Library writes grim financial truth for Spruce Grove Council

This year marks the end of the library's streak of 11 years of winning either a provincial or national level award for service levels.

The Spruce Grove Public Library. File photo

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The Spruce Grove Regional Library will not be able to continue offering the same service if they do not receive a boost to their budget.

That is the message Interim Library Director Leanne Myggland-Carter and Anthony Zeglen, finance committee chair for the library brought to the City of Spruce Grove in their 2021 budget report to council during the City of Spruce Grove’s regular meeting Sept. 14.

“We’re here to speak about the future of our library and will provide a clear picture of our dire finances,” Zeglen said. “The truth is we’re no longer an industry-leading library. We are not delivering programs and services at a level of excellence. We are not even providing them at essential levels according to best practices in the province of Alberta. Each year we fall further behind while our communities of service have shown they need us most.”

Under the current budget, the library struggles to meet essential levels under provincial standards for best practices in Alberta. The SGPL is below the provincial essential standard of 17.88 full time employees per 1000 people at 17.28. and the essential standard for items per capita of two at 1.94.

Larger gaps in essential services include computers available per 5,000 people as SGPL has 15 in comparison to the bar of 22 while the largest gap comes in the category of physical space. SGPL has 16,000 square feet to work with while the provincial standard is 22,000 square feet for a membership base of their size.

The library also expects to drop below the essential level for weekly hours of operation as they expect to finish at  an average of 50 in 2020 as reduced hours at the library will continue through 2020 and into 2021 if there is no funding increase. Increasing their collection, which has been decreasing in size, will not be possible either.

“We are providing programs and services on a shoestring budget. For example, we have only allocated $9,000 for programs that attract on average more than 59,000 participants per year,” said Zeglen. “We are also planning for a wage freeze in 2021, as well as zero per cent increases to training programs, professional fees and hospitality.”

The report also showed need for the library services has not slowed regardless of the pandemic and the closure of the physical space. A total of 231,317 people used the library in 2019, in addition to 99,857 website visits and a total of 366,429 checkouts. A total of 6,280 people held library cards at the time the budget report was taken though the library expects the number of patrons using the facility has risen past, 6,600.

According to Zeglen keeping up with the growing needs of the community has left the library in the financial position they are in now. By the end of 2023, they expect to completely run out of reserves money for the purchase of new materials, equipment or assets.

“There are no funds to spend on collection in 2022-23. All funds will be deleted by the end of 2022 with no available dollars for equipment or any other assets in 2023,” said Zeglen.

As a result, the library is asking for a 12 per cent increase in the City of Spruce Grove’s contribution to their budget for a total of $1,035,403. The library will also ask Parkland County and the provincial government for increases of three per cent to their budget which will bring the contributions to $122,890 and $192,303 respectively.

This will bring library revenues in 2021 ($1,461,992) slightly above projected expenses of $1,460,091. Further asks for increases from the City of eight per cent, and six per cent in 2022 and 2023 respectively combined with year-over-year asks for three per cent increases from the government and Parkland County respectively will allow the library to keep their budget balanced and meet essential services in 2023. This would bring the total contribution from the City to $1,185,329.

“After considering multiple scenarios the duty of the library board is to create a budget in response to community needs based on provincially set guidelines for best practices. Why such an increase? Although now is considered by some to be not the best time to ask for an increase, it actually is the best time for our community,” Zeglen said. “Our library remained open virtually during all other COVID-19 closures and we anticipate increased demand for library services during these ongoing times of economic stress.”

Councillors thanked the library board members for the honesty in presenting the situation but had questions on the criteria which goes into creating these best practices.

Using the library’s collection of computers as an example, Coun. Dave Oldham said he believes the library is actually above essential levels of service. Under provincial best practices, libraries must have two computers for every 5,000 residents in the city’s population and an additional computer for every 5,000 residents after. Spruce Grove has 15 computers, two additional monitors which search the library’s collection and four geared toward youth.

“The formula is a base of two plus one for every additional 5,000 people. We’re between 35,000-40,000 people. Even rounding that up to eight additional groups, that leaves a minimum of 10 computers. If we move to the next column (excellent level service), two public access computers plus one computer for every 3,000 people. We’re certainly below 39,000 people, and that equates to 15 computers. That’s the minimum number we have right now,” Oldham said. “When reading through this it occurred to me we would for sure be at the enhanced level.”

Mayor Stuart Houston agreed the library is in many ways already providing excellent service. Zeglen did note this year marks the end of the library’s streak of 11 years of winning either a provincial or national level award for service levels.

The mayor added he could not say either way if council would approve the ask or not, he did however state a 12 per cent increase will be a difficult sell to residents given the impact COVID-19 has had on the municipal and provincial economy.

“We’re getting asked for a 12 per cent increase. If we asked our community for a 12 per cent increase across the board that wouldn’t be well received in our current situation. At the same time we recognize the demands the library has with their budget through their budget presentation and we really appreciate that,” Houston said.

Across the board councillors agreed there was going to be pressure on the City financially coming from many organizations due to the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.

Houston threw the idea of a paid membership at the library onto the floor, noting if the library were to charge for membership and program participation they could create revenues of more than $260,000.

“I looked at the cost to be a card holder or member of the Spruce Grove Library. I know we have 6,648 library patrons, and if they paid an annual fee of $20, that could generate more than $132,000,” said Houston. “The other number I looked at is programming. When I look at every facility or program in our city … there’s significant cost to it. There were 29,000 people that signed up for programs. If you charged only $5, that would be over $134,000 in revenue.”

As their intention is to provide a completely barrier-free experience for all of their members, Zeglen said this is not something the library is willing to consider at this time. There is also legislation which prevents libraries from charging for certain programs unless it is for cost recovery as even $5 can act as a barrier to some families.

“There are some things that should just be provided for and the library is one of those should’s. It needs to be a barrier-free environment both socially and financially. If we can’t welcome all people from all socioeconomic situations, we can’t serve our community best,” said Zeglen. “Sure, we could charge $1,000 for membership and run an elite library, with everything hot off the presses and every single newly published item available immediately but that is not the vision of our public library. Our public library’s emphasis is the public. To charge people would not be appropriate.”

Council received the report for information. Decision on the request will be made during future budget deliberations.

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