Proposal to rescue library tops city agenda

Proposal to rescue library tops city agenda

Facility may cut hours if officials reject idea

CHAMPAIGN — City council members this week will look at library officials' plan to keep the Champaign Public Library's limping budget afloat into 2019.

It would put a little more pressure on city tax dollars, but the alternative would be deep cuts to library services. The city council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

While the library is an arm of city government, it functions and budgets its money somewhat independently. Until now, the city and library have shared the debt payments on the 6-year-old Green Street building, and library officials are hoping city council members agree to take over the library's share: $277,000 annually.

That means the city would have to come up with that amount out of its own budget, putting more pressure on its own property and sales tax streams as opposed to the library's. But city officials have yet to decide what to do with a chunk of the $2.8 million in new revenue from a quarter-cent sales tax increase that went into effect at the beginning of this year.

According to city documents, the library will continue to leave 16 positions unfilled. It has reduced its workforce by nearly 13 percent since 2009, and job vacancies are expected to save the library a cumulative $1 million over the next five years.

Starting in 2015, library officials also want to start charging nonprofit groups for using library meeting space. Right now, it charges for use by nonresidents and for-profit groups, but waives those fees for others.

Budgeters think charging everyone could bring in as much as an extra $80,000 annually at the current rate of use.

According to city documents, the 20 most frequent users of library meeting space account for $50,000 of that potential revenue.

The three biggest users — the Champaign school district, the city of Champaign and the University of Illinois, which collectively spent 413 hours in library meeting rooms on 98 separate occasions — would end up paying between $7,000 and $8,500 each.

The board had tossed around the idea of installing a pay station in the library parking lot and charging for parking, but chose not to pursue the idea. At 75 cents per hour, budgeters think a pay station could have brought in $214,000 annually.

"The option was rejected by the board because the public dislike for parking fees outweighed the relatively low projected return," according to a memo to the city council. They also believed it may have deterred some people from visiting the library, particularly lower-income patrons.

Library officials have been working on the plan for months as they try to stave off a deficit that could grow to $3.36 million by June 2019. The city council will need to sign off, or else it's back to the drawing board and, most likely, a reduction in library hours that has been looming for months.

If city council members say "no" on Tuesday night, according to the memo, "the Library Board sees no option but to reduce hours of operation."

Decision day

What: Champaign City Council meeting

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

The big question: Will the city take over the library's share of debt payments on the Green Street building?

At stake: If council members vote no, the library "sees no option but to reduce hours of operation," according to a memo.

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danrice56 wrote on February 24, 2014 at 8:02 am

Then let the deep cuts begin. Enough of propping up a white elephant. While library service is important, we're not talking about it shutting down. They got themselves into this mess; let them dig themselves out. Enough of buy now, let the taxpayer pay later mentality.

787 wrote on February 24, 2014 at 8:02 am

If there is anyone who is still on the library board today, who was also on the board when this library building was being planned, budgeted, and built several years ago... they need to resign immediately.

The Champaign Public Library has a building that they can't afford the payments on, they have a building that they can't afford to staff, and they've alienated themselves from the regional library system by choice.

Sounds like a success story to me.

jms wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I know I'm overposting here, but I can't help myself. That rebuilding of the library was hugely expensive. And the old one was actually more comfortable. Why couldn't they have done something more modest?

G. Gordon Gordon wrote on February 24, 2014 at 10:02 am

I'd gladly take a tax increase if it means keeping the doors of the library open.

It takes a pretty cold heart to call for service cuts at the library, a service open to the entire community and which helps the poorest members of our community most of all.

787 wrote on February 25, 2014 at 7:02 am

Then get out your checkbook and write them a check...

It's so easy to say "just raise my taxes" (and everyone else's taxes... including people who can't afford it).  So, why don't you get your checkbook out and do it on your own?

G. Gordon Gordon wrote on February 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

Because that's now how society works. We all pay for, say, rebuilding Windsor road. I don't have any kids, but I still (gladly) pay for the local schools.

If the Library needs $200k to keep operating at current levels, it works out to a little over $3 per adult in Champaign. $3 is not some massive sum that will drive area residents into the poor house.

Would I pay $6 to help cover those who genuinely can't afford their share? Yes. But we can't fund the library by going door-to-door or holding a bakesale.

EL YATIRI wrote on March 01, 2014 at 9:03 am
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Don't fret GGG, your taxes will indeed go up, right after the elections and by politicians who always promise they won't raise taxes.  Your memory must have forgotten that last time around we were facing cuts in police and fire dept personnel, and the entire community including the poorest would be hurt by cuts in safety personnel.  The city raised the sales tax, which disproportionately hits the poorest, so think a little past your ideology and get the big picture.

Fireowl wrote on February 24, 2014 at 11:02 am

"When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself."  Isaac Asimov

I don't know the details of how the new library building was budgeted, approved, and built, so I cannot speak to whether there are fiscal issues that need to be addressed.

What I can speak to is the importance of the library in our community.  It is a hub, a gathering space for individuals, non-profits, and businesses.  It is a home for the exploration and proliferation of ideas, and it's walls have sheltered many emerging initiatives.  I visit and even drive by the library frequently during the week, and the parking lot is always half to completely full.  This tells me that our community is using it - and the ways our community benefits from the knowledge and services offered by the library are countless.

Along with books and movies, the library offers events and services accessible and of service to our whole community.  It is where people can access computers, print documents, where young children can prepare for kindergarten and students of every age can research papers.

The building is beautiful, the staff extremely helpful.  In thinking about my tax dollars and how they are spent (and my husband and I recently moved, which about doubled our property taxes) the library is on my top 5 list.  When I drive around Champaign, see all the parks, see the gorgeous flowers downtown in the spring and summer, and see buildings like the library, it makes me feel as though I live in a true community, one that cares about the full range of experience and humanity contained within.

"Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers.  And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learing are always open."  Laura Bush

Please let's keep the library doors open for the extended hours they are - thus affording access to as many community members as we possible can.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on March 03, 2014 at 3:03 pm
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"If you want to get laid, go to college.  If you want an education, go to the library."  --Frank Zappa

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I always valued the library when I was growing up because it gave me a constructive place to escape to from a violent household.

jms wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I believe in keeping libraries open and free to the public, including groups who want to use it. I hope taxes go to pay for it. I do wonder at the wisdom of the library's huge and expensive renovation.


Lostinspace wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Looking forward to a 2019 N-G article:

Proposal to rescue new high school tops city agenda

Local Yocal wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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Looks like the City of Champaign is reaping what it has sowed for all those tax breaks and incentives over the years. Now a vital service is in jeopardy, and questions arise on how to pay for what's already been promised and delivered. I say let the new neighbor, billionaire Yahoo! make up for the difference.

jms wrote on February 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

so true.

Eeyore wrote on February 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I am a huge library fan, but not sure how I feel about this bailout. If the City has extra money, perhaps they should divert it to fix the potholes that are ruining people's cars.

787 wrote on February 25, 2014 at 7:02 am

Can anyone on the Library Board say "fiscal irresponsibility?" 

bbill wrote on February 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Apparently no one here is aware that this budget issue is one faced by libraries all over the country not just our own Champaign library.  It isn't that the building is too big or public monies are improperly managed.  The problem is that property values dropped years ago and continue to remain lower or flat.  That means library income is unable to keep up with expenses.  From what I understand, this library is very efficiently run and the number of staff now is probably lower than what they had in the older building with all the unfilled positions.  The costs of everything seem to go up each year - health insurance, salaries and other expenses - while the money taken in from property taxes isn't going up.  The Decatur Public Library is in this exact position for almost the same amount of a gap.  Quit blaming the library board and library officials and realize that this issue is one created by an economy that has not rebounded from a bad housing market.  Maybe we should quit cutting all these business in town a break on their property taxes to build new buildings which they will abandon before the TIF is out.  The library could probably balance its budget if it had some of that lost property tax revenue..

cretis16 wrote on March 01, 2014 at 11:03 am

Close Douglass Branch and save lots of $$$$. Consolidate like school systems to one central location. I dont see how a puny increase in library late fines is a big revenue increase.Once you consolidate into one location your cost will go down.

danrice56 wrote on March 02, 2014 at 7:03 am

Yes, paint as heartless villians those who want accountability in government, and think elected officials should no longer engage in spending for projects they can't afford to keep up.

I know library services are important, but perhaps even more important is consequences for reckless spending. If the taxpayer is not there to bail out the government every time it overspends, maybe it will learn its lesson.