Library Talks to the City About Issuing Bonds for Its Expansion

Here’s the latest.

DeKalb library leaders asked the DeKalb City Council on Monday if it would consider borrowing $7.5 million for the $24 million construction project, which would add 47,000 square feet to the 19,000-square-foot building at 309 Oak St. Library leaders need to secure $15.5 million by June 1 to qualify for an $8.5 million state construction grant they were offered last month.

No, that’s not quite right. They weren’t “offered” anything. DKPL applied for the grant last April and its number finally came up, probably because a couple other libraries lost referenda in November (but we don’t know for sure, because I’ve been foiled in my FOIA inquiry).

It’s a crying shame for taxpayers that DKPL turned in an application with a plan to spend $24 million, because the eligible construction costs only come to about $13 million. This means there are a lot of goodies in there that the state won’t cover. When DKPL board members say they really, really tried so hard to save taxpayers money, the fitting response is a derisive laugh.

During Monday’s City Council presentation, library executive director Dee Coover listed parts of the library that need to be repaired and their lack of space. She favorably compared the library to the Egyptian Theatre, another historic building downtown that receives money from the city every year through its TIF district.

Don’t be fooled. The library has gotten TIF money, too.

Maybe we should stop the semi-automatic TIF funding of projects, especially if every taxing body and not-for-profit is going to line up with their hands out. TIF is supposed to be about attracting new, private development but after DeKalb TIFs ate up farmland for the big boxes, years ago, that was about the end of that.

Aside from the bond sale, library leaders also want to use $1 million in library reserves, raise $6 million from private donors, and use $1 million in tax increment financing funds…[Mayor Kris Povlsen] added that if the library is unable to raise the money, the city would not issue the bonds.

A better plan would be to bond out the $5 million in eligible costs that the state grant demands of us and wish DKPL good luck in efforts to raise the rest.

Nevertheless, a contingency is better than nothing, as long as the donations are actually in the bank first. Here’s the lesson Sycamore learned:

Around that time the Sycamore Library was expanded. The intent was to pay for the expansion through donations. The fundraising campaign went well and goals were met in pledges. Construction was given the green light but the pledges did not materialize and taxpayers footed the bill.

It is not difficult to imagine this happening with the library funding. Remember how District 428 school officials swore that the stadium at the high school would be built with private donations, and then it wasn’t? Fool me once, right?