By Jean Lotus, Forest Park Review Editor
The Maywood Public Library closed its doors Saturday due to a lack of operating funds, said Stan Huntington, the library’s director. But Huntington said the closure is temporary, and he believes the long-term prognosis for the library is good.
Meanwhile, neighboring libraries, such as those in Broadview and Forest Park, have agreed to take up services on a limited basis for Maywood’s patrons.
“We’ve heard from our libraries in border communities, and they all are dedicated to assisting our patrons,” Huntington said.
Huntington said the library team is working “around the clock” to try to open again, possibly with a bridge loan from a local bank.
The worst-case scenario, Huntington said, is that the library will remain closed until the spring tax property disbursement, sometime in mid-March.
About one third of the Maywood patrons already use the Broadview library, and vice versa, Huntington said. He expects that number will increase.
Meanwhile, Forest Park Public Library Director Rodger Brayden said Maywood patrons are welcome at the Forest Park library.
“[We] always welcome our neighbors and will continue to honor the Maywood Library card while the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) works out more specific arrangements for Maywood patrons,” Brayden said. “This includes checking out materials as well as using computers.
“Libraries are an integral part of communities,” Brayden added. “This is a truly sad occurrence for Maywood.”
Huntington said 3,500 patrons use the library’s computer center per month as well as the adjacent job center.
“Many computer center patrons cannot afford to have Internet in their homes,” he said. “Students use the library as a safe place to study after school. Is that a problem? Yes.”
Huntington said the library is still in use by seniors for hot lunch and bingo games.
“They’re in here right now, on the second floor,” he said.
The Community Nutrition Network is still using the kitchen at the Maywood Library to prepare meals-on-wheels for homebound and seniors in Proviso Township, Huntington said.
Huntington said neighboring library computer centers have an understanding that, while the library is closed, Maywood patrons may have to pay a small fee, such as $2, and priority would be given to local patrons. He said the Maywood patrons might have to call in a computer reservation or come in at a specific time.
Huntington said the library was almost done paying down $8 million in debt for a 1999 remodeling project and had retired the majority of its renovation bonds from Mellon Bank in New York on Dec. 1, 2012.
By 2016 the library will be debt free, Huntington said.
“We’re on the home stretch. We own the corner. There’s no lien on the land or on our building,” he said. “We just need operating funds to get us open.”
The library assesses its own levy on the tax bills of Maywood residents. One is for operational costs and the other for debt service. Huntington said the operational costs average about $80,000 per month, but the library has been on austerity measures for years, including no staff raises since 2007.
The library was caught with less property tax money coming in when the equalized assessed value (EAV) of Maywood properties fell by almost 25 percent, from $340 million to $270 million, due to the housing crisis. Maywood has among the highest foreclosure rates in the state of Illinois. Vacant and foreclosed properties, whose owners are no longer paying their tax bills, are contributing to the property tax revenue shortfall for the village and the library.
The library also asked one of its bond lenders, Seaway Bank, to temporarily postpone half of the debt service payment of roughly $480,000, but Seaway declined to do that, Huntington said.
The good news, he said, is an expiring TIF district in Maywood in 2016 will pour an extra balloon payment of $400,000 into the library’s coffers.
“We may even have a surplus at that point,” Huntington said.
Representatives from RAILS said neighboring libraries were all interested in helping any Maywood patrons. The library participates in a resource-sharing network called SWAN that shares books and materials among around 75 regional libraries.
“We’ve heard from numerous libraries they want to do what they can to assist the Maywood patrons,” said SWAN Executive Director Aaron Sgog.
“There’s a lot of good will,” added SWAN Member Services Manager Kate Boyle.
The library is collecting donations at www.maywoodlibrary.org. VFP