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."
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.