Funding remains concern for new Cedar Rapids libraries

Relocated west-side Cedar Rapids location will open Feb. 23

Dan Ruley of Cedar Rapids smoothes the surface of a window overhang in preparation for a wood veneer at the Ladd Library
Dan Ruley of Cedar Rapids smoothes the surface of a window overhang in preparation for a wood veneer at the Ladd Library on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2012, in southwest Cedar Rapids. Large windows allow natural light into the former Stuff Etc. space, which will open as the west-side library branch on Feb. 23. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Opening a new library is one thing, paying to operate it is another.

The Cedar Rapids City Council and the city’s Library Board of Trustees now have figured out how to pay the library’s operating bills for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but there are “challenges” in the future, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz emphasized last week in his budget proposal to the council.

For the fiscal year beginning July 1 — with the new downtown library opening and the west-side branch moving to a new, renovated spot — the city has had to use some creativity to come up with about $1 million to cover library operating costs, expenses the city has not had to pay since the flood of 2008 drove the library into a temporary home at Westdale Mall.

According to the city manager’s budget proposal, the city will put $500,000 in revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for flood recovery into the library construction budget, and the library board will take $500,000 in private donations intended for construction and use the money for the next budget year’s operation. In addition, the library will use unspent money from its current budget and the city will pay up to $112,000 from general city funds to provide technical maintenance help at the library.

“A long-term funding strategy needs to be developed for funding needs beyond fiscal year 2014,” Pomeranz said in his budget proposal.

The library currently generates about $225,000 a year from a 4-cent levy that is part of the city’s overall property-tax levy. The revenue from the levy ends on June 30, 2014, and the library board will need to go back to voters to restore it. The levy can be as high as 27 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, which would generate about $1.5 million a year if voters approved.

Bob Pasicznyuk, the library director, said last week that the downtown library and west-side branch will not need to curtail hours in the next budget year. However, he noted that the Des Moines Public Library system does have to do that, and Greg Heid, the library director in Des Moines, said the Des Moines library, in fact, took a $500,000 hit in the current budget year. The result is that the downtown library there is closed on Saturdays, and each of the six city branch libraries must close one day a week, too.

The budget issues aside, Mayor Ron Corbett wanted to emphasize and applaud a different number — zero — at last week’s Cedar Rapids City Council budget meeting.

That is the amount of debt the city’s $49 million downtown library will carry when it opens in August.

Disaster funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state I-JOBs program, plus $4 million in revenue from the city’s local-option sales tax for flood recovery, paid much of the cost of the library project. But Corbett singled out the library board and friends for raising almost $7 million in private donations that went into the project.

Pasicznyuk said donations came from some 1,400 people.

“It will be the envy of the nation,” Pasicznyuk said of the new library.

He noted, too, that the city is opening a new west-side library branch without debt on Feb. 23 in a renovated space that had been part of a Target store at 3750 Williams Blvd. SW. This is across Williams Boulevard SW from Westdale Mall, where the west-side branch, as well as the city’s temporary central library, have been located.The west-side branch is called Ladd Library, for Marilyn Ladd, a former test technician at Rockwell Collins who — without fanfare or strings — left the library a gift of almost $750,000 at her death a year ago.

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