On Monday night (Jan 28) the DeKalb Public Library will present its plans to the Committee of the Whole (city council and staff) to begin the approval process for selling public debt bonds to finance the library’s $24 million expansion. This city council meeting is the first such meeting after the deadline passed for the municipal officers (Mayor and council members) to place a referendum on the April 2013 ballot. That places the city council in the position of “turning down” an $8.5 million grant from the state because to get the grant the Library Board must secure financing before June 1, 2013.
The Library Board has steadfastly refused to consider putting their expansion plans in front of the voters via referendum. Their stubbornness to avoid such public scrutiny of their plans led to numerous improper if not illegal closed session meetings as well as secretive, unethical and probably illegal discussion and action on the library’s property tax levy. The plan has always been to exploit the City of DeKalb’s Home Rule authority. Home rule units have near unlimited power to incur debt without referendum or voter approval. Thus the staff’s careful wording on the CoW Agenda: The Library is a component unit of the City; therefore the City would have to issue these bonds on behalf of the Library.
The arrogance of the Library Board’s motivation for their freight train strategy is because voters have no vision.
Hopefully the city council doesn’t put their blinders on because there are major questions with this proposal.
1) How does the new, downgraded to A- credit rating the State of Illinois just received impact the City’s ability to borrow and the interest rates that taxpayers will be charged for the library’s debt obligations?
2) If the State of Illinois needs to borrow the $8.5 million to grant it to the library a) is it a grant or a loan; and b) what if the library spends $24 million and the state can’t borrow the money?
3) Should the City issue bonds on the pledges for donations the library may get or should the library first collect from all pledges before any bonds are issued?
4) Is there really enough funds in the TIF piggy bank to be handing a million dollars to the Egyptian Theatre, give the library another million and renovate city hall? If there is shouldn’t the city consider declaring some of it as surplus and returning it to the other taxing bodies like District 428 who’s facing a $2.3 million operating deficit this year or should everyone just raise their taxes?
5) Can the taxpayers afford the Library Board’s vision?
There still remains a legal question. Is the library a component unit of the city? There are two Illinois Attorney General Opinions which state that a library is “special district” under the Illinois Constitution and as such, is bound by Illinois Statute and not by any local ordinance or agreement.