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DeKalb library board OKs remitting about $1M, resetting levy to 2014 tax rate

DeKALB – The DeKalb Public Library Board took steps to maintain its commitment to DeKalb taxpayers Wednesday by approving the rebate of about $1 million to area homeowners and setting a property tax levy of about $2 million based on the 2014 tax rate.

The levy abatement, however, which would be about $300,000 less than the 2016 amount, would be contingent on the state of Illinois paying back the remaining $1.1 million it owes for the construction of the library’s new facility by the March 15 abatement deadline. The rebate amount would be whatever money was left over after paying off a
$4.5 million loan taken out for the completion of the new public library.

Fees and interest costs totaling about $223,000 were included in the rebate, which raised some concerns by board members about how much it could handicap the library next year.

Library Executive Director Emily Faulkner said after reviewing video footage of the 2015 council meeting, there was no promise that fees and interest costs would be rebated.

The rebate was approved by a
4-1-1 vote with board Vice President Bill Cummings voting no and board member Joe Mitchell abstaining. Board President Wendell Johnson and Secretary Janis Kirts were not in attendance.

Cummings also brought up the idea of not rebating the money during discussion and using the leftover funds to pay some of the library’s outstanding debt, which would have the benefit of preventing taxpayers from paying interest on the debt for 12 years.

“I think we’re all for the moral high ground, but we have to be realistic,” Cummings said. “People in the state have been dealt a bad hand by the [state’s] political structure, and we’re just a little piece dealing with the outcome of what happened in Springfield over the last three years.”

He said that the result of the remittance might have to be weekend closures or the layoff of staff.

To remit the money, the board settled on mailing out checks. DeKalb Finance Director Molly Talkington said the timetable and cost of mailing out the checks is not clear at this time.

The board has received notification from the Illinois State Library that it would receive the state money it was still owed from the facility’s construction by the end of this week. Faulkner said as of Wednesday, the check has been issued.

When the DeKalb City Council approved a $500,000 levy increase in 2015 to help pay for a $4.5 million loan for the library’s construction, commitments from the library board were made that the levy would be abated once the state money came in. Current board members, however, maintained that they would only consider rolling back the levy once all of the money from the state was received.

By January, the state allocated
$3.49 million of the roughly $4.6 million it owed the library, which has gone toward paying off loans from two banks. The loans carry a 3 percent interest rate and will mature this month, Faulkner said. She said the library will attempt to renegotiate the terms for any outstanding debt some time in March.

The 2014 levy rate for the abatement was picked because it was set before the state grant funding being delayed and the $4.5 million loan being taken out.

An amendment to include the state funding contingency and the amended motion both were approved by a
6-0 vote.

Talkington said she will now draw up the language from the library board’s vote into an action item that can be brought before the City Council during Monday’s meeting.

However, questions were raised about the meeting’s compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

DeKalb County Board member Misty Haji-Sheikh said Wednesday’s agenda contained three items that should not be in a special meeting, which made her unsure whether the meeting was legal.

Under a consent decree that was drawn out in 2010 after the board was charged with violating the OMA by voting on a purchase agreement during a closed session, the library board is ordered to abide by the Open Meetings Act in the future and to hold periodic training concerning the act’s requirements when the act changes or if there is turnover in staff and trustees.

DeKalb resident Derek Van Buer said when he sent a Freedom of Information Act request for the consent decree, the board said it did not have a copy of it.

He said that according to loan statements he requested, the money from the tax levy collected to pay for the construction loan was not used for it.

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