate with so many uncertainties,” interim Executive Library Director Heather Norborg recommended in favor of the 3.9% increase over two other options she presented at the board’s previous meeting — one, keeping the tax rate flat, the other for an increase of 10.9%.

Norborg told trustees the 3.9% hike would cover “our known increases, our known costs for next  year,” reducing what one trustee described as a healthy fund balance, projected to stand at $3.79 million by the end of the year, by $500,000.

She described the 2023 operating budget as “a baseline budget that keeps the provisions of programs, services, and collections level.”

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

Unlike the city, the library has few ways to generate revenue besides taxes.

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

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

Norborg declined to provide an estimate of the impact of the 3.9% increase, with new salary figures not yet available from the class and compensation study.

Trustees have scheduled a truth and taxation public hearing for their budget on Oct. 19. The earliest possible date for the City Council adoption of budget and tax levies, including the library’s, is Nov. 22.

At the library meeting, trustees expressed support for the fund balance and reserve policy proposed by Norborg, stating a goal of the Board was to maintain a surplus fund balance of no less than four months (33.3%) and no more than six months of anticipated operating expenses (50%) for the budget year.

The city’s fund balance policy is 16.6% of expenses in reserve to meet unanticipated expenses.

The library capital fund, meanwhile, would be maintained at a level officials said is appropriate with current and upcoming capital requirements.

Trustee Adam Goodman connected the support with trustees’ handling of the tax levy issue.

“We went for a number of years without asking for an increase in the levy and I think in a positive way we’re providing guidance for future years,” he said. “For as long as I’ve been on the board, I don’t recall sort of a robust conversation where we’re able to look ahead a little bit.”

“I like the way all these things are intersecting that we can understand what happens two or three years out. As we think about the levy as we think about the budget, as we think about the fund balance, all these things start to connect.”

At the Sept. 21 meeting, trustees also mirrored an action of the city’s from Sept. 19, approving a $500 “thank you” bonus for all current permanent library employees for enduring “COVID, staffing shortages, rising household costs and other challenges.”

“I think we should do it,” said Trustee Rachel Hayman.

Other trustees enthusiastically supported  the proposal, approving the bonus in a unanimous vote.

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.

2 replies on “Library supports 3.9% tax increase after 3 years without one”

  1. “The library is anticipating an estimated $508,727 in personnel costs…”
    That’s awful cheap for a fully staffed library. I wonder whether they actually mean “increase of $508,727”

    1. Thank you, Chuck for catching that. I talked to the reporter, Bob Seidenberg, and we have made that correction in the story. Again, thank you. Susy Schultz, editor

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