Sunday closures of the Salmon Arm public library might not be a done deal just yet.
Area residents will be getting a chance to have their say, in person, before a final decision is made regarding how cuts are implemented at the library.
Stephanie Hall, executive director of the Okanagan Regional Library, told the city’s planning meeting Monday that, in addition to a survey still ongoing, ORL will be holding a town hall meeting in Salmon Arm. No date has been set yet.
“We’re looking at Salmon Arm; currently targets have been revised based on staff consultation. The next piece of the puzzle is public consultation, talking to you,” Hall told council.
“It’s a bit of a tough situation,” she added. “We have to make savings – people say ‘we love our services, don’t cut.’ Everyone wants services but not everyone wants to pay for it, so we have to make tough choices.”
In October, the regional library board announced it was considering cuts at 19 branches, including Salmon Arm and Sicamous, to align service levels between branches.
The plan was in response to a 2013 study comparing expenditures to revenue for each branch. The study found in some communities, such as Salmon Arm and Sicamous, spending was beyond tax revenue received. The opposite was happening at other larger branches.
The ORL is now attempting to restore what it terms ‘fiscal balance’ between communities.
Hall told council that Salmon Arm is spending about $300,000 more on services annually than it’s getting in funding.
“Westbank is double your population and you have about three times as many staff per capita as Westbank,” she said, noting that Salmon Arm has eight full-time equivalents while Westbank has 5.25. “I feel that gives a tangible example – what one library gains and another loses when it’s out of alignment.”
She said part of the difference between funding and services is attributed to municipal government and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.
Hall said she talked recently to city council to ask for $15,000 in funding for Sunday staffing, a request which was declined.
Hall said the reduced staffing plan was presented to the library first, so savings could be achieved through attrition instead of layoffs.
“We didn’t want to lay off – you have great staff,” she said, adding that another significant amount was saved through centralized staffing.
Hall said children’s services won’t be cut in Salmon Arm as they’re highly valued.
Coun. Tim Lavery asked about provincial funding.
Hall said it’s critical, and has been frozen since 2008.
She said it makes up about $1 million of the region’s $17 million budget.
She agreed that political advocacy from council and the public would be helpful.
Lavery said Salmon Arm has been designated as ‘over-serviced,’ but is it at a level most branches would want to attain?
Hall said yes it is, from support for early literacy right through the life span, helping with employment and more.
Reductions in service will take the Salmon Arm library back to its service levels in the late 1980s, he was told.
Coun. Kevin Flynn asked about Sunday closures proposed for the end of March. He asked about the possibility of altering weekday hours to keep Sundays.
“We haven’t had a chance to analyze; there’s been a bit of back and forth,” Hall said, noting that some people like evenings while some could see them go.
She said the survey and the town hall will provide valuable information.
“We will have a town hall in Salmon Arm, we will give prenotification. We will provide a report on that.”
Coun. Alan Harrison also spoke to Sunday openings.
“Certainly my feedback in the community is, Sunday is a really valuable time. When you go on Sundays there are lots of people there. I hope you take that into serious consideration.”
Harrison emphasized a point he’s made at earlier meetings – that there should be a base level of funding to sustain the smaller libraries which can’t generate enough revenue to stand on their own.
Lavery suggested a higher levy from the ORL so the underserved libraries could be improved – rather than cutting back.
“I would like to float all the boats to a higher level rather than draining the canal.”