HAMMOND | Hammond's City Council president wants the Hammond Public Library to show proof the city will not be compelled to cover a proposed $800,000 increase to its budget.
Lacking that proof, the library's 2013 budget proposal is “going to be shot down,” City Council President Michael Opinker said.
Talks between the library and the Hammond City Council have become heated as council members consider the library's annual budget for the first time because of a change in state law. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget Monday.
Library administrators contend the additional funding is necessary to upgrade computers and to avoid cutting back on hours, staff and programs.
But Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the library has been “sneaky” in how it approached the city with its budget.
“Somebody has to lose $800,000 if we are going to give the Library Board $800,000,” McDermott said. “They want to rob another local unit of government to continue to operate the way they always had, and it's not fair.”
The proposal would increase the library's budget to $4.8 million, with $3.6 million dedicated to its general fund. The budget also increases the library's tax rate from 22 cents to 29 cents on each $100 of taxable property.
Rene Greenleaf, the library's director, said the library has consistently asked for a tax rate higher than it expects to receive, so increases to its budget are at least considered.
“That's all we are saying,” Greenleaf said. “We have to ask for it in order for it even to be considered, period.”
Greenleaf said she expects the budget proposal is causing concern because passing it through the city is a new process. State law now requires the library to present its budget to the City Council because its board is appointed and it's requesting a funding increase.
Greenleaf said the library wants its 2013 budget to better match its levy, which has been frozen at $3.7 million for the general fund since 2007.
“I think the real sticking point is, 'Are we going to get caught with some additional money that has to be expended that we already don't have?' I think that's what the problem is, they don't understand the dynamic and what we are trying to do,” Greenleaf said.
City Controller Bobby Lendi said the City Council runs the risk of the state approving the library budget, as is, if it agrees to the proposal.
“If the (Department of Local Government Finance) happens to approve an inflated, artificial budget, those tax dollars have to come from somewhere, and tax dollars are distributed proportionally to taxing entities based on tax rates,” Lendi said.
“If the tax rate increases, their proportion increases.”
Library administrators stress the system's financial situation is dire. The library is currently using contingency funds to make ends meet, but that money will not be available next year, Cornell White, the library's financial analyst, said. Last year, funding constraints forced the library to close the E.B. Hayward and Howard branches.
To save on costs, McDermott questioned if the library has considered consolidating with the Lake County Public Library.
“That would be an easy way right there to rid yourself of administrative salaries and probably save a couple hundred thousands of dollars,” McDermott said. “At least as far as I know that's not a very hard thing to do.”
Greenleaf argued there is no legal method to make that happen because libraries outside of the Lake County system have their own tax rates.
“It's more than brick and mortar,” Greenleaf said. “This library is the bedrock of this community.”