In order to maintain our building, staff, and services, the library needs sustainable funding. Any decrease in the levy, the main revenue source for the library, will drain the library’s funding and potentially send it into the red. Below is a FAQ to answer some basic questions about how the library levy works and why it’s important.
Why is the current Board President, Carolyn Drblik, throwing out the normal levy renewal process?
Normally the board hears a presentation on the levy and the library’s finances in October, providing ample time to consider, discuss, and vote. But Carolyn Drblik ignored the advice of the library’s lawyers and precedent. She pushed the levy vote to the last possible day. She refused to work with her fellow trustees to fill a vacant seat on the board, although it is a requirement under Illinois statutes. She has not shared her plans publicly, though it is obvious from her support for sweeping cuts that she does not value library services. It could be that she simply wants to avoid criticism from the public. It could be that she intends to use a financial crisis to force the cuts the public already rejected. Either way, it is a political maneuver in direct opposition to the most basic duties of public office.
What is the levy?
The levy is a local tax and is the library’s main source of revenue. It pays for 95% of the library budget and is voted on each year.
How much do I pay in taxes to the library?
Everyone’s taxes are little different based on the value of their house, their school district, their exemptions and other factors. But for the average household the library is about 5% of their annual taxes or about $33 per month.
What if the library doesn’t pass a levy?
If the board cannot compromise on the levy and no ordinance passes, the library will levy $0 for the year. Any unforeseen costs like damage to the roof or the PPE required during COVID could put the library in a financial crisis. The library would be in a financial hole that could take a decade or more to climb out of without further burdens on taxpayers. Given the long and chaotic board meetings under Board President Carolyn Drblik’s leadership and the 3-3 split on the board, a fight over the levy seems inevitable. Carolyn Drblik, Joe Makula, and Suzanne Schoenfeldt blocked the board from filling a vacant seat, maintaining the stalemate. Given these circumstances, leaving just one meeting to discuss and vote on the library’s main source of revenue is negligent and reckless.
What is the difference between the budget and the levy?
The budget outlines how the library will spend the money it has. It sets priorities between purchasing materials, staffing, programming, building maintenance, etc. and puts a cap on all expenses. The levy is the library’s source of revenue, the way it gets the money to pay for the budget. When you create a personal budget for you and your family, you are setting priorities based on your pay. When the library creates a budget, it’s setting priorities based on the levy. So you can think of the levy as the library’s paycheck.
Has the library levy increased or decreased before?
The levy is limited every year by the State Consumer Price Index or CPI. That is the rate of inflation or the increase in prices over time. Things cost more today than they did years ago. If the library had increased the levy at this level every year from 2012, the total amount of taxes levied would have increased 13.1%. But during that time, the levy has actually decreased by 3.8%. In other words, the library has not increased taxes over the last decade and, especially given inflation, is operating on less than it did a decade ago.
It looks like the library has lots of extra savings. Why can’t it use that money?
The money the library receives from the levy is given out twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. During these times, the library looks like it has lots of money in savings, but it also has lots of expenses and will not have any more revenue for at least six months. When your paycheck hits your bank account, it may look to an outsider like you have lots of cash, but you also have bills to pay, groceries to buy, etc. The money in your account is not extra savings, it’s the money you need to live on until your next paycheck.
The library, like most government agencies, does have some savings at all times. Savings are important for many reasons. Sometimes tax funds are given out late or are less than expected. Sometimes there are unforeseen costs, like the PPE that was required to keep staff and patrons safe during the pandemic or if there is an emergency repair needed for the building. And the library has also begun saving for a building renovation. All public buildings need regular renovations to stay current and adapt to the needs of the community. Saving a little over several years is a sound way to prepare for inevitable updates and it avoids asking taxpayers to put out a lot of extra money all at once.
Can’t the library decrease the levy now and raise it later? With the economy struggling, taxpayers need a break.
Costs are going up for everyone, which is why the library is more important than ever. Historically, library use goes up when there is an economic downturn, because more people rely on the materials and services it provides. Before the pandemic, library use was high. More Americans visited their public library in 2019 than participated in any other leisure activity, including movie theaters, sporting events, and live music. And our library in particular had high program attendance and use compared with similar libraries in Illinois. The benefit of library services to job seekers, small businesses, parents, students, and so many other community members far exceeds the small, individual savings of a levy decrease. A $1 million decrease would result in an average of just $40 in savings to the average household. In July, we saw just how important library services are to our community when over 1500 people signed a petition and hundreds showed up at the library’s budget hearing to reject cuts. Also, if the library decreases the levy now, it will just have to increase it another year by even more to make up the difference. For most taxpayers, a predictable, steady levy is better than being caught off guard by costs later and losing the services they rely on.