Board wants city to pay off library debt: $278,000 yearly
CHAMPAIGN — If the Champaign Public Library had to make significant budget cuts, Edison Middle School sixth-grader JaMya Bailey-Griffin worries she wouldn't be able to do her social studies homework.
She said she uses the library a lot to study and hang out with friends in the teen room. She recently found a book about Egypt she needed for research on a history project.
"It's a nice place, nice furniture, nice staff," JaMya said.
Library officials think they have a plan that would avoid a large budget deficit and the deep cuts they'd have to make to close it — they had toyed with the idea of cutting library hours, but that can be avoided with the proposal they will make to the city council next month.
The city would have to agree to take over nearly $300,000 annually in debt payments, and the library might have to take another look at the way it charges fees for meeting rooms. But if it means JaMya can visit when she needs to, she's for it.
Otherwise, "I wouldn't be able to get my homework done," she said.
Library board members are hoping city council members agree to take over the debt payments they will make every year until 2026 on the 6-year-old building. That's $278,811 this year, but the number is still lower than the $500,000 cash infusion the library needed in its current budget cycle to keep pace with its expenses.
If the city council says "no" next month, it will be back to the drawing board for library officials. And that likely would mean deeper cuts.
"I'm hopeful," said Library Director Marsha Grove.
Officials had considered reducing the number of hours the main and Douglass Branch libraries are open to the public, especially with a staff reduced by nearly 13 percent since 2009.
Library board members want to make the case that the library has accounted for nearly 25 percent of citywide staff reductions since the economic recession began, even though the library is about 5 percent of the city budget. Budgeters do not expect those positions will return very soon, at least into 2015.
The library is an arm of city government, but it operates largely independent of the city structure. Outside of approving its property tax levy and annual budget, the Feb. 25 city council meeting will be one of the few yearly interactions council members have with the library.
Library Board President Trisha Crowley said council members may not be keenly aware of the cuts the library has already made because they are not as involved with its day-to-day operations.
"This is the time to tell them that story," Crowley said.
With a green light from the city council next month, library officials likely would also start looking at revising rules for how the facility charges for use of meeting rooms. Right now, the library does not charge nonprofit organizations that use meeting space, but that practice might end next year.
The changes to meeting room fees would add a few thousand dollars to the revenue side, but the real numbers are on library debt payments. Right now, the city and the library share the $700,000 annual payment it owes on the debt it issued to pay for the Green Street building, which opened in 2008.
Library officials would ask that the entire amount be paid out of the city budget, not the library's. Essentially, that means the city would have to budget that much more out of its own revenue streams and it would free up money for the library to cover ever-rising personnel and other costs.
The conversation about the library will be in the context of how the city council wants to use an unallocated portion of the money from the new quarter-cent sales tax. The tax, which went into effect Jan. 1, is expected to bring in $2.8 million annually.
The city council had already decided how it wanted to use the money the city will get from that tax during the first half of 2014. Council members will revisit how they want to use the rest of the money on a recurring basis in the future, and the library will be part of that discussion.
University of Illinois doctoral students Alicia Kozma and Ergin Bulut said they use the Champaign Public Library more often than the UI library. It's a space that you know is open, Kozma said, and it would be hard if it reduced hours.
"I think the city can be more creative than cutting library hours if they're doing budget cuts," Bulut said.