For the first time in 32 years, the O’Fallon Library Board is seeking a property tax increase. Without the extra money, library officials said cuts would have to be made.
The O’Fallon City Council has included a proposed tax rate hike for the library in its annual levy ordinance, which passed 12-2 in its first reading on Monday night. It will move on for a final vote on Dec. 19.
The current library budget is $1,006,600.
“We would not have to reduce services or help,” said Dennis Grimmer, president of the O’Fallon Library Board and former alderman.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
He explained to the council the library’s needs and the services it provides.
Last year, the library checked out 250,000 items, and 150,000 people came in and out, Grimmer said. Nearly 8,000 children participated in library programs.
O’Fallon’s is one of the few local libraries to have a 5-star rating. It is also open seven days a week, a rarity among local communities. All of its programs are free.
“We’ve been running on a pretty tight budget and have survived only on the tax levy,” Grimmer said. “1984 was the last time we asked for an increase.”
The library saved funds that were able to renovate the library. The new facility is more user-friendly, Grimmer said.
But HVAC repairs have been costly, and the unit is in need of replacement.
The board would like to be able to pay a portion of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund and Social Security for its staff.
Currently, the library has five full-time and 17 part-time employees.
They would like to add more help and materials.
“We would like to provide better customer service,” he said, noting that the library does more work with the schools, because state budget issues affecting education.
“We do more for students now. We have a teen center and provide tutoring,” he said.
The city’s annual levy commences on May 1, 2016 and ends April 30, 2017.
Mayor Gary Graham praised the library.
“You’ve done a tremendous job,” he said. “Nobody wants to raise taxes, but it’s been 30 years.”
The increase’s two opponents, Aldermen Herb Roach and Robert Kueker, said they were not in favor of adding more burden to local residents. They suggested using hotel-motel funds, and reiterated their statements from last month about O’Fallon residents could be better served with that tax than the Destination O’Fallon plans.
“I think we can re-direct the hotel-motel tax for more important purposes (than Destination O’Fallon),” Kueker said.
He complained that he has not seen current financial data, and wanted updated information.
Roach complimented Grimmer on how the library has managed to save costs over the years, but he was not in favor of raising taxes.
“I can’t support this,” he said.
In other action, the council went into executive session to discuss purchasing property, but no action was taken afterward.
The council approved the final plat of the Four Points Center ordinance.
The bills list for Dec. 5, in the amount of $1,671,769.53, as well as $17,589.25 for parks seasonal payments and $500 for parks refunds, was approved.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, the newly elected state representative of District 112, Katie Stuart, introduced herself and invited the city to contact her at any time. Her office will likely be in Collinsville, she said, and in the meantime, she will be posting updates on her Facebook page.
Stuart, a Democrat who lives in Edwardsville, taught math at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She defeated Republican incumbent Dwight Kay in the Nov. 8 election.
District 112 includes O’Fallon in addition to Caseyville, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Fairview Heights, Glen Carbon, Granite City and Maryville.
Ron Zelms, a math teacher at Edwardsville High School who lives in Ward 6, also spoke, urging the council to “reach out, trust her.”