By Jean Lotus, Editor Forest Park Review
It was more than a near-death experience. The Maywood Public Library actually closed its doors for almost two weeks, starting Oct. 27, citing a lack of operating funds.
Director Stan Huntington said the library lacked $80,000 per month until the next infusion of tax revenue, scheduled for spring 2014.
But a group of officials and stakeholders gathered to address the problem last week.
“The trick was getting everyone to the table,” said 7th District State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who said he facilitated a meeting that brought together Huntington, the seven members of the library board, representatives from Seaway Bank and Trust and representatives from the Village of Maywood.
The Maywood Public Library re-opened, Tuesday morning, with support from residents, village officials and other neighboring libraries, such as Forest Park Public Library.
“I want to applaud the neighboring communities like Forest Park who stepped up to the plate,” Welch said. “Maywood residents were welcomed with open arms. That support is another reason why the library can reopen,” he added.
“This was shocking. I’ve never heard of a library closing,” Welch said, noting that a group quickly formed to try to find the money needed to reopen the institution that serves 3,400 patrons a month.
The group of stakeholders met to try to craft a financial solution to pay operating costs and keep the library open through the end of the year and into spring.
The first piece of the financial puzzle was an extension of a debt-service payment from the library to Seaway Bank for another 12 months. The library owes $517,000 on a short-term tax anticipation note, issued in 2010. This is money earmarked to be paid by tax revenues.
Huntington has said the falling equalized assessed valuation (EAV) of Maywood, which has among the highest foreclosure rates in the state, reduced tax revenues for the library.
By stretching out the payments another 12 months, Seaway gave the library a little breathing room. Seaway had earlier refused to renegotiate the debt, putting the library in a tight financial corner until the spring.
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The second piece of the puzzle was a short-term $150,000 loan on a vacant corner piece of property owned by the library.
“This is similar to a home equity loan,” Welch explained. The parcel is owned free and clear, and there have been suggestions to sell it to earn revenue. But Huntington advised the board to hang onto the vacant corner, saying the worst time to sell the parcel would be in a depressed economic real estate market. Now the corner will have a mortgage, but the repayment amount is affordable.
The Village of Maywood also offered the library a loan of $150,000, said Welch, noting that he had a hand in netting a $500,000 capital grant for Maywood from the state of Illinois. The village had formerly been reluctant to dip into these funds for the library, saying the cash was needed to replace emergency vehicles among other things.
“The Village of Maywood was able to free up some revenue to make the loan to the library,” Welch said. Maywood trustees voted Nov. 7 to finalize the agreement.
Welch said the 40,000-square-foot building needs more exposure to make the best use of its space and facilities. He already received an inquiry from the Loyola University Medical Center to see if the library can be used for health outreach.
“There are grants from [Secretary of State] Jesse White’s office. There are state and federal partnerships that can be developed,” Welch said.
The library already partners with the Community Nutrition Network, which uses the kitchen to prepare meals-on-wheels for the homebound and seniors in Proviso Township. Huntington said those activities carried on, in spite of the library’s closure. Senior programming through the Township also takes place at the library and continued uninterrupted throughout the crisis, Huntington said.
An advisory committee was formed for the library, including politicians Welch, State Senator Kim Lightford (4th) and Maywood Mayor Edwinna Perkins, along with village trustees, parks commissioners, library trustees and elementary school board members. Proviso Township High School District 209 board members Theresa Kelly and Theresa McKelvy are both participating in the advisory committee.
The library limped along for the past year on a reduced budget with shrinking hours, a closed third floor and no staff raises since 2007. But Welch said the committee is asking for more belt-tightening.
“We’re going to be taking a close look at their books and holding them to an austerity plan,” Welch said. “The library needs to think outside the box and form partnerships to boost their revenue.”
Leaving the village without the library’s resources was unthinkable, Welch said.
“That library is a safe-haven for students. Thirty-five hundred people a month use the computers. With the Affordable Care Act, people need the library’s computers to sign up for health care coverage,” Welch said.
“The closing of the library was a travesty, and I wanted to play a part in trying to reopen it,” he said. VFP