As in architecture, Less is More when it Comes to Taxes and City Halls

The City of Geneva will buy the old Library for half its advertised value, but don’t get excited. The Geneva Public Library (GPLD) taxpayers are the sellers.

Ambuscade: a high-sounding political tactic that is employed by elected bushwhackers. Example: “The Geneva City Council will stage an ambuscade on Monday evening.” See also: Charette.

Proposed prototype for new Geneva City Hall to be constructed at 4 E. State Street. Note the remnants of the Alexander-Rystrom Blacksmith Shop repurposed as a fence. Landscaping is minimal maintenance. Why did not the $300,000 Charette come up with this obvious solution? A Verizon Cell Tower Tree can be seen on the horizon on the site of the old City Hall..

Geneva’s population in 2020 (21,393) was slightly down from 2010 (21,495) per the U.S. census. The Geneva City Council is poised to add half an acre of land and over 30,000 square feet of building for city government tax-exempt use. This will come in the form of a purchase of the Geneva Library District’s abandoned property at 127 James Street.

The price is set at $450,000, going from the City of Geneva’s taxpayers’ pockets into the Geneva Library District’s taxpayers’ pockets. The asking “retail” price for the old Library is $925,000. As always, winners and losers will be created when politicians act. Library District taxpayers who do not live in the City of Geneva will be modest winners because the money that goes into their pocket does not come out of their other pocket. For City of Geneva taxpayers, there will be off-setting effects since they also live in the Library District.

But what if the property is actually worth ~$900,000? Answer: everyone loses.

The City Hall campus will consist of the architecturally grotesque building with the blue-roofed towering vestibule in the lower right that once was police and fire and now police only except for the western part, the historic City Hall, and the highlighted historic stone library. This photo gives a sense of the massive expansion of municipal government space represented by the ~30,000-square-foot, two-story library.

Over a decade ago, the City agreed with the Library that it could purchase the 127 James Street building after the Library moved to the Cetron Building. Icons for Sale: The Cetron deal never happened. But at that time, the City estimated that its requirements could be met with 20,000 square feet. The current City Hall was said then (2011) to be 10,000 square feet. It has not changed. (The City’s Finance Department is domiciled with the Police Department across the street from City Hall at 15 S. First Street.)

The new GPLD library is 57,000 square feet, about twice the size of the James Street building. One cannot help but notice a complete set of the Encyclopedia Brittanica (32 volumes in the last print version of 2013) is 4.75 gigabytes. Two hundred complete sets will easily fit on a 1TB thumb drive ($30.00 on Amazon now). The moral of this might be that if you need to know how extensive a library you need, don’t ask a librarian.

If the City of Geneva purchases the 127 James Street Library, the City will have 40,000 square feet. With the same population over a decade ago, the City estimated its need at 20,000 square feet. Geneva had ten alderpersons then and ten alderpersons now. In 2021 the City of Geneva had 121 employees. Eight years ago, the City had 128 employees. City of Geneva Salaries – Illinois – 2021 (

Why does the City of Geneva need 40,000 square feet of buildings? Why should 30,000 square feet in the heart of downtown with a $925,000 asking price be taken off the tax rolls? Why does the proposed transaction show up on Friday, January 20, 2023, with the vote to come in a Special (unscheduled) session on Monday, January 23, 2023?

Why doesn’t the $450,000 go towards cleaning up the old MRI site at 4E State?

PS: As part of its series on “concepts in government,” the next GPLD board meeting will start with a brief presentation on “Fiduciary Responsibility.”

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