City of Trail and library at odds over this year’s budget allocation

"Now, our reserves are completely depleted.” - Library board chair Barbara Gibson

There are two sides to every story, but in the end the City of Trail gets to write the last chapter and say if the library will continue to operate status quo.

How much money the city is willing to contribute to the Trail and District Public Library this year will impact the level of service, which was the hot topic between a trio representing the facility, and council members during Monday’s governance meeting.

Citing a 200 per cent growth in usership last year, the library board requested $470,000 from the city’s 2014 budget to maintain 62.5 weekly library hours, retain two part-time staff and fund community initiatives, including popular children’s programming.

However, the city agreed to allot a lesser sum, $408,250 this year, which means cuts to an already shoe string staff and well attended programs because the library’s well has run dry, according to board chair, Barbara Gibson.

“It has been the City of Trail’s practice to set the amount of the requisition (budget) each year regardless of the amount requested by the library board,” said Gibson. “It was then necessary for the library board to pay the city from cash expenditures over and above the requisition amount for the last three years,” she continued. “Now, our reserves are completely depleted.”

In December, the library’s cash assets were about $265,000, but with $260,000 owed to the city, the account is drained and means no further funds are available to augment the city’s contribution this year.

Any decrease to the budget will be offset by either cutting hours or cutting programs, Gibson added, “at a time when our patrons are asking for more or both.”

Council countered with questions regarding specific data about peak hours of use, programs offered, and the increasing use of BC OneCards (free use of any public library in the province regardless of residence) over membership cards.

“What would be most helpful, regardless of where the person comes from, would be which programs are utilized the most?” Coun. Kevin Jolly asked.

“We provide a service to the community, it’s not really about programs,”  said Belinda Wilkinson, library director. “Our service is really about the collection that the library has to offer,” she continued. “And the fact that we are open six days a week when people are able to come in and borrow materials.

“That is really what the library does,” Wilkinson added. “Everything else, in terms of programming, is about getting people into the library.”

Discussion between council ensued after the library’s presentation, but a 4-2 vote clinched the budget allocation at $408,250 for 2014.

“Looking at the hours of libraries throughout B.C., Vancouver is the only city that has more hours than us,” said Coun. Sean Mackinlay.  “Even regional libraries are open only 52 to 55 hours a week,” he explained. “If we went to a 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule and closed an hour earlier on Thursday or Friday, that saves 10.5 hours a week.

“Extrapolate that out of the year and it’s $60,000 right there in savings, just in staffing costs.”

Although Mackinlay is in favour of a larger contribution to the library this year, he conceded that “you have to look at the budget and scalpel it.”

Over 65 per cent of the library’s budget is used to pay staff with benefits, which is on the low end for libraries, said Gibson, adding, “the introduction of technology places even greater demands on staff to remain current and provide training and information to patrons.

“It is the last free service that is available to every member of our community regardless of income, age and mobility,” she said. “Both locally and provincially.”

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