City gives library one-year reprieve
CHAMPAIGN — City council members have supported giving another $273,000 to help the Champaign Public Library over another budget hump in the upcoming fiscal year, but the long-term fix is still very unclear.
That leaves a lot of options on the table — maybe in the future the library will have to cut hours or start charging for parking, for example — but the city council's second one-year reprieve on Tuesday night ensures the library will be able to maintain relatively normal operations through June 2015.
Library officials will have to keep looking for a solution beyond that. The budget deficit is expected to grow into the millions over the next few years, and severe service cuts are likely if they cannot find a solution.
Tuesday night's meeting made it the second consecutive year in which library officials came to the city council asking for additional funding to preserve normal operations, although the $273,000 they'll receive in the next fiscal year is less than the $500,000 they used in this one.
But ever-increasing expenses and flat property tax revenues continue to take a toll on the library, where 16 staff positions are vacant and likely will remain so for some time. That's 13 percent of the library's workforce, and any more would make it very hard to continue normal services, Library Director Marsha Grove said.
Now it's back to the drawing board. The one-time earmark will give the library one more year of protection from layoffs and cuts to hours of operation, but Grove said she will have to do more work with the library board to draw up a long-term solution to beat the structural deficit.
Supporters made for a crowded city council chambers on Tuesday night, but only a few spoke publicly in support of more library funding.
"It's for the kids and the community," said resident David Cobbs. "I know there are some financial problems here, but we have to fund the library."
Council members tentatively agreed in an 8-1 poll to pay the library's $273,000 portion of its debt payments on the 6-year-old building on Green Street during the next year. Library officials had hoped they would agree to take over those payments through the 2026 retirement date of the debt.
City council members agreed that Champaign has a great library and one that is ranked high in national ratings. But facing their own predictions of budget deficits a few years out, they were not willing to make a long-term commitment to pay its debt.
"We really do need to see that long-term plan that reduces reliance on city involvement," said council member Deborah Frank Feinen. "At least for me, I can't guarantee that it will be available next year."
Council member Tom Bruno, the only "no" vote, bemoaned "a lack of creativity" in the library's request.
"We need to, as a community, really leave everything on the table and talk about all of our options," Bruno said.
That was the general tenor of several council members' responses on Tuesday night.
"Maybe we need to have some other options that are just not here," said council member Paul Faraci.
Mayor Don Gerard said he was "a little disappointed," and that he wanted to see more specific fundraising goals.
And though she would have preferred giving the library a bit more time and providing two years' worth of debt payments, council member Marci Dodds said library officials probably should have seen the budget crisis coming back in 2009.
"That really doesn't matter now because it's in the past," Dodds said. "It can't be undone."
The current budget model is not sustainable, Dodds said. She wanted, however, wanted to see "a more comprehensive solution."
"We need to look at everything," Dodds said. "Everything has to be on the table, and that includes hours."