Champaign Library Trustees To Discuss Budget, Revenue Issues
Trustees for the Champaign Public Library will continue their discussion of ways to offset a projected $300,000 budget shortfall at their meeting Thursday at 5:30 PM at the library.
The Champaign City Council gave the library emergency funding for the current fiscal year, ending June 30th 2015. But they’ve said that bailout won’t be repeated.
Library Board President Trisha Crowley says if they have to cut spending next year, they’ll probably have to cut hours, and she wants to avoid closing the library on Sundays.
“We have a huge number of people that are able only to visit on Sunday”, said Crowley. “Hours is service, so that’s going to be one of our primary goals to reduce the impact as much as we can.”
Champaign Library Trustee Scott Pickard chairs a subcommittee looking for new revenue. He says one possibility is opening up a co-working space in the library basement.
According to Pickard, the co-working space would be some place “where aspiring entrepreneurs can meet and network, have services available to them to help them start and develop their business; and coupled with that, possibly, could be an area where they could actually build prototypes, to test things out, to make things.”
Pickard speculates that membership fees for the co-working space might bring in anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year.
Trustees are also exploring ways to beef up the Friends of the Library bookshop, which already contributes about $80,000 annually to the library, from sales of used books at its store in the library and on Amazon.com. A campaign to promote more public donations to the Champaign Public Library Foundation is another possibility. Parking meters in the library parking lot are also an option --- but one Pickard says he’d like to avoid. Library Board President Trisha Crowley agrees, saying that parking meters would require a sizable initial investment, disrupt other parking in the neighborhood and provide little potential for future revenue growth.
Crowley says trustees would not make any final decisions at Thursday’s library board meeting, although they might agree on whether to continue exploring the parking meter proposal. Champaign library officials are expected to finalize their budget proposal early next year, when more is known about the state of property tax revenue.
Champaign city staff has two weeks to seek out additional revenue sources for the police and fire departments, and the city libraries.
The director of the Champaign Public Library says declining property tax revenue could lead to reduced hours of operation.
The director of Illinois' downstate library system hopes the Champaign Public Library can come up with an alternative to charging some out of town patrons a $200 dollar annual fee.
The Heartland Library System board voted last week to suspend Champaign's membership as a result of that fee. Champaign started charging that fee to Tolono and Mahomet district patrons last year due to the strain their borrowing had on the library's resources. In 60 days, the suspension will kick in, barring the library from checking out books from other resources. It also wouldn't be eligible for receiving state and federal grants.
Heartland director Leslie Bednar says the move to suspend the library wasn't an easy one, but its board wanted to send a message.
"I mean, that's kind of where we are now, and why we are there is to hopefully resolve this," said Bednar. "But ultimately, it's a decision for the Champaign Public Library board to make, and they have to make the decision for the patrons that they serve. They were imposing a fee which is in direct opposition to the Library System Act."
Champaign Library Director Marsha Grove says her board will likely explore another option, such as limiting the number of items patrons from the neighboring districts can check out. She says losing the annual $77,000 per capita grant (a federal grant filtered through the state) that all libraries receive would have a detrimental effect.
"It doesn't really seem fair to Champaign residents that they would have to lose that," said Grove. "It certainly doesn't seem fair to the library board. We don't want to give up that $77,000. That's pretty important."
Grove says the library is already doing more with less. She says about 90-percent of the library's revenue comes from property taxes, which have remained flat the last couple of years while expenses go up. Champaign's library has had to leave 14 positions vacant through attrition the last 3 years.
Grove says the fee on the Tolono and Mahomet systems has helped deter some of those patrons, who are now using their home libraries more often.
The Heartland Library System is fairly new, the result of a merger last summer of four smaller systems. It includes 594 member libraries.
The Lincoln Trail Library System says Champaign's library may no longer charge out of town residents a $200 fee to check out materials.
The head of the system says she understands why Champaign's library started charging the fee for residents of Mahomet and Tolono last fall. Champaign library Director Marsha Grove said reciprocal borrowing had become much higher through patrons from neighboring towns than in Champaign and Urbana. Last year, the library lent 700,000 items through the Lincoln Trial system, while Champaign -Urbana residents borrowed about 200-thousand.
Grove said the plan was to evaluate the fee after six months, and the library is sticking to it.
"The board and I will very carefully look at the all the facets of this, and do so, as we have always done, with our primary concern of serving our residents right here in Champaign," Grove said. "That's what we want to do well."
But Lincoln Trail Director Jan Ison said she's surprised to hear the Champaign Public Library board would wait about a month before deciding whether to waive that fee, and she said residents of rural towns still pay taxes for library services.
"They are not non-residents in a legal sense," Ison said. "A non-resident would live outside of any tax-supported public library. And so the residents of Tolono and Mahomet, of those library districts, do pay taxes. Now, those taxes may not be as great as Champaign's tax, which is one of the reasons the board understands that they should perhaps be restricted."
Libraries in the Lincoln Trail system are allowed to limit the items a non-resident patron can check out to five, but Ison called the special use fee 'unacceptable' to both the Lincoln Trail System and Illinois State Library.
The Lincoln trial board said libraries that continue to charge the fee could lose their reciprocal borrowing privileges. Ison said the idea is get Tolono and Mahomet patrons using their local libraries more often.
But no decisions are expected soon. Neither the Champaign Library Board nor the Lincoln Trail Library board will meet until the 3rd week of May.
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