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LIBRARY BOARD VOTES FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM CITY

The five-member library board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday to ask voters to dissolve the library's financial relationship with city government and make it an independent taxing entity.

City taxpayers still would fund the library, but they would have the opportunity to vote on the spending limit and elect trustees. Currently, the library's budget is set by the mayor and City Council, and trustees are appointed by the mayor, with confirmation by the City Council.

The library trustees decided to pursue the split after recent budget cuts enacted by the City Council and disputes over the board's makeup with Mayor Irene J. Elia, who has tried three times to replace longtime trustee Don J. King.

The change was recommended by a task force made up of trustees and city and community representatives that met throughout January

The trustees will meet again at 7:30 a.m. next Friday, when attorney James C. Roscetti will lay out the legal steps that must be followed to bring the question before the voters. They may petition the city School Board to place the referendum on the May 15 ballot, when voters will choose School Board members and vote on the school budget. But Roscetti, who is still researching the matter, believes the vote can be held "any time on proper notice." He said the trustees want the vote held before June 30 so it can be effective for the July 1 tax rolls.

That also would allow the financially strapped city to save half the budget it already set aside for the library for 2001.

Cynthia A. Bianco, president of the library board, said the trustees don't want the question on the school district's ballot because it just confuses the issue.

The boards of both municipal and school district libraries are independent and autonomous. Neither city government nor school boards have any authority over them. To dispel the confusion, a state library official has recommended the name "community-based library" be used.

Bianco said the board sent a letter advising Elia and the City Council of the trustees' vote and asking for "collaboration and cooperation as we work together to make this happen."

The trustees would need to reach an agreement over occupancy and maintenance of the LaSalle and Earl W. Brydges library branch buildings, which the city owns. Bianco said she didn't think that would be an issue, especially in the case of the Brydges branch, which was built in the mid-1970s with federal funding with the stipulation that it must serve as a library for 50 years.

City Administrator Albert T. Joseph said the city administration does not believe changing the library's charter is in the best interest of the taxpayers. But he stopped short of saying whether Elia would actively oppose the change. Elia was not available to comment.

One of the issues for Elia and Joseph is that the city would be required under state law to make up any taxes that can't be collected, just as it must do for the school district. Bianco said that is no different from what happens now. After the city sets the library's annual allocation, it still must fund it even if it doesn't collect all of its taxes.

Issues regarding library staffers, who are city employees, also have to be worked out. Philip Buffone, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 9434-0, has been invited to attend the board meetings.

Joseph said before a change is made, he would like other options -- mainly a consolidated county library system -- investigated.

Bianco said that still could be looked at. But she said that it is a two-to-four-year process and that every library in the county would have to agree to the change.

"We can't wait. We've been in this situation for many years. We can't go on like this," she said.

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