Quincy News

Without new funding, officials say library's future looks bleak

Debbie Riddell and Natascha Will reads lines with puppets during the Quincy Public Library's puppet show "Luck of the Irish" on Thursday, Mar. 7, 2019. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 21, 2019 7:20 am Updated: Mar. 21, 2019 9:16 am

QUINCY-- Quincy Public Library Executive Director Kathleen Helsabeck has plans for the future of the library, which was founded in 1888.

"We'd like to do more programs, more story hours for children, more events for teens and adults," Helsabeck said. "We know that since Quincy is an elderly community that there is going to be an increase in demands for our homebound delivery program over the next 10, 20, or 30 years."

Those plans include reopening the library on Sunday and expanding the library's daily hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The library director also would add a maker space, or a place where people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing equipment, ideas and knowledge.

"We've also talked about in staff meetings how we would love to have a 3-D printer," Helsabeck said. "We've talked about how we can become a library of things, in addition to books, by adding cooking materials to our collection."

She also would like to expand the staff, which 10 years ago included 50 librarians. Now the total staff is 36. Helsabeck estimated it would cost $350,000 in additional revenue annually to restore the staffing positions lost to attrition or budget reductions.

Helsabeck said the big question is how to pay for all of those plans.

The library now receives its funding from primarily five revenue sources.

The first source is the state of Illinois through a Personal Property Replacement Tax. Helsabeck said the library receives $368,172 from the state.

The second source is state and federal government grants, which the library must apply for annually. The third source is from the Tri-Quincy Area Public Library District.

The fourth source is from the locally imposed property tax levy, which provided the library with $734,045 this year. This number fluctuates annually but has been declining since 2010 when the tax levy provided the library with more than $1.3 million.

The fifth source is from the city's general fund. Mayor Kyle Moore says the city has been increasing the amount that subsidizes the library budget. In 2010, the city chipped in $106,716. In 2019, that number had ballooned to $746,814.

Moore said the increased subsidies was because the City Council and administrators were hesitant to increase the city's tax levy.

"What happened is that you had people running for office who wanted to say that they had lowered the tax rate every year," Moore said. "So if I had to put my guessing cap on -- and since I am on the record, I am going to strictly say that this is a guess -- but there were pressures in 2010 to keep the tax rate the same or lower."

Moore said in 1999 the city's tax levy was $1.40 per $100 of assessed valuation. In 2019, that number is $1.06 per $100 of assessed valuation.

"I don't know the rational behind the decision, and I am not saying that it was a bad decision," Moore said. Instead, Moore said he thinks previous city officials were cornered into that decision after the Legislature passed a law that requires Illinois cities to fund public safety pensions for emergency services at 90 percent by 2041.

"For the state to do that, heck, yes it handicapped the city's finances," Moore said. "Our public safety pension fund is paid for through our property tax levy."

Moore said every dollar paid to pension funds is one less dollar for programs or departments such as the library.

"Essentially the state has put a gun to our head and, right or wrong, completely changed the way we do business in Quincy," Moore said.

He said that next year's budget will be "fairly stable" and that after "a decent year in revenue" the city might be able to provide a slight increase in funding to the library for the upcoming fiscal year.

"I don't think you will see further cuts to the library," Moore said, but added that this could change depending on the City Council.

Helsabeck said she understands that the city's finances are strained, but unless changes are made on funding, she will be make cuts.

"I really don't know how this is going to be play out," Helsabeck said. "I know what we have budgeted and what we have spent. I know some of the details, but how bold do I want to be? I could be bold and say that if someone cuts the budget further that we might be forced to cut the children's librarians or reference librarians. How bold should I be?"

Quincy Public Library Board member Judy Crocker said the loss of the children's librarians or the reference librarians would be a loss felt by many.

"A public library serves everybody in the community who wants it," Crocker said. "Having a quality public library is a public expense, but I don't make any apologies for that. To me, Quincy is a city with a culture of thriving arts, of quality parks and lots of things that make it a great place for young families to live. Those things, museums, libraries, parks, music and art are the city's soul, and you don't save the city's soul by cutting those things."

The library said it circulated 422,632 children's books last year and 199,348 books targeted at adult-age readers.

Board member Chris Pratt said these numbers should draw attention to the library and perhaps even silence its critics.

"I think at the very least it will turn their head and get them to perk up," Pratt said. "It may make them want to at least review the data to see what it is based on."

Helsabeck said the city should explore diversifying its revenue streams. She said she has heard other library advocates say that it is time to ask the City Council to increase the percentage of the tax levy revenue directed to the library.

Moore says he doesn't support efforts to make the library independent or to make it a library district, but he does support discussing increasing the percentage the library receives from the tax levy.

"I think they can make the library tax funding request through the city just like we do every year," Moore said. "I am not for another layer of government, so I don't agree with that at all."

Instead, Moore said library advocates should look for "ways to monetize the services they provide." He suggested the library evaluate implementing a fee to rent DVDs or other video-related material from the library.

"I am not in the library business, so I don't know if that is even possible," Moore said, suggesting that library administration could conduct an internal review of its policies. He compared it to how the city recently reviewed its business licensing fee and learned that many different licensing fees had not been increased since the mid-1990s.

He also suggested that library advocates rally behind one of the funding proposals outlined in the city's sustainability report. The report was released in October 2018.

"Last year, I advocated for a food and beverage tax in the city," Moore said. "Nobody supported it. There was not even a second on the City Council."

The report said that Decatur's food and beverage tax generates $3.4 million annually. Other cities with similar taxes include Galesburg, Moline and Palatine.

"In most municipalities, they collect about $700,000 for every percent that you levy on those who dine out and who drink alcohol," Moore said. "I feel like I have been very willing to put my name out there so that we can sustain services."

Moore said he also encouraged library advocates to back the report's recommendation for a self-funded garbage, recycling and yard waste program.

"For every dollar that we pay as a city to subsidize garbage, recycling and yard waste that is another dollar that we don't have to pay for things like the library," Moore said. "As I have talked to every library board member and advocate, there comes a time when you advocate for what you want but you also have to advocate for how you pay for it. If you are not willing to advocate for that, then we are basically in the same position we are in now, where we have no way to pay for these things that we all value and want here in Quincy."

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