Council action on library allotment put off 'a few months'
CHAMPAIGN — City and library officials will not have an answer to a half-million-dollar question as soon as they thought — what and how much they will need to cut out of the library budget is still very much up in the air as officials look at ominous budget projections in the years to come.
Champaign Public Library officials were scheduled to bring a proposal to the Champaign City Council in December. The way city officials have chosen to approach the issue has complicated the matter, and library board president Trisha Crowley said on Thursday that the discussion will be delayed "a few months."
The biggest question was whether city council members would be willing to continue a $500,000 allotment to the library into future years. That money will be raised as part of the quarter-cent sales tax increase that will go into effect Jan. 1 and given to the library as a one-time reprieve to avoid a significant hours reduction this year.
Since they got the money, library officials have known it was a one-time deal and would be subject to another review by the city council.
Crowley said city officials now want to consider that proposal in the context of how else they might use that money and another chunk of more than $1 million that went unallocated when the city council voted to raise the sales tax this summer.
"There are certainly things we're going to need to discuss in more detail to have a study session and make a proposal," Crowley said.
Because the sales tax will not take effect until halfway through the fiscal year, the city will collect half of the estimated $2.8 million annually in new revenue projected before the close of the fiscal year on June 30.
That has made the question of what to do with the unallocated portion of the sales tax increase a less pressing matter, but city council members will need to decide soon as they begin the early stages of the budgeting process for the fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.
They will do that in the next few months, and the library will be part of that conversation. Even with the $500,000, library officials likely will still need to cut spending from elsewhere in the budget.
If officials were to do nothing, a deficit of $3.36 million could accumulate by 2019 — about half of the library's $6.76 million operating budget.
Without the full $500,000 — or without any of it — the cuts will just have to be that much deeper.
"I think it's pretty clear that we're not going to get all that we're requesting, so I think we need to come up with a plan what to do," Crowley said.
Board members and library administrators have spent the past months kicking around ideas of what might help the budget picture. It has been clear that no one budget move will fix the problem — officials will need to find a multifaceted approach.
They are fairly certain they will need to cut library staff, but they might get by with only eliminating positions that are now vacant. They could return to the plan to reduce the library's operating hours. Board members have also looked into the feasibility of installing parking meters in the main library lot.
Nothing is final, but everything is on the table. Much of it depends on the city council's decision on the $500,000.
Library board member Rochelle Funderburg said it is "frightening" to continue to wait for a decision from the city, and she thinks library budgeters should begin addressing the issue now.
"It's a hard decision, and I'm not saying that it's not, but I would like to get in front of this," Funderburg said.
She said the choices the library faces should be aired to the public, and she wants to hear from residents what their preferences would be, for one example, if it were a decision between cutting hours or funding for new materials or paying for parking.
"If the public has a different priority than we do, whatever that is, I would like to hear that," she said. "And we have to do that now."
Library board members at their meeting on Thursday considered sending out a survey to members signed up for emails.
"I just feel uncomfortable putting these decisions off until the last minute and then having to go in and beg the city for money," Funderburg said.