The new patio area on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Forest Park Public Library. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

While the Forest Park Public Library is planning to spend less money during the upcoming 2023-2024 fiscal year, the budget includes several notable new expenditures. 

The library’s fiscal year begins on May 1 and ends on April 30 of the following year. The FY2023-2024 budget, which was unanimously approved by the library’s Board of Trustees during a March 27 special meeting, includes funding for a new staff member  responsible for helping patrons who need social services. It also sets aside $10,000 for projects staff comes up with, so that, if there are good ideas, the library doesn’t have to wait until the next fiscal year to implement them. 

This was the first budget developed by new library director Vicki Rakowski, who started working at the Forest Park library in January. She said that, between the fact that she has experience developing a budget as the executive director of the Barrington Area Library District, as well as the fact that much of the budget came from department head requests, she didn’t have much trouble crafting the proposal. 

Rakowski told library trustees that with library renovations recently finished expenditures in the new year would inevitably drop. Overall library expenditures will go  from the $2.9 million budgeted for FY2022-2023 to $2.2 million. The budget does set aside money for finishing up the new patio in front of the building, which still needs furniture, as well as landscaping work around the building and adding buttons in restrooms for people with mobility issues, who would otherwise struggle to open doors.

The employee salaries and benefits budget line increased from $1.2 million to $1.3 million. While some of the increase covers regular 3% merit raises and an increase in insurance premiums, Rakowski said she wanted to have money to fund a new “possible social work or possible community resource manager/coordinator position.” She said she is still trying to figure out exactly what the position would look like. 

“We have seen other libraries hire on-staff social workers, and I think this could be useful for our community,” she told the Review in an interview ahead of the meeting. “There are so many resources in this area, but it can be difficult for people to know how to access them. Those can be resources for families, seniors, children, people experiencing housing insecurity, you name it. I’m not sure if a social worker is the exact right fit for our library or if we’re going to try and create a different kind of role for a librarian, but we must budget for the position if we are able to create it in this fiscal year.”

Rakowski said she hopes to create this position “within the first half of the new fiscal year.” – in other words, sometime by September.

Board president Brooke Sievers, who works as an assistant director at the Addison Public Library, warned that it may be easier said than done – her own library has been trying to fill a similar position for months. 

Sievers also wondered if the library could do across-the-board salary increases to account for inflation. Rakowski didn’t rule it out, but she said she wanted to first get a sense of how the library normally handles raises. 

“We can afford to do that within the salary line increase that I’ve set,” she said.

Another notable budget item is “Strategic Initiatives.” Rakowski said this was something that Sue Quinn, who served as interim director before her hiring, came up with while serving as the River Forest Public Library executive director. The idea is to have  money in place for initiatives that staff suggests and that would fit in with the library’s strategic plan.

Rakowski said told the board that she supported it because she thought it was a good way to encourage new ideas and because it would give the staff more of a sense of ownership over the library’s future.