The library continues its battle with debt

Exterior+view+of+Champaign+Public+Library+

The Daily Illini File Photo

Exterior view of Champaign Public Library

By Abrar Al-Heeti

As the Champaign Public Library continues to battle its long-standing struggle with debt, they face the new fiscal year with $277,000 from Champaign City Council — still leaving them $300,000 short of what is needed.

When the recession hit and eroded the value of the dollar, property tax assessments went down, along with the amount of money that was going to the library, as 92 percent of library revenue comes from property taxes.

“So when those (property taxes) start dropping, all of our other costs never drop, they just continue to rise,” said Library Director Marsha Grove.

The city is responsible for keeping track of property taxes, but it receives less than 25 percent of what’s collected, since there are a number of different taxing bodies that draw from the dollar, such as the Champaign Park District and Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.

“The City of Champaign does not operate largely on property taxes,” said Michael LaDue, a member of the Champaign Public Library Board of Trustees and a Champaign City Council member. “It’s just a little sliver to us — for the library it’s everything.”

Champaign City Council is also responsible for funding other operations within the city beyond the library so there are a lot of competing priorities for limited resources.

“Unfortunately, the city of Champaign runs a number of different operations from its general fund that include public safety,” LaDue said. “And our public safety budgets were cut because of the recession of 2008. And we’ve been endeavoring to restore the public safety budgets as a priority because, my God, we have serious public safety issues.”

The library has tried several different strategies for reducing expenditures, including leaving positions vacant since 2010, so that beginning this fiscal year, 16 positions in the library will remain unfilled, including the position for assistant director.

“When you have less revenue coming in, you’ve got to make cuts,” Grove said. “Or else you raise the taxes.”

Grove said the tax rate for Champaign Public Library has been at the same rate for 20 years; therefore, reductions must be made in other areas to properly fund the library.

Grove understands that it is possible that the city council will not be able to grant the library the remainder of the money that is needed because “they have their own challenges in the city.”

Library officials considered possibly reducing personnel even more, as 70 percent of the library’s budget goes towards personnel costs.

Library officials are also exploring the option of charging parking fees or charging for meeting room use, the latter of which will likely start sometime in this next budget year.

“It definitely won’t make the same amount of money that we need,” Grove said regarding the proposed parking fees. “Another possibility is leasing out things in the building. We don’t have a lot of expertise in that because we’re librarians, not necessarily landlords, but we’ll be looking at all those possibilities.”

The library will survey all of its cardholders sometime in August or September asking for public input about proposals such as closing early.

But LaDue said closing for a whole day is an option he believes to be the best he’s heard yet.

“We already had some statistics compiled by the library director that suggested that if you close for one day (a week), you would save about $230,000 (yearly),” he said. “That would be a substantial move towards closing the gap. But of course nobody wants to do that. That fell on deaf ears when I spoke to it. It’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the only thing anybody’s come up with that actually addresses a big chunk of the shortfall.”

In the midst of the recession and financial struggles, the Champaign Public Library has been recognized as a four star library for its services. LaDue said he wants to preserve that, which is why he would rather cut hours than compromise service levels.

“Run a four-star library six days a week and control the indebtedness, rather than compromising the quality of the library to keep it open seven days,” LaDue said. “We’re one of the 100 best libraries in the United States. Can we afford to keep it that way? Well, that’s an open question.”

Abrar can be reached at [email protected]