Fate of EPL’s north branch to be decided Wednesday

Kimberly Railey

Striving to generate a sensible spending plan amid a struggling economy, the Evanston Public Library board will vote to adopt a 2012 budget tonight.

“Times are tight,” board member Benjamin Schapiro said. “There is pressure to provide services across the city, and clearly the mission of the library is to provide equitable services for all citizens.”

The board is currently weighing three budget proposals configured by Paul Gottschalk, the library’s administrative services manager.

One central issue is whether the city’s North Branch, 2026 Central St., should continue to be funded.

Another point of contention is whether a community engagement library position should be created to coordinate outreach efforts.

Last year, the board adopted a library fund model, meaning it is now self-governing and has the authority to decide its budget and levy taxes upon Evanston citizens. However, members must still consult with the Evanston City Council in their decisions, board member Susan Stone said.

The board has also been operating without a permanent library director who would normally help inform its considerations, though responsibility ultimately rests with the members to allocate budget funds. Donna Dziedzic, who was previously executive director of the Naperville Public Library, is currently serving as interim director.

“Certainly, someone who comes in as a permanent director is going to be looking at the very long term and making a significant investment in the people of the library and with the city as well,” Dziedzic said. “I will work with the board members and staff to make sure we’re financially responsible in executing the budget.”

One budget plan, labeled the “base budget,” calls for the North Branch to remain open without hiring a community engagement librarian. If approved, the library’s property tax levy would rise by nearly 4 percent.

An additional proposal termed “Option A” would provide funds for both the North Branch and the engagement position, causing more than a 6 percent tax levy increase. “Option B” would allow the new librarian to be hired and close the North Branch, an almost 1 percent tax levy hike.

Schapiro said he favors a community engagement position but feels the board should be mindful when gauging the budget’s impact on citizens.

“I am very adamant that we have as small an impact as possible on the taxpayers as the library board develops its new district fund model that we’re operating under,” Schapiro said.

Members are also considering the merits of branch libraries, which may be “out of date” and less effective than community outreach efforts, Stone said.

She added the board has been grappling with the issue of how to appropriate money for the Main Library – which already lacks in books and staff members – while still providing services to those who cannot access that location.

Ultimately, Schapiro said the library must be close to the citizens for it to function most productively.

“It has to have a way of getting out to where the people are so we can be a part of their lives,”he said.

The budget vote is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.

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