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Elgin library candidates debate future vision

Candidates for Gail Borden Public Library board urged that new opportunities for programming be explored even as funding remains a primary concern.

Dozens attended the March 4 forum hosted by League of Women Voters of the Elgin Area. They heard from six candidates vying for three library seats held by Patricia Harkin, Elizbeth Kruger and Susan Moylan, who are seeking re-election during the April 4 election. Their opponents were Amanda Garcia, Randy Hopp and Tiffany Henderson.

Though candidates voicing agreement that the library have a stable future, the candidates sought to differentiate themselves in answering questions about the state’s proposed property tax freeze, ways of supporting community partners and other issues.

With the Gail Borden Public Library having one of the lowest operating budgets per-capita in the area, the candidates agreed it would be problematic if lawmakers try to implement a property tax freeze.

“The thing is that if you freeze it, it may never come off,” Kruger said of the two-year proposal. “Right now, we have never had a freeze. We’ve been able to work with our budgets very, very well with what we have, and we don’t use much money from the state at all. I mean our taxes, our overall taxes for the library are 3.1 percent of your overall taxes for the state alone. That’s really not very much. So, the 3.1 percent probably wouldn’t help them as much as they think it would.”

Harkin said she envisions the library continuing to utilize its “army of volunteers” and promoting more partnerships.

“We do rely on volunteers,” she said. “We rely on them on the foundation. My second suggestion is that we increase and more fully employ our partnerships with other nonprofits and with government organizations, such as [School District] U-46, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. When we work together, we work more efficiently.”

Garcia agreed.

“I also have to say that I have been completely by amazed by the incredible amount of volunteer hours that go into making this library happen everyday,” she said. “Every time I go to a library board meeting, I learn something new about the way that both the talented and gifted staff here are able to stretch dollars further and further and how the volunteers are doing things that I didn’t even know [about]. So, I think that there’s a creative way probably to invite more volunteers to increase that.”

Moylan gave credit to the library staff for their work to this point and said she would depend on them to provide up-to-date information before taking any action.

“We have very astute staff, shall I say, staff, and I believe they would give us good information and allow us to make a good decision,” she said.

When about asked the greatest challenge facing the library, some candidates spoke of concern for funding operations, programs and services, while others took a moment to express their views over the building housing the library’s South Elgin branch.

“I don’t know if everyone is… aware of it, but the library bought out all the rest of the units the South Elgin branch is currently located in, which would more than double the floor space for that location,” Hopp said. “Just how that is developed not just for the décor on the inside but what’s chosen to be in the library, is going to be critical and that’ll be a very practical challenge to address.”

Hopp questioned the expenditures on this project, saying it will cost residents more money.

“The Illinois Public Library District [Act] of 1991 specifies that bonds can only be sold after a referendum has been passed,” he said. “The board referendum was not uttered in a library board meeting, rather $1.5 million of carefully-structured debt certificates were sold. [That makes for] about $1.2 million with a 10-year maturity and nontaxable, which was a lower interest, and [more than] $300,000 in bonds with a three-year maturity, but taxable with a higher higher tax rate, which I later found out the reason that is because $300,000 to buy part of the property already owned by tenants.”

Harkin sought to lessen the concern raised by Hopp.

“I believe that Mr. Hopp has offered you an alternative fact,” she said. “There is a difference between structured debt certificates and a bond. Both the board and its attorneys know those distinctions, and its accountants know those distinctions and have implemented them.”

Henderson said she hopes the South Elgin branch can reach its potential and the entire library touch a broader net of constituents.

“I want to make sure that we stay compliant with the laws and that we are staying compliant with what we need, but also ensure that everyone is included and that everyone knows we’re going to do the best we can to reach out to everyone and help them academically succeed, help them fulfill their self-interests and hobbies, and all of those things we have here at the library to help them in their lives,” Henderson said. “The library is a rich, rich tool for anyone who is wise enough to use it. If we educate our community about the resources that are here, I believe that we’ll really make this library better than what it already is.”

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