The DeKalb Public Library (DPL) is another step closer to its expansion goals. The DeKalb Planning and Zoning Commission forwarded an “intergovernmental agreement” between the DPL and the City of DeKalb to the city council with its unanimous approval.
The council chambers at 200 S. 4th Street was almost full for the Wednesday 6pm planning and zoning commission public hearing. Most in attendance were library employees, board members, vendors and supporters. Among them the support was unanimous.
Some nearby property owners also supported the library’s expansion plans but they had issues with the plan on display and how it would impact their neighborhood. The closing of a block of N. 3rd Street to accommodate the current expansion plan was of particular concern to several who spoke. DPL attorney, Gary Cordes, told the audience that without the closure on 3rd Street the land the library is proposing to buy would be worthless to them. Closing a block of a street seems very important to the DPL. When they were set to purchase the DeKalb Clinic properties the plan called for the closing of a block on S. 3rd Street. Without closing that block the new library proposed for that location simply wouldn’t work.
One person (moi) spoke about procedural and legal issues with the project. Chapter 5 of the Local Library Act is entirely devoted to the procedures an Illinois library should follow when acquiring land for expanding or building a new library. It’s designed to protect taxpayers from the library committing their dollars to a project without their full knowledge or understanding. The DPL board is appointed by the mayor and as is necessary has broad powers to operate a library. Chapter 5 attempts to make sure that the representative form of government (city council) is not circumvented by an appointed board. Simply put, the law requires the library board to submit a full plan, including how they plan to pay for the construction, to the city council for their consideration and approval. Doing so allows the elected representatives (city council) to interact with their entire constituency before committing additional tax dollars and/or bond indebtedness to pay for any part of the project.
Many people believe the library project will not increase taxes. They believe the DPL will raise the necessary funds for construction through private donations. That’s possible. It’s also possible that such a fundraiser falls short. Donation pledges may not fully materialize. But if the city council approves any part of the project and the DPL board signs contractual commitments then in the event of a shortfall of donations or unfulfilled pledges then the taxpayers have no choice but to foot the bill with an increase in their property taxes. Such a predicament occurred in Sycamore around 1997 when their library expansion took place. Contracts were signed in anticipation of private fundraising goals that were not met. When it became clear that taxpayers were going to have to make up the difference pledges fell by the wayside.
A more recent example took place with the new football field at the new DeKalb High School. Canvassing prior to the passing of the $110 million referendum must have indicated a lack of support for tax dollars to be used for building a new football field. ReNew Our Schools pro-referendum committee promised taxpayers that no referendum dollars would be used for a football field. Dr. Paul Beilfuss told the Facilities Planning Committee that local donors pledged money for any new football field at the new high school. News of a construction grant eliminated any such pledges. Money that could have been used to reduce debt obligations or perhaps add furniture or equipment was instead used for the stadium.
Apparently the DPL Board and administrator want to piece meal the expansion project to the city council so when it comes to financing the construction costs there is too much commitment to vote against the likely debt obligation bonds required. That is in conflict with the Local Library Act and a contradiction to open, honest government. As state law requires the city council should be presented with a full plan that includes total project cost estimates and financing methods before acquiring property for expansion or construction purposes. To move the project, which will require public debt, along in manner that provides information bit by bit only is an abuse of Home Rule authority.
DeKalb is a city that generously supports education. A city with a median income in the $30k neighborhood passed a $110 million referendum for its K-12 schools and a $56 million referendum for Kishwaukee College. It’s a city that loves its library. Obviously from their actions the last thing the library board wants to do is put the issue of the library expansion up to the test of direct democracy — a referendum. The elected representatives might consider a referendum as their first choice.
What you can do:
Send the city council an email and tell them to follow the Local Library Act as intended and/or put the library expansion issue to referendum in the March 2012 Primary election.