Last week’s council meeting to discuss the 2021 budget left no question of councillors’ strong support for the library, and the good work it does for the community.
But a key request by the library was in the end denied, a “disappointing, but not devastating,” result, said board chair Daryl Novak following the meeting.
The issue was what to do with a surplus the library is posting from 2020. The amount is expected to be finalized in February, but is looking like it will be about $100,000. About 73 per cent of the surplus was accrued from the layoff of staff, along with a reduction of hours for those still working, during the time the library was closed due to the pandemic, and then when it reopened with a reduction in services, explained library CAO Cathy Simpson at the special council meeting last week.
Some positions have been eliminated, and one full-time person replaced by two part-timers.
Also, two part-time staff quit. One has been replaced, and the other will be hired later this year, Simpson said.
The recommendation from the audit committee was that in a difficult year, with drops in revenue due to the pandemic, to use 75 per cent of the library surplus to offset the tax levy increase.
The library board was asking that the town only direct 50 per cent toward taxpayer relief, leaving the remainder to put toward library reserves.
The reasoning behind the request for the compromise, explained board chair Daryl Novak, was for the library to work with the town during a difficult time, while leaving enough in library reserves to help cover future capital costs, such as technology updates, which can improve virtual programming for the community. It would also help those who can’t afford to access those programs, by providing internet hotspots, tablets and laptops for those who can’t afford them.
The final decision of council was to leave the amount going to the town at 75 per cent of the surplus, and for the library to put the remaining portion of its reserves toward its operating budget.
“We’re subtracting the surplus from the grant amount, and putting it back in further down in a budget line,” explained Coun. Allan Bisback, chair of the audit committee, to clarify that the library is still receiving the same amount from the town.
Novak said the board is concerned about the town showing the library grant reduced to $675,796, as opposed to the $750,996 it received last year, as the lower amount could become the base figure for the future.
“This was only intended as a one-time event,” said Bisback. “It is not the intent that it become a new base.”
In her presentation during the special council meeting Wednesday, Simpson told councillors the library has maintained a zero per cent increase in its 2021 budget, absorbing salary increases, and allowing for an increase to the e-resource budget. It has also created a new virtual programming budget, “critical to keeping the community connected, and critical to delivering library services during the pandemic, when in-person visits, programming and computer use are often limited, and sometimes eliminated, depending on public health directives.”
They have also revised their 10-year capital plan, eliminating $128,000 in capital spending by lengthening computer replacement schedules, and removing a costly but obsolete capital purchase, she said.
The savings will allow the library to increase capital projects, including its annual collection development project “core to any public library,” covering the cost of books, DVDs, and other library materials, to address the needs of the community during the pandemic.
A motion put forward during the special council meeting to decrease the transfer of reserves to the town to 50 per cent, as the library was requesting, was defeated, with treasurer Kyle Freeborn telling councillors if it had been approved, the increase of the levy would have gone up slightly, by about .2 per cent.
Or, as Bisback explained, “if we had lowered it to 50 per cent, the taxpayers would pay the other 25 per cent.”
Wrapping up the council meeting discussion was Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who admitted to struggling with the library request.
As a leader, she said, she’s been telling people “we’re in this together, let’s keep doing this together.”
When a group “works so hard to save money, my concern is that we’re taking it away from them. I’ve never refused to give money to the library board, even when it takes money from other town projects.”
She said she thinks the board knows “if ever there was a time when they needed money, we’d go to bat for them,” but this is a tough time, and “an awful year. I’m hopeful they will understand, and continue to believe if they come to us when they need to, we’ll be there for them.”
Novak says his disappointment with council’s decision is “more about what happens next year.”
In “normal practice, the surplus would have been transferred to the library’s reserves.”
And 2022 may not be a normal year either, he adds.
With no certainty about what the pandemic may bring, the town could require another year of austerity. “While I don’t want to be overly pessimistic, or overly nervous, we can’t predict what’s going to happen in the next few months. We can’t guarantee everything is going to be wonderful for everybody.”
Looking back, he wonders if six months ago, instead of building reserves, the library should have spent some of the money on tablets or laptops for people who can’t afford them. “That’s what other libraries are doing.”
He gratefully acknowledges the strong support council shows for the library, and hopes councillors will continue to be there for them if needed. “I’m just a little nervous about the cash,” he added.