Public Hearing on Library Expansion

Dollar amounts reflect 2010 tax bill (payable in 2011). 1. 0823153006 315 N 3RD ST $4556.68 2. 0823153007 Funeral Home Parking Lot (existing) $1863.96 3. 0823156010 227 N 3RD ST $3772.36 4. 0823156009 218 OAK ST $3133.78 5. 0823156002 214 OAK ST $3956.1 6. 0823156001 232 N 2ND ST $6609.72


The DeKalb city council will conduct a public hearing on Monday, November 14 at its regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda item (item G-1) states that the public hearing is on the vacation of a portion of North Third Street for the expansion of the DeKalb Public Library (DPL). The action items that accompanies the public item are (J-1) an ordinance authorizing the Mayor to sign an intergovernmental development agreement with the DeKalb Public Library and (J-2) an ordinance rezoning the library property from RC-1 (residential conservation district) to PD-C (planned development – commercial). Both action items are up for First Reading.

The DPL wants to expand the existing library building across North Third Street and into the property currently occupied by the funeral home’s parking lot. The expansion will include additional parking areas around the new addition and across the street on the south side of Oak Street. The remaining portion of North Third Street north of the library will become a two way street so that the church, single family residence and library patrons can use the bidirectional cul-de-sac to get to their destination. The proposal includes the addition of eighty one parking stalls, the library along with their ability to use the new funeral home parking lot will provide needed parking stalls for the visitors of the new library campus.

RC-1 is a relatively new zoning designation. The idea behind its creation was to limit the expansion of multi-family units in certain residential neighborhoods. When the property for the proposed expansion was purchased by Castle Bank N.A. Trust #2222 (Steve Irving, sole beneficiary) a front page article in the Daily Chronicle announced that a townhome project was planned for the site.

Street vacations require a public hearing before the City Council. The obligation to vacate this street is embodied in the development agreement. The actual vacation would not occur until such time a building permit is issued for the expansion. Since the vacation of a street requires a super majority vote of the City Council, this development agreement’s approval will require a ¾’s vote in favor (6 out of 7 Council members).

From the agenda:

It should be pointed out that the agreement has language that indicates that upon issuance of a building permit to commence the construction of the Library Addition, the City of DeKalb will enact ordinances, adopt resolutions and take such other actions as are necessary to vacate that portion of North Third Street and approve the Library’s preliminary plan for the property including variations, exceptions and departures contained herein provided that the Preliminary Plan is in substantial conformance with the concept plan. So by approving the agreement the City in essence agrees to approve the library campus as proposed. The agreement does not constitute City approval of any funding/financing method, nor does it constitute City authorization to undertake the actual building project. If such approval is required, it will be brought forward separately.

[emphasis mine]

The drafted intergovernmental development agreement and the proposed property purchase is dependent upon the City of DeKalb providing the DPL with $1,000,000 in TIF money so the library can combine it with a donation to repay a loan secured by General Obligation Bonds. The agreement appears to be in conflict with that plan as it states it does not constitute City approval of any funding/financing method, nor does it constitute City authorization to undertake the actual building project.

The DPL’s attorneys, Gary Cordes and Phil Lenzini, carefully posit that the loan to purchase the property is technically not a mortgage in their attempt to avoid compliance with Section 5/5 (BUILDINGS) of the Illinois Local Library Act. According to a memo drafted by the City attorney, Dean Frieders:

From City Attorney, Dennis Frieders, memo to City Council

As expected the DPL lawyers are making their play on the difference between “may” and “shall.” Cordes told the Planning and Zoning Commission that there were many examples of case law that clearly indicate that the library may not follow Sec. 5/5.1 because it uses the word “may” and not “shall.” Interesting to note that no case law has been quoted by Cordes or Frieders, for that matter. Frieders attempted to check sources outside the close circle of library attorneys representing the DPl:

From City Attorney, Dennis Frieders, memo to City Council

[emphasis mine]

Frieders then concludes that the neutral source, the Illinois Institute for Continuing Education’s (IICE) guide for special districts including libraries is wrong because the DPL chooses to skip sections 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 to section 5/5.4 that has language that supports their position. Et. Seq. anyone?

So let’s entertain the position that the DPL, Cordes, Lenzini, Frieders have taken. The city and library can ignore any law that use the word “may” and must follow those that use “shall.” If they are successful in getting city council to approve the land purchase without a plan (but armed with an Intergovernmental Agreement that Frieders described as “very owner friendly,” then according to section 5/5.4 the DPL trustees SHALL determine when it will proceed with the construction of a building. If they determine to proceed and enter into contracts the city’s taxpayers are on the hook to pay for it.

What if the city council does NOT approve the land purchase? Can they do that? They don’t have a choice do they? Watch for this excuse. It was used by the city council before. When the library’s tax levy was discussed when the DeKalb Clinic properties were proposed as the expansion site the city’s attorney advised that the council MUST pass the levy exactly as the library proposed because it was the law. The year before, the library tried to pass a levy that included a 2-cent increase for the library’s building fund. The levy was reduced on a motion by 5th ward alderman, Ron Naylor.

The city council MAY not approve of the land purchase (or the one-sided intergovernmental agreement).

In their strategy of skipping sections of Article 5 Sec. 5.1 they evidently missed an important sentence. The last one. Et. Seq. anyone?

The board shall make a record of their proceedings and determinations and transmit a copy thereof to the corporate authorities for their consideration and approval.

[emphasis mine]

To repeat…

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. Call, email or tell your alderman to vote for Option 2. If possible, attend the public hearing.

From City Attorney, Dennis Frieders, memo to City Council


  1. Been told that city has (done, in preparation?) document justifying its legal actions with respect to the city. Prepared after multiple consultations. Would be interesting if Mac, Lynn or Kerry sought an injunction a a way of testing their legal theory.

    But to me the bottom line is M, L and K don’t want to spend more money on public infrastucture. That’s their right and it the right of others to disagree on the importance of the infrastructure for the community. To the best of my knowledge no one is saying build now: money simply is not there. But some of us do want to build when money is available.

    Why not stop the side arguments that M,L, and K are presenting and engage in what to me is the real concern: do we need a new library and at what point can we afford how much of a new library. I’m a believer in the extended library as a cultural center to be build as soon a (a) some matching funds materialize and the (c) we’ve paid of some of the current collective debt. i can understand alternative perspectives.

    But let’s fight on the core question: the need for a library and of what kind, not on secondary issues that are being raised because K, L and M don’t want more public expenditures.

    This is not a game of gotcha. This should be a serious discussion of the benefits of expanding public infrastructure versus the costs of doing so. Reasonable people can come down on either side of that discussion.

    Just to be clear: I’m for an expanded library as a cultural meeting center as much as a book depository. If I were on council now I would NOT vote for a bond at present. Would do so only after library could show it had obtained x dollars from external sources, both the state and from contributions. But I would strongly encourage library to seek out such resources.

    • Herb, you are the most eloquent promoter of corruption I’ve ever read. L & M speak for themselves. I support public investment into infrastructure. I voted for the school referendum. I was among the consensus on the finance advisory committee and city council of the need to finance the police station. As you know, you are wrong on your bottom line assessment of my position.

    • I am going to do this from memory because I am in sort of a hurry:

      The State Library (provider of many shared resources), the state, and the library systems are so broke that I know plenty of people who are out of work, and the library systems consolidated so much that they are struggling to provide services. Library systems are consortiums in which the state funds joint services such as interlibrary loan. In order for interlibrary loan to work, books and materials get driven around by vans and/or get sent through the mail. It is usually more cost effective to have vans driving around once or twice a week to pick up and deliver materials to share. Interlibrary loan helps libraries provide materials to patrons because of a belief that people should have access to materials. Libraries cannot afford to buy everything and interlibrary loan fills in to help.

      In the past, there was a library system in Rockford called NILS (Northern Illinois Library System). Then it merged, dumped expenses (like employees), and it became PALS (Prairie Area Library System). Then, there was another merger to something called RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System) out of Burr Ridge instead of Rockford, and more librarians lost their jobs. There used to be several regional library systems in geographically logical places. Now, there are only just three left for the whole state.

      Besides interlibrary loan, there have been severe cut backs for services to the blind and others with physical challenges. There have been severe cutbacks for grant projects and just about everything the State Library shares with libraries such as affordable online resources.

      The State Library and the state are so decimated financially, it is not only selfish, but I believe immoral to think that DeKalb should go mooch money from the state to build a library expansion now, after cutbacks for the less fortunate and after cutbacks for library services in areas of the state that are far more disadvantaged compared to DeKalb, like places such as Rockford.

      Yes, the DeKalb Public Library is overcrowded as it is now. Could it use an expansion? Sure, but not in the most bloody expensive way possible, and not through mooching from the state.

      The library’s Website still has something from 2007 that recommended tripling its size. Reality check–the population of DeKalb is not booming like it was in 2007. That information is based upon now very outdated demographics. We do not need an overgrown, partially empty library.

      Less expensive solutions:

      Build a separate children’s library and include some community space, and yes, it can be in the same neighborhood–walking is good for people and it is no big deal to cart a couple of boxes of books around outdoors, even in all kinds of weather. I know from extensive, first-hand experience.

      Weed the collection very, very thoroughly (this means removing extra copies and books that have not been used for a while–weeding generally makes some people freak out but it is a necessary evil.)

      Compact, movable shelving

      Work more closely with NIU’s library and not duplicate purchases–any Illinois resident can get a library card there.

    • Herb,

      Please let me straighten you out on how I see public infrastructure investment.

      First, I am not categorically against taxpayer funded public infrastructure investment.

      In the instant case, as I said previously, I love libraries and I agree DPL has a need for expansion. I rather suspect, however, they do not need to build anything so large as 90,000 sf. Let them prove any need first.

      It appears you and I may disagree on the USE of a library, that is, whether it should become a “cultural center” beyond the incidental conversations of patrons while pursuing other library services. There is room for disagreement here and it should be explored-just what a “cultural center” would be and how that would differ from historic uses of libraries. I would welcome that discussion if it were in open, public view. So far, it has not been.

      Most of all, Herb, I want you and all others to know my primary objection pertains to this being done piecemeal, and, to some degree, away from the public’s eye. The best and correct way to do this is by referendum and that after full disclosure of a detailed, long range plan. So far, it appears DPL is either incapable or unwilling or both. Exactly how the City Council sees this, perhaps we will learn at Monday’s hearing, but evidently at least some City staff are already willing to hand over a million TIF dollars without a complete plan in place. In my view, that notion would be foolhardy at best and perhaps illegal at worst.

      So speaking of legal things, Herb, you have now mentioned an injunction more than once. Let me give you my perspective on any group of citizens pursuing legal action at this stage. It would be expensive. I have no desire to spend money (mine or others’) in an attempt to make DPL or City do what is right. It would only be more taxpayer funds to defend any allegations, and at this point, we haven’t yet seen a vote from Council. I prefer to lobby those in charge, see where it lands, and then make any necessary moves. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. At least a couple Aldermen should be able to see clearly, and any legal action will not be needed.

      While I am not favorably disposed to the outcome of the District 428 referendum, and fought to refute the faulty demographics prior to that vote, at least those involved did take the issue to the people for their vote. The DeKalb Public Library should do no less. In fact, they should learn from the Schools’ and Park District’s mistakes, and by now have presented all the facts of a building program to their constituents and patrons. Also, because TIF money is proposed to be involved, DPL and the City must make the project known to outlying areas of DeKalb but within District 428 as well. That would include taxpayers in Cortland, Malta, and other tax levying bodies. TIF funding changes the entire ball game for any public project, home rule or not.

      I am not against everything, Herb. But I will fight to see it gets done properly, with wisdom, and within the law.

    • Putting me into the category of simply not wanting public infrastructure spending is just plain dishonest. You know better. I reside in the category of “doesn’t want to give money to a group of secretive, arrogant people for whom following the law appears to be optional.” Also, due to the experience of the high school, put me in the category of “what you want is w-a-a-a-a-y too big because DeKalb is broke and depopulating.”

  2. The library won’t be signing any contracts to commit to building UNTIL the money to build is in hand, through donations, state grants or whereever. They WON’T raise taxes to expand. They WON’T start the expansion UNTIL they have the money. No, there is no architectural plan for the expansion yet. They don’t need to spend the thousands of dollars that a architect would charge yet. They need land to build on first and for the available land to be worthwhile, they need Third Street closed (which wouldn’t happen UNTIL the expansion took place). They are looking to get approval of the closure of 3rd. THEN, they will purchase land with TIF funds that the library will be given REGARDLESS of whether they expand or not. The library is going to get that money from the city, they are simply choosing to use it for the land acquisition. Once the land is purchased, the library can sit on it until they have to money to expand. They won’t put anyone ‘on the hook’ for the expansion. They won’t expand UNITL THEY CAN PAY FOR IT. If the developer builds the condos that he otherwise planned to build, then the library is stuck with no room to go anywhere, so they need to buy the land now.

    As for the issue of following the laws, I’m going to assume that the actual lawyers know what they’re talking about. Until someone here can show me equivalent legal credentials that qualifies them to speak to a laws interretation let’s listen to the professionals.

    • I’m going to assume that the actual lawyers know what they’re talking about.

      Sorry to be cynical, but that’s not how the practice of law works. More often the lawyers will just create an interpretation that suits their clients interests in the hope that they will never have to actually defend it in court. The distortion of the Open Meetings Act being a recent example. People who don’t question lawyers are doing a disservice to the rule of law.

      If the new library’s electric bill doubles from the current amount, that new operational expense will almost certainly be levied on the property tax, correct? A larger space will probably need more employees to supervise? More maintenance costs? There’s a lot more involved here than just how the construction will be funded (don’t hold your breath for any grants).

      And then in general, trust in government is reaching a nadir. The “trust us” approach is ill-advised.

      • THEN, they will purchase land with TIF funds that the library will be given REGARDLESS of whether they expand or not. The library is going to get that money from the city, they are simply choosing to use it for the land acquisition.

        M, could you provide a document, minutes, intergovernmental agreement, staff memo, etc., that provides or authorizes the library to receive automatic TIF funding? The annual TIF report recently made public appears to indicate that the “make whole” revenue sharing agreements expire this or next year. So I’m wondering if TIF usage is so loosely managed that an entity, including the library, can count on getting it and spend it however the hell they want. In any event. I don’t see any line item or placemark for the reported $1,000,000 for the library in the annual TIF report.

        H, good points. Thanks.

  3. Good write-up Mac. Thanks for informing all of us on the convoluted intergovernmental details of how DPL expects to ram this expansion through and (cough, cough) pay for it.

    That Cordes and Lenzini apparently have different understandings of legal requirements is telling as to the (lack of) wisdom in going forward with the current plan.

    As to the actual need, I recall a newspaper article some time back telling us DPL’s goal was for a space on the order of 90,000+ square feet. To visualize such a space, consider the new HyVee store is just slightly larger, somewhere near 95,000s.f. as I recall. I love libraries, and was involved in the expansion of the Malta Township Library, but just can’t imagine why DPL would need this much space, especially in the Internet age. Worst of all, there appears NOT to be any disclosure or interaction with taxpayers as to how DPL arrived at the need for such a large space. At least the school district had demographics, even if they turned out to be badly mistaken.

    One thing not mentioned here, but obvious to anyone understanding public facilities, is the future significant jump in operating expenditures should this expansion be approved and built. We are just starting to find out as exemplified by increased operating costs at the new DeKalb High School-new addition costs can be enormous. In fact, they can be insurmountable under existing economic conditions and current tax law. But suppose in the best of all worlds a generous donor would pay for ALL new DPL construction…would they also set aside an endowment for operating staff and utilities? Not likely. Of course taxpayers, once the facility is built, will be on the hook forever, endowment or not. And as the proposal calls for the use of TIF funds in this project, all taxpayers throughout the area, not just in DeKalb proper, will be on the hook as tax revenues are siphoned away from schools and other tax levying bodies within DeKalb’s TIF districts.

    DPL’s only logical path forward is for City Council to immediately reject this very incomplete and foolhardy current plan. Council should then direct DPL to fully disclose all details of patron need, construction cost, and estimated operating costs. Only then could Council act responsibly under law on any vote in the matter. To operate such important public institutions otherwise, in a piecemeal manner, would be a travesty.

    Of course my preference is that DPL fully discloses all the above, and files for Referendum. Let the people decide!

  4. Done. Besides the “cart before the horse” message, among other things I also pointed out to council members (again) that the library property and the street they want to close lie a block from a state road. What does IDOT say?

    And yes, the city council turned down a request for a levy increase to cover a replacement boiler. This was before somebody noticed the “shall,” I guess.

    One of the things they’ve done to build up a slush fund is to scream “poor” and get raises in their levies while projecting budget revenues of $0 in fines, investment interest, donations and three other revenue categories since FY2008. For FY2009, actual revenues in these categories totaled $122,310. I’ve heard of making conservative budget projections, but this is wrong and I’m having a hard time believing it is legal.

  5. I like libraries as much as the next reasonable thinking person but this plan really should everyone pause.

    DPL is proposing building what could end up being a 4-story complex with no identified funding source, and with the public’s general obligation bonds as a fall-back. So either they have an incredibly rich sugar daddy waiting the wings (somebody would need to donate $20 million for this plan to be taken seriously) or they are actually considering the idea of floating a referendum, despite watching the park district’s referendum go down in flames.

    The fact that all of this is up for final approval — and that’s what it is really despite the semantics — on Monday without so much as a drawing of what this building is going to look like (they will send the blueprints to the city later) is incredible.

    By the way, it wasn’t so long ago that the library director was telling the city council that the library could not afford to replace its boiler because their available revenue was limited to “dimes” of fines for overdue books that they recover. What’s changed to where they now they can use their regular revenue as backing for a loan for the property purchase?

    And this doesn’t even begin to go over the issue of the street closure. Am I reading this correctly where it says that traffic on 1st would potentially increase 15%, and on 4th by 25%(!!)? I hope I’m mistaken in reading this graph.

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