LIBRARIES

Library staff could shrink when municipal budget is finalized

Libraries making more money from grants, parking and photocopying fees, but CEO says revenue is not enough.

Halifax Public Libraries could lose four to eight staff members if regional council decides to hold down tax increases.

“We may have to cut programs,” said Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO of Halifax Public Libraries, in a presentation to the budget committee on Friday. “It’s disheartening because I think one of the things we do at the library is we leverage the municipal investment … and all of that requires staff.”

Halifax Libraries made more money last year from certain revenue streams including grants and photocopying and parking fees, Kachan said. However, this revenue did not compensate for higher facility maintenance costs and taxes on leased properties.

Proposals

The budget committee is currently developing a budget for council to vote on in April. Kachan proposed a library budget that aligns with a 2.9 per cent tax bill increase. However, council also requested a proposal that aligns with a smaller tax increase of 1.9 per cent. If Halifax Libraries had to meet the lower target, Kachan says one option would be to cut four to eight positions from 336 staff members. She said the library would hope to make the cuts through retirement and attrition.

To avoid the cuts, Halifax Libraries would need an extra $350,000. Kachan also requested $100,000 to fund programs to reduce community isolation and promote food literacy.

“Many, many people arrive at our libraries hungry,” she said. “Many people don’t know basics of food—how to cook, how to make basic food.”

Debate

Committee members voted in favour of a motion to set aside an extra $450,000 for Halifax Public Libraries. The sole opponent was Coun. Matt Whitman, who said he didn’t support funding beyond the 1.9 per cent tax increase.

“Anything above that, I’m not voting for,” he said in an interview. “Across the board, (in) every department, that’s what taxpayers are willing to pay.”

However, Coun. Richard Zurawski said he supported the additional funding because libraries are social and intellectual hubs. He compared budget decisions to the decisions of Winston Churchill.

“When he was getting set to fight the Battle of Britain, (he) was asked to put all of his resources into fighting the Nazi onslaught, and it was put to him that he perhaps should be cutting down things like theatres and sports events,” Zurawski told the committee. “They have recommended that he cut these things, and he responded, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”