The Library Board will hear a report from its "visioning committee" and continue to debate budget questions at its meeting Wed., Aug. 31, at 6 PM in the Main Branch Library. The Board, which has regained its legal right to set its own tax levy independent of the City, is considering its first full-year budget (for 2012). This has ramifications not just for Central Street but for all of Evanston, because the Board needs to decide between a continued path of library shrinkage or a commitment to rebuilding and restoration. Despite literally thousands of Evanstonians signing petitions over the past two years urging keeping the neighborhood libraries open, the Board has already closed the South Branch (after it lost its lease). In the 2012 base budget that is in this meeting's packet, North Branch (which is in no danger of losing a lease since the building is publicly owned) is funded, but the Board will also be presented with an alternative from staff that would close the branch. The closure option will not be the prime focus of discussion -- but it would be better if this was off the table completely.
Scores of citizens and business owners have testified publicly to the importance of neighborhood libraries library to the community. There is broad consensus that the North Branch is an economic driver of Central Street. An independent study out of Philadelphia has confirmed what I presented to the Council almost two years ago, that branch libraries produce a higher tax base and support home values. And, of course, the North Branch is the only non-school community building at all for northwest Evanston.
The Board's own recent figures show that following the Library Board's reduction of branch hours and closing South Branch, there was a significant drop in Evanston circulation, at a time when other libraries' usage is increasing. The North Branch building only cost the Library an estimated $200,000 to keep open in 2011 but generated almost $35,000 in rental plus an estimated $20,000 or more in fees, fines, and video rentals. The net annual cost of keeping North Branch is less than $6 on the median homeowner tax bill in Evanston – about the price of a frozen pizza. The economic development, tax base, educational and social benefit to Evanston of such institutions is far greater.
The Library, unlike other governments, does not face dangerous deficits. It is nowhere near its tax cap. Preserving North Branch's benefits does not require cutting any other service or laying off a single employee. It only requires a simple, common-sense vote of the Library Board. While we don't expect the Board to make a final decision tomorrow, they must decide on a budget soon, likely in September.
Library Board e-mails, meeting schedules, minutes and agendas are on the Library website.