Mayor David Gonzalez entertained the idea of giving the Chicago Heights Public Library zero dollars in the 2012 tax levy after he revealed the institution has been underspending enough to build nearly $1.2 million in its bank account.
By comparison, Treasurer Jim Dee’s presentation revealing a more than $170,000 funding cut to the library almost seems generous. At an even $1 million the library's levy was one of the few items on the list to decrease from 2011.
Fourth Ward Ald. Joshua Deabel questioned the decrease.
"We're actually proposing this year to be less than it has been over the past two years," Deabel said. "I find that disconcerting, considering that's the one thing the community direly needs ... I'd hate to see the public library funds go down, especially when everything has gone up on this entire list."
The library has asked for more than $1 million in the tax levy in recent years and typically only uses around $700,000, Gonzalez said. The surplus money is growing in a bank account.
"The library has been levying a million dollars every year with a million dollars, in cash, sitting in the bank," Gonzalez said. "They're building up a reserve. So it's not fair to taxpayers if we keep levying more if they're not using it."
Third Ward Ald. Wanda Rodgers asked why the council doesn't just drop the library's dollar amount down to zero.
"I'm OK with zero," Gonzalez replied, but he later suggested the council stick with the $1 million and look into a different amount next year, especially if the library continues its conservative spending.
"The message needs to be very clear to the library board that if you're going to levy a million dollars, at the end of this audit period, you better show us how you spent it," Gonzalez said.
Ald. Sonia Perez, who is a library board member, said she could accept a reduction in the levy amount but opposed dropping it to zero.
During public participation, Charles Dieringer, who is on the Friends of the Library board, said he's heard past discussions about lowering the library's levy. He’s concerned the reduction in funding could have a serious impact on the maintenance of the aging building.
"They have an old boiler that is very out of date," Dieringer said. "It's not even up to compliance. If that thing fails and the controls fail, that boiler's going to have to be replaced . . . They have a rainy day fund, but it’s very minimal.”
Gonzales sees it differently.
"A rainy day fund?" he said. "They have a $1.2 million rainy day fund. That's a thunderstorm hurricane. . . All I'm saying is: You have the money. Fix the boiler."
During the regular city council meeting, every council member, except Deabel, voted in favor of the levy as it stands. The total levy amounts to more than $18 million and will be about a 1.5 percent increase to Chicago Heights taxpayers over the 2011 total.
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