Longer-term Champaign library funding answer uncertain

CHAMPAIGN — City administrators will recommend in the coming weeks that council members find new revenue — potentially a tax raise — to give an extra $500,000 to the Champaign Public Library to avoid the immediate need for hour reductions at its main and branch facilities.

The longer-term solution is still up in the air, as officials anticipate budget shortfalls at the library of $1 million or more in the coming years, but they say the immediate cuts would be offset by the extra money this year.

Last week, library officials said annual cuts through the recession have finally brought them to a point where it's not feasible to continue operating on its current schedule with a severely reduced staff.

Library Director Marsha Grove said officials would need to cover a $500,000 budget gap going into the fiscal year that begins July 1, or cut a total of 31 hours per week at the main facility on Green Street and its branch library near Douglass Park. Most of those hours would come out of weekday evenings.

If city council members agree with administrators' recommendation, they would need to find new money — which could be in the form of a tax increase — to fund the library. Where exactly that money might come from will be the topic of city council talks during the next few weeks before members adopt a budget in June.

A cash infusion would keep the library open on its current schedule through June 2014, but the one-time bump would not ameliorate a library budget deficit that is expected to continue — even grow — in the next few years.

"A year from now, we're going to be in the same position," City Manager Dorothy David said.

Library officials would have six months to come back to the city council with a long-term plan to avoid future budget shortfalls. That plan could include tax raises, spending cuts or a combination of both, and any plan library officials develop would need the support of the city council.

The library operates almost entirely on property tax revenues. As property values continue to flatline or even decline, the gap between stagnating revenues and rising costs will continue to grow without new revenue.

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787 wrote on May 09, 2013 at 10:05 am

So... who exactly did the forecasting on this deal?  They built a huge, beautiful library... only to discover a few years later that they can't afford the salaries to pay the staff.

Of course, if we hadn't struggled through a recession that has lingered for several years now (which many in Washington DC refuse to acknowledge), maybe this wouldn't have happened.

But... why is it always the government never seems to have the ability to live within its means?   Because they always know that they can raise taxes and the problem magically goes away.

 

I'm sick and tired of garbage like this.  Of course, the city will bail them out, and everyone will get to pay for yet another lack of serious planning.

Skepticity wrote on May 09, 2013 at 10:05 am

Has anyone done a cost/benefit evaluation of maintaining the Douglass Branch Library during this time of limited funds? 

Continuing to keep this second facility open with its associated utility, repair, and staffing costs with its limited patronage may no longer be fiscally viable.  There is an award winning public transit system present that can help library patrons access the main library. 

There are other areas of Champaign that are farther from the main library than the Douglass Branch neighborhood, and those areas do not have separate branch libraries.  The original good reasons for the Douglass Branch no longer apply to the extent that they originally did.  Today Champaign's population is more generally diverse, and library access is available to all. 

The time for maintaining a separate facility seems to have passed.  Nostalgic historical reasons for maintaining the facility do not justify continuing the branch while having to cut overall library services for the entire city. 

mee wrote on May 09, 2013 at 2:05 pm

It is time to end separate but equal.  It is time to close the Douglas branch.

thelowedown wrote on May 10, 2013 at 12:05 am

"Most of those hours would come out of weekday evenings"

One of the most important reasons libraries exist is programs and opportunities for children. Why not cut earlier hours at the beginning of the day when kids are usually in school?

ittfmw wrote on May 10, 2013 at 8:05 am

I think these are two totally different budget situations that you're referring to.  To my recollection, the money to build our fantastic library did not come out of the day-to-day operating expenses.  That money comes from our property taxes.  And altho other govt entities have increased the property tax, my bills show that the library percentage has remained consistent for years.

We all love the library.  I wouldn't mind dedicating several more dollars a year to keep our library funded.  We need a long term solution for an issue that's only been a problem since the recession.