Champaign library board again in search of a budget fix
Knowledge that city might not bail them out again is coloring their brainstorming
CHAMPAIGN — Library board members found themselves in a familiar spot Thursday evening as they started a brand-new discussion on long-term budget fixes for a deteriorating bottom line.
But this time, they are doing it with an understanding that the hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of city bailouts they've leaned on last year and into the coming year might not be there in the future. And with that as a backdrop, possible budget cuts or revenue ideas that were dismissed in the past as too disruptive resurfaced on Thursday night.
Closing the library for several hours or a full day every week keeps being brought up, especially now as board members start to look toward future budget years without a safety net.
"No idea is a bad idea," board member Scott Pickard reminded his colleagues as he went through how the board might go about avoiding millions of dollars in cumulative budget deficits if it does not act.
Everything is on the table — again — after city council members last month denied library officials' request for the city to pay the library's portion of its debt through the 2026 retirement of a loan on the six-year-old building on Green Street.
City council members did, however, agree to cover a $278,000 portion of the loan in the upcoming budget year. That covers the library through June 2015, but plans beyond that are now in library board members' hands.
Last month, some city council members had commented that they thought library officials may have dismissed alternative budget fixes too quickly.
"They said everything should be on the table," said library board member Peter Newman.
Charging for parking in the library parking lot or maybe even squeezing more revenue out of the library cafe were among the options discussed Thurday night. Pickard even suggested potentially turning the library basement into some kind of creative space and generating money out of that area.
It was nothing more than a brainstorming session that officials hope to continue in the months to come. They plan to put together a committee to continue the discussion and start to put some real substance to the ideas.
Michael La Due, who sits on both the city council and the library board, said he was worried that the conversation was getting off track when members focused on new programming or ideas that require capital the library doesn't have.
In fairness, it was a brainstorming session and all ideas are fair game, he said. But he'd rather they focus on cuts.
"Every other city function has had to undergo that process. I'm a veteran of that process," La Due said. "Yes, it's painful, but we have emerged from some of that at the city level and we've been able to re-fund some of the services that were cut. So fortunes change, and we have to be prepared to adapt to that. I don't think the library should be in an expansionist mode right now."
But the library has already cut 13 percent of its staff and deep into programming. Asked where else could the library cut, La Due turned to a possibility board members have discussed and then dismissed in the past.
"I would think that we can seriously consider closing for a day every week," La Due said.
The conversation has repeated itself for a couple years now as declining property tax revenues and ever-increasing expenses keep pushing the library into tenuous budget situations. Library staff — where a number of jobs including the assistant director position are being held vacant — are stretched to the limit and "the stress level here is very high," said library director Marsha Grove.
Still, she said she's confident board members will come up with another solution.
"They have been working on it for five years," Grove said. "I think the library board has been very successful this last five years with flat property taxes ... and been able to keep this library open — both of our locations — the hours that they have been by making cuts all along."