Metro-East News

Libraries bend under budget impasse

Dupo's Daugherty Public Library District seeks funds as Illinois budget crisis hits home

As the budget impasse in Illinois filters through public agencies, libraries find their wallets a little light. Two major revenue streams, property taxes and a per capita grant, may have lasting effects.
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As the budget impasse in Illinois filters through public agencies, libraries find their wallets a little light. Two major revenue streams, property taxes and a per capita grant, may have lasting effects.

Libraries are feeling the pain of Illinois’ budget impasse, especially smaller ones.

“Friends, Your library is in trouble,” the Daugherty Public Library, in Dupo, wrote on its Facebook page earlier this month to lament the steady decline in revenue from property taxes and a supplemental state grant that has gone unawarded this year. “If financial trends continue as they have the past few years, the library will be forced to close its doors within five years.”

As the value of assessed property in the Daugherty Public Library District declined from $94 million in 2009 to $73 million in 2015, the amount the library received from taxes fell $20,000 from $161,000 to $141,000, putting its finances in a bind.

Daugherty also has yet to receive a supplemental grant from the state, which was $8,900 in 2015.

Monte Miller, Dupo’s fire chief, grew up attending Daugherty and now sits on the library board.

“To me, it’s more than just books,” he said. “It’s part of the town.”

Miller recalled attending Daugherty’s “library school,” a kind of pre-pre-school, after the library was started in a garage at the township building. When he was a kid, going to the library was “almost like a daily ritual,” he said. It was a place to get a cool drink on a hot day and attend the summer reading program twice a week.

Miller wants his children to have the same opportunities as he had, he said, but an audit from a Columbia-based accountant that showed the library was running out of money scared him.

To me, it’s more than just books. It’s part of the town.

Monte Miller, Dupo’s fire chief and library board member

Ironically, the library owes part of its instability to the frugal vision put forward almost 40 years ago by founder Adline Ferry, current director Carol Brockmeyer said.

Ferry levied a small tax on property for the library’s general funds, at 15 cents for every $100 of assessed value. That amount has gone virtually unchanged for 40 years, according to Alice Stanger, Daugherty’s treasurer. However, the cost of liability insurance, the building and equipment have inched upward over the years, and the rate came to 19.28 cents for every $100 in 2015.

For an average residential property with a value of $50,000, the library’s portion of the tax bill comes to $20 a year.

That means that if you check out more than two books or a few movies a year, the library tax bill easily covers what you would have spent to buy those things, Brockmeyer said.

In addition to the loss of revenues, though, an expansion in technology and the types of products over the years has strained the library’s budget, Brockmeyer said. Forty years ago, computers weren’t an essential part of libraries, and the Internet wasn’t a basic necessity. Now they are. Today, e-books alone cost Daugherty $3,000 a year, Brockmeyer said.

“We have made cuts in every area we possibly can and to put it bluntly, we are at critical mass,” the library wrote in its Facebook plea, adding that “if we do not receive financial help, we are looking at cuts in services, and our hours of operation.”

Brockmeyer said the library is going to start charging to notarize documents, and Stanger said the library might close its doors one or two more days a week, or shave two hours off its daily schedule. Currently, the library is closed only on Sunday, and it’s open until 8 p.m. most days.

Although all options to improve the library’s finances are on the table, some have created more tension than others.

Recently, the library placed fees on using its copy machine, the only one in town, and it increased its fax fees to $1 for the first page and 50 cents for every one after, Brockmeyer said. Several people didn’t understand why something wasn’t totally free when they already paid taxes to purchase it, she said.

Book worms versus budget worms

The Daugherty Public Library’s revenue mix also includes about $10,000 from fines, which might increase, Brockmeyer said, but almost 90 percent comes from property taxes. It created a GoFundMe campaign asking for $10,000, but not all metro-east libraries fit the same financial straightjacket.

The Belleville Public Library, which recently turned 100 years old, isn’t “hurting yet,” director Lee Spearman said, but he’s also worried about what the future holds.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Spearman said, expecting the two important funding sources, property taxes and the state’s supplemental grant, to change.

Property taxes could be frozen pending the passage of a House bill. The cap would take away the authority of libraries to increase taxes up to 5 percent a year based on the Consumer Price Index. The law would leave property tax increases at 2015 levels, and libraries would have less money every year unless tax increases pass a popular vote.

The freeze wouldn’t be that bad in the short-term, but library funding would get progressively worse.

The supplemental grant could also change dramatically, Spearman said. So far, there has been a 38 percent decrease across the board for all state libraries.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Belleville Public Library Director Lee Spearman

In Belleville, the grant dropped from $55,597.50 in 2015 to $34,285.87 in 2016. But the true decline is actually 100 percent, as the grant this year hasn’t been awarded yet. It usually comes in September.

The two Belleville libraries — the one downtown and the one in West Belleville — can absorb these shocks right now because their budget is bigger, Spearmen said, but the reductions bode poorly for the future, especially because Illinoisans are leaving the state.

Belleville Public Library’s director said that a declining population could leave the system with a stagnant or declining budget over the years. The more people move away, the smaller the tax base, and the smaller the tax base, the weaker libraries will become, he said.

Illinois’s population grew by almost 60,000 from 2010 to 2013, but the state lost 22,000 people from 2014 to 2015, according to the U.S. Census. St. Clair County’s population has dropped from 270,000 to 264,000 from 2010 to 2015.

The state funding challenges has forced the Belleville libraries to slim down their purchasing budgets. Last year, the system had around $130,000 for books, magazines, newspapers, movies, music, and e-books, Spearman said. This year, the libraries will end up spending about $85,000.

To help mitigate the effects, the Belleville branches cut down on travel expenses, but a recent expenditure on construction that added lounges with comfy chairs leaves it more vulnerable. The library spent a little more than half of its reserve fund. After a $120,000 bill, now there’s about $100,000 left.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel