The Forest Park Public Library has assigned a committee made up of both board members and citizens to begin preparing for a tax referendum on the November ballot.
Details are sketchy at this point, as board members remain tight-lipped regarding just how much more money the library is likely to seek from taxpayers. According to Board President Debbie King, the board will likely vote on an amount at its May meeting.
“We’d like to restore a couple of staff positions that needed to be cut, increase some salaries in some areas that are extremely low, put more money into the collections … we also absolutely need to do some computer upgrades we don’t have money for,” said King.
“We’re greatly dependent on tax dollars, more so than most government entities, but if people look at their tax bill, they’ll see how little of the tax bill [the library] represents,” added Library Director Rodger Brayden.
Still, officials know that the referendum is likely to be a hard sell. Due in large part to several recent layoffs and a stagnant literary collection, as well as security issues in the Youth Services Department, many have been critical of the library board in recent months, including members of the Friends of the Library.
“When you ask the community for money, you need to say you’ve done the best job you could to raise money without going to them”they haven’t done that,” said Friends member Barbara Plona.
Brayden said the library always keeps an eye out for possible grants and additional funding opportunities, but has reached a point where it needs more than is available.
“For the most part, grantors don’t grant money for continuing operations. It’s not typical to see a grantor say, ‘We’ve got a whole pile of money, and we want to help you lift your salary scale.’ Most grantors are not willing to take the place of taxpayers,” he said.
Despite her reservations, Plona said she is still likely to support a referendum for the betterment of the library.
“I’d like to see the library be more than just a repository of books, but a vibrant cultural center for community, and it isn’t that,” she commented.
At the closing of a meeting held in the library in November to address some of the community’s concerns, another meeting was promised in the future to analyze the library’s spending over the past few years and dispel talk of mismanagement of funds. That meeting still has not taken place.
King said the library is still awaiting word from Mayor Anthony Calderone, who had wished to assist in reviewing the library’s budget with citizens, on when the next meeting will occur.
“[The Village] was going to do a whole PowerPoint presentation, which nobody on the board knew how to do,” said King.
Calderone, who hosted the November meeting, did not return calls seeking comment.
The library’s budget for the current fiscal year is just under $700,000.
According to King, the library receives about 90 percent of its revenues from property tax dollars, with the remainder coming from late fees and fines. She has said that many of its budgetary problems arise from state property tax caps set at either the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or a maximum of 5 percent.
“We’re not running a deficit, but the reason we’re not running a deficit is measures that needed to be taken a year and a half ago [including the layoffs],” noted Brayden.
The referendum is also likely to face skepticism from those who wish to see fundamental changes made to the library board, including several who have expressed a desire for elected board members.
The board is currently appointed by the mayor, and critics have alleged that King, who is the sister of developer David King, was placed on the board as a political favor.
Both King and Calderone have denied this charge on several occasions in the past.
Brayden said the library needs more money sooner than it would be able to change its form of government, even if it were to attempt to do so.
“As far as a change of government is concerned, oh my goodness, what a project that would be,” said Brayden.
Though he acknowledged that “certainly a case could be made for an elected board,” he noted that many libraries with elected boards have experienced problems just as bad and worse than those facing Forest Park’s library.
“If there are voters so discontented with the fact that we have an appointed board, that they’ll never vote for anything unless we have an elected board, I don’t know what we could say besides, ‘Here are the figures; here’s what we would do with the money; here’s how little it would cost you; would you please consider it?'” he said.
Karen Childs, the secretary of the library board and the head of the committee charged with planning for the referendum, said the process is still in its early stages.
“The main thing will be publicity, and there’s a variety of different ways go about that”things in the paper, flyers. We’ll have some sort of a fundraiser just to raise enough printing costs; we may have some informational meetings; and, of course, we’ll be collecting signatures for petitions [to get the referendum on the ballot],” she said.
Childs said the committee is open to new members interested in helping to organize the referendum.
The library’s last referendum was in 1993, when it moved into its current building at 7555 Jackson Blvd.