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Posted: July 27, 2015

Library seeks major funding increase

By Chris Conway/e-KNOW

The Invermere Public Library (IPL) has the lowest local government support per capita of all comparably sized libraries in the province according to IPL’s board of trustees chair Norm Funnell.

Funnell and Nicole Pawlak appeared before District of Invermere (DOI) council last week (July 14) to raise concerns about the IPL’s budget and seek advice on how to obtain more sustainable funding for the library.

Funnel told council that for a number of years the IPL has been submitting a deficit budget to the DOI. Typically the deficit has been in the range of $20,000 each year.  He said that the DOI and Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) had substantially increased funding to the library in 2011 and that this had enabled the hiring of a third staff member.

Norm Funnell, Chair - Invermere Public Library Board of Trustees, addresses DOI council on funding for the library (July 14). Photo: Chris Conway
Norm Funnell, Chair – Invermere Public Library Board of Trustees, addresses DOI council on funding for the library (July 14). Photo: Chris Conway

“Unfortunately, as far as we can determine, the amount of money wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of the added staff,” said Funnell.  “The result was that there has been a series of deficit budgets.”

According to Funnell, the budget deficit is addressed each year through fundraising and donations.  He stated that the Friends of the Library is an incredibly dedicated and successful volunteer group.  Their annual summer book sale raises approximately $10,000 each year and an annual silent auction brings in several thousand more.  Funnel stated that fundraising and donations have hidden what is really an unsustainable situation.

“In order for the library to maintain its current level of service there is reliance on volunteers and donations,” he said. Funnel explained that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that municipal funding for the Invermere library is the lowest of comparable size throughout B.C. and at the regional district level it is one of the lowest.

Funnell stated that if the library moves into the new multi-use facility the board hopes to be able to increase hours and services. “The problem is that with the current funding, that’s impossible. If IPL is to submit, with the current level of funding, a balanced budget then the service will have to be cut not increased and that will be a huge loss.”

“The board of IPL is requesting that DOI council consider increasing funding to IPL by $20,000 per year and we’re asking the DOI council for specific advice as to how to obtain a similar increase in funding from RDEK.  We fully recognize that this is a municipal library but that a lot of people who use the library come from outside the district itself.”

Mayor Gerry Taft said that since he has sat on the RDEK board, he has fought hard to see the funding increased. “It’s been a tough battle,” he said.

Mayor Gerry Taft
Mayor Gerry Taft

Taft stated that there was a time when the DOI and RDEK funding were evenly matched but that the DOI had increased funding and the RDEK didn’t follow. Last year the RDEK made a big jump to catch up from $67,000 to $82,000.

“Quite frankly the message from some of Columbia Valley directors was that you better not come back and ask for the same thing next year because you’re not going to get it.  For the next couple of years you’re going to do cost-of-living or smaller increases.  You can’t expect a big jump like that two years in a row.”

Taft also stated that Invermere pays a second time through the RDEK plus giving a building and in-kind support through administration, audits and financial services.

“So Invermere is paying, arguably, if you count some of the in-kind items and the space, about $130,000 a year and there’s about $60,000 coming from the rest of the region. Arguably our service area portion is about one-third and we’re paying about two-thirds.”

Taft said that going forward there would be an opportunity at the RDEK to look at the equitable funding of the library services in the valley and that the provision of a new facility would pay a part in that discussion.

“Invermere is paying the vast majority of the cost of that new space,” said Taft. “So for myself it would be difficult to justify a huge increase in operating funding when we’re going to put up such a big amount of money for capital and we’re already providing arguably more than the fair share for operating costs for the current library for the region.”

During discussion, all members of council expressed a need to start planning for increased services at both the district and regional levels once the library moved into the new facility.

Nicole Pawlak told council that there is real angst on the part of the IPL board, when it comes time to pass a budget, that there will be $20,000-30,000 raised each year. She told council that this concern needs to be addressed whether or not the library moves into a new space and suggested that there are some trustees who may no longer approve a deficit budget.

“We’re just trying to figure out how to cope with that,” said Pawlak.

Taft stated that he understood there is a resistance to budgeting for fundraising because there is no certainty.  “I understand from a quasi-government point of view you want to show certainty,” he said. “From a business point of view all budgets are speculation. So that’s the tough one, do you budget for some uncertainty but use historic trends and say the book sale is pretty consistent?”

Coun. Greg Anderson said he had sat on the IPL board for three years and approving a deficit budget was uncomfortable. He said if they had done that on the school board they would have been kicked out by the government as deficit budgets are not permitted.  Anderson said the Friends of the Library are volunteers and at any time they could say they are going to disband.

“If that happened then all of a sudden there’s a huge amount of money that you’re counting on that’s gone,” said Anderson. “It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you’re sitting on that board and approving the budget.”

Anderson suggested that council could look at slowly allowing an increase in September during the district’s budget discussions as it will become necessary anyway.
“We have to discuss it,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight budget year anyway, we all know that.”

Taft said he understands that although there is a deficit budget each year, there is a fundraising plan to cover it.  He agreed that the council would definitely bring the matter up for discussion during the budget process and thanked Funnell and Pawlak for the presentation.

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