Expansion Proposals for Crystal Lake Library, McHenry County College Critiqued by Stephen Willson

This note was by Steve Willson sent to the McHenry County Republican Party email address a month and a half ago:

I received a letter today from Jim Thompson thanking me for my letter to the editor concerning the Crystal Lake library expansion, and inviting me to visit the local party headquarters. I may stop by sometime, but for now I’d like to lay a couple more ideas on you.

I have 30+ years of experience as a financial analyst, primarily in the municipal bond business.

This means I know how to tear apart the budget or a capital proposal for a school district or a city.

I would be pleased to assist the local GOP in this capacity and show others there how to do the same. (It’s not really that complicated.)

With this kind of research, the GOP can distinguish itself at the local level,

  • showing concretely how it is serving the taxpayers, and
  • giving teams of office seekers powerful information on important issues.

Let’s consider two examples,

  • the [Crystal Lake] library and
  • MCC

Crystal Lake Library

In two weeks (from early May), the Northwest Herald will print a second letter that I wrote which shows the results of a little survey I conducted of library users.It took, quite literally, less than two hours.

But it shows conclusively that the “crowding” issue is nonexistent.

Specifically, 74% of patrons NEVER have a problem finding a parking space, and on average, patrons have problems finding a parking space only 1.5% of the time.

Further, 80% of patrons surveyed NEVER feel “crowded” at the library, and, on average, patrons feel “crowded” 4.3% of the time (mainly Moms during story hour).

It gets worse.

Last year the library budget was $4.4 million and they circulated 1.1 million items, about half of which were Hollywood movies.

In other words, the library spends $4.00 of taxpayer money to circulate a movie that Redbox circulates — at a profit — for $1.00! Look at it another way.

The library spends more than $1.5 million per year circulating movies, just movies.

An annual subscription to Netflix costs less than $100.

With 14,500 families in Crystal Lake, if the library got out of the movie business and bought every single family in Crystal Lake a subscription to Netflix, the would STILL be money ahead!

Am I suggesting the library get totally out of the business of lending movies?

No. (Although, frankly I am old fashioned enough to think that governments should only supply necessary services that the free market can’t provide, like roads and police. Why libraries have become taxpayer subsidized competitors for Blockbuster is beyond me.)

I would suggest, though, that these kind of numbers imply STRONGLY that no one is minding the store, that no one looks carefully at the budget and asks if the library is an efficient steward of the public’s money.

MCC 40-Year Plan

But MCC makes the library look like a bunch of pikers.

$280 million! For what?

3% annual growth?

Let’s be clear: Wight & Co. DID NOT come up with the 3% per year growth projection.

They were given that number by the college and told to build a plan based on that projection.

How likely is 3% growth.

Well, every single school district in McHenry County is now experiencing reductions in enrollment.

Even District 158 (Huntley) has seen reductions at the kindergarten level.

They expect their high school enrollment to increase by about 500 more students in the next several years and then begin to decline.

MCC itself saw enrollment decline 4% last fall.

But how can we be sure this will continue?

Because we can see ten years into the future.

That is, we know how many high school seniors there are in McHenry County and how many third graders there are.

Today’s third graders are MCC’s freshmen ten years from now.


So MCC is going to see their enrollment decline, not increase.

But it’s worse than that. If you put together a very simple Excel spreadsheet and trend out MCC’s projected enrollment at 3% per year, figure out how many new students that means they must capture each year as existing students quit or graduate, and trend out the number of high school seniors, you will see that the “capture” rate of high school seniors increases from 33% today to 50% in 2021, 75% in 2031, 101% in 2041 and 136% in 2051.

In other words, if you believe MCC’s 40 year projection, they will need to get every single high school senior to

  1. foreswear a four year college,
  2. foreswear work,
  3. enroll full-time at MCC, and
  4. bring along a friend from outside the County!

In short, there simply aren’t enough high school seniors to meet MCC’s projection.

The college wasted $156,000 of taxpayer money on a study based on a growth rate that is ludicrous on the face of it.

Except that no one asks the simple, common sense questions. No one on the board and no one in the public domain: no reporters, no members of the GOP.

But the GOP CAN ask these questions.

The questions really are simple common sense.

I figured all this out in less than two hours from credible online sources (The Interactive Illinois Report Card and MCC’s own site).

I can quickly teach others how to do this, thus leveraging my abilities and providing the local GOP with another issue where they can get out front,

  • showing leadership in protecting taxpayers, and
  • putting together a team of candidates for the next election based on this type of issue-oriented campaign.

If you’re interested, write back.


Expansion Proposals for Crystal Lake Library, McHenry County College Critiqued by Stephen Willson — 10 Comments

  1. Why isn’t this story printed in the NWH?

    Then all taxpayers would see how they are being taken by Smith and company and the library.

  2. Since when is the main stream media a friend to fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets?

    I continue to be amazed at how people think that the MSM will represent conservative values.

    They never will.

    They will go out of business before they ever did anything like that.


    Andrew Gasser

  3. I would just ask that Mr. Wilson add the percentage of non traditional students that attend currently to his data.

    This is a community college- not a traditional four year.

    Students are of all ages.

    In my classroom last semester more than 50% of my day time students were NOT matriculating students- meaning they were students who were out of high school for greater than two years and attending my 200 level class.

    I had returning adults in their 40s.

    Students in their late 20s. and 30s; a variety in a DAYTIME class.

    My evening classes are even more skewed towards non traditional.

    All I am saying is- please use the complete picture.

    I do not know where the 3% growth comes from- but I do know my students are not just highschoolers.

    That is all.

  4. Mr. Wilson’s analysis of the library is his right on.

    I often wonder why government entities enter into things that the private sector could do better.

    For example many times you will see Park districts get involved in mini golf courses.

    For example in Crystal Lake the park district also runs the tennis club you you cannot tell me that the private sector could fill the void for much cheaper and provides superior services.

    The individuals that serve as library trustees are very well-intentioned individuals however well intentions cost us taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.

    There is a place for a library but being in the video business just highlights another attempt of government trying to do well but failed to provide cost-efficient necessary services.

    It would be great if Mr. Wilson also could provide his e-mail or contact information because you’d be an interesting person for many of us to communicate with.

    Mr. Wilson may even want to consider starting a website.

  5. That’s a good point, M. Maule. expect that to be thrown to the curb though, because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

  6. It is my personal belief that the education folks know what the picture is and do not want to accept it.

    The need for more buildings will be down because of technology.

    Uh oh, that also means fewer jobs in education.

    As to libraries growing themselves bigger in areas they shouldn’t be in, how long will it be before they are obsolete?

    Rocks, pencils, pens, typewriters, word processors, computers, Internet, tablets, multi tasking phones – the times they are a’changing.

  7. Unless you believe in Farenheit 451, books will always be around.

    They are what a library should be about.

  8. Anything to dumb down people and keep them there.

    “Nah – you don’t need to read – just do what we tell you!”

    Like the old Jedi mindtrick about sought after droids.

    Just send all the library dollars to Springfield.

  9. These projects provide union construction jobs (probably at prevailing wage), additional union jobs inside the facilities once they are constructed, and work for architects, bond counsels, underwriters, and more; in exchange for campaign contributions and votes.

    Build it and they will come. A

    nd if they don’t come well taxpayers have to pay for it anyway.

    What you want from the Crystal Lake Library and MCC is their annual debt service repayment schedule with itemized principal and interest over the life of existing and proposed debt.

    And copies of their current and previous two collective bargaining agreements for all covered employees.

    And copies of their current and previous two administration contracts for all covered employees. And copies of their current and previous two budgets.

    And copies of current and previous two healthcare benefit coverage for all employees.

    And track pay for all employees over last decade.

    Then you can make an informed decision as to how prudently a public body is spending your money.

    That will take quite a bit of work but the real question is, if these public agencies are really looking out for you, why don’t they give you the information without you having to ask for it, it should all be on their website, because you taxpayer are the customer.

  10. Dear M. Maule: I appreciate your thoughtful comment and your point is well taken.

    But about 75% of MCC’s students are in the 18-24 year old age cohort.

    Population growth in McHenry County has slowed down; it was only 1.7% a year from 2000 to 2010.

    It is likely to be even slower in the next ten years.

    And the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of 18-24 year olds in Illinois will actually decline over the next 20 years.

    While it is possible that the number of older students at MCC will increase over the next 20+ years, I see no evidence that they will increase in numbers sufficient to produce the kind of growth MCC has projected, nor has MCC shown any evidence on this point.

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