Champaign public library requests that city help tackle budget shortfalls

By Angelica Lavito

The Champaign City Council reviewed the Champaign Public Library’s plan to tackle budget shortfalls at Tuesday’s meeting.

Because of increasing expenses and decreasing revenues, the library appealed to the council for funding. The city council directed staff to move forward with an agreement that will provide the library with requested funding for one year.

The library constructed a new building in 2008, and the library is supposed to share the building debt with the city. Part of the library’s share of the debt has averaged $277,000 annually.

However, lower revenues have made it difficult for the library to pay their portion of the debt. The library receives 92 percent of its funding from property tax levies, and declining property values has resulted in declining revenues.

“Since 2008 with the economic downturn … we saw the projections for the revenues and it did not look good,” said Library Director Marsha Grove. “So that’s why we’ve been making cuts all along, since 2009.”

Before the New Year, the City Council voted to adopt the same property tax levy for 2014 as it did for 2013, because they felt the $2.8 million raised from the increase in the home rule sales tax would cover the difference.

“I don’t want the service of the library to be compromised until it’s absolutely necessary. Given the revenue that the city of Champaign got as part of that two million plus dollars, we can support a one or possibly two year incursion to the library,” said Michael LaDue, City council member, district 2, and liaison to the library.

Since 2009, the library has reduced its annual spending by 4.4 percent, according to the study session report. The library has reduced 70 percent of its programs, canceled its bookmobile program among other cuts and increased fees such as late fees.

Paying employees accounts for 70 percent of the library’s budget, according to the report. There are 16 unfilled paid positions that will not be filled under the library’s proposed plan.

“I haven’t had to lay anyone off, yet,” Grove said. “I have been doing this since 2009: seeing what the future held for budget projections. If someone quit or retired I didn’t replace them.”

The library requested additional funding through 2026, but the city manager did not recommend making a long-term commitment. Instead, she recommended a one-time payment of $273,436.

“We’re facing the largest unanticipated increase in public works expenditures in 30 years on roads … so committing to the library until 2026, facing that kind of public works expenditure, is just not very realistic,” LaDue said.

The council provided input on suggestions to increase revenue such as charging organizations to use meeting facilities and charging for parking. Opinions varied, but a majority of the council discouraged installing parking meters and encouraged charging groups to use meeting space.

The Champaign Public Library was rated 4 out of 5 stars by the Library Journal in 2013. Cutting the library’s operating hours was one of the possibilities discussed if the library did not receive additional funds.

“One of the reasons we are able to keep providing the level of services is that the library staff has stepped up incredibly. We have a lot of people doing things they’ve never done before, and they’ve been asked to do more complex things,” said Library Board of Trustees President Trisha Crowley. “They’ve stepped up and doing those things, and that’s one reason why the public hasn’t seen much difference when they walk into the door.”

The Council emphasized that this funding will not solve the structural problems the library faces, but will provide them with time to find solutions.

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]