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Salt Lake City's library officials are looking to taxpayers to chip in an extra $20 apiece per year to pay largely for updates to the oldest branches.
If the library system gets its way, it will also do away with fees for late book returns.
Under a proposed budget delivered to the City Council, library officials Tuesday night said it was time for a tax hike that would raise the library's share of property taxes on a $247,000 home to $115.20 a year. That's a jump of about 21 percent for a median-value home. Businesses valued at $1 million would pay an additional $148.
With the extra $3.9 million in revenue, plus an expected $450,000 from new growth in the city, the library system would pay for renovations at its older branches, stronger security at its main facility, new staff and attendants who stand outside restrooms at the main library. Staff would also receive a pay hike and cheaper health insurance.
"This budget allows us to protect the community's investment in libraries," Peter Bromberg, the system's executive director, told the council. "These are the city's buildings that we're really protecting."
Much of the increase would go to renovating three of the system's oldest branches: Chapman in Poplar Grove; Sprague in Sugar House and Day-Riverside in Rose Park.
Chapman, which turns 100 next year, is cramped, branch manager Mary Anne Heider said. There are computer workstations between bookshelves on two sides of the facility's upstairs. Downstairs, there is a kids' area with a stage that's also used for events.
Rules around the historic building prevent the system from renovating the outside, and its character will remain intact, Heider said.
Architects intend to share plans for the library at a meeting next week, but Heider said a new structure would likely be added where an existing parking lot sits in back of the branch, at the corner of 900 West 600 South.
"The library of today is more of a community gathering place," Heider said, "and we don't really have that kind of space."
Council members gave the proposed tax hike a warm reception, noting the last boost came in 2004.
"What I don't love is raising taxes," said Lisa Adams, whose district includes the Sprague branch. "But I think this is an investment."
This increase would raise taxes slightly above the level in 2012 for a median home and commercial building valued at $1 million.
New revenue would allow the library system to give staff a 2 percent pay hike.
It also hopes to cover 85 percent of insurance premiums for employees' spouse and family plans, up from 65 percent.
This month, the Main Library began rolling out a program in which it hires people to attend to restrooms, which library officials said addresses one of the top complaints from patrons about cleanliness at the facility.
The call for additional security staff and restroom attendants comes about a month after the release of a report on the homeless population in the Rio Grande neighborhood that showed some of those residents spend their days at the library.
Under the proposal, the system would hire nearly 12 new staffers, including four new associate librarians and new positions of facilities director and technology coordinator.
By eliminating library fees, Bromberg said the system hopes to do away the unpleasantness of negotiating and collecting fees from potentially low-income borrowers.
"It's also the single most negative experience between staff and patrons," he said.
The library would also shed $215,000 in revenue in the effort. But Bromberg said the process may become revenue neutral over time as the library needs fewer staffers to deal with late fees.