Library faces short-term closure

THE newly-elected city council may have come up against its first serious issues thanks to a budget shortfall at the Terrace Public Library.

TERRACE’S newly-elected city council may have come up against its first serious issues thanks to a budget shortfall at the Terrace Public Library.

The library will close for up to two weeks next year if its annual city grant is not increased to cover  staff wage increases.

“It’s been a very difficult decision,” said library board chair Patti Chapman, who explains the closure option is a last resort.

“Everywhere we could find a spare penny to cut back we have over the past few years.”

Library staff are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and are about to receive a wage increase in a new contract that’s on the verge of being completed.

But the city’s operating grant has stayed about the same for the past three years and without an increase, the board can’t pay for the wage hikes it has negotiated.

This year, the library will ask the city for an extra $14,640 to cover wage increases.

This year and last year, the city’s grant to the library has been $542,850, a sum that includes $186,374 paid by rural area residents through taxes paid to Kitimat-Stikine regional district and then forwarded to the city.

Broken down by percentages, the city provides 52 per cent of the library’s budget of $636,781, the regional district 27 per cent and the provincial government 17 per cent. The provincial contribution works out to $93,931. Four per cent of the library’s budget comes from miscellaneous sources.

Staff wages make up 65 per cent of the library’s budget, the largest single item.

Chapman said staff hours have already been cut back as much as possible. Out of 20 people who work at the library, only three are full-time employees.

“We feel that we have been making budget cuts for so many years that if they continue we won’t have a library,” she said.

Even if the library does receive money for wage increases, Chapman explains there are still many other areas requiring more money.

Aside from updating computer equipment, books and other resources, the library’s bathrooms, computer lab and the art gallery  are not wheelchair accessible.

And while Chapman appreciates the budget pressure city officials are under, she says the library provides a key community service.

“We believe, and a lot of the population believes, that the library is an essential service,” she said.

Chapman explained the library hosts programs from books for babies to computer literacy for adults. Last summer, more than 300 children were part of a summer reading program.

Money for the library became an issue in this month’s municipal election when library board member Simon Thompson, as a preamble to a question directed at council candidate Brian Downie at a Nov. 9 all candidates meeting, said the city has given its own employees raises while only increasing the library grant once in the past decade.

Thompson then asked Downie if he would support an increase, sparking declarations by the majority of council candidates about the importance of the library to city residents.

While the library board says it doesn’t have enough money to give its employees raises, city workers are receiving two per cent a year as part of contract signed in 2009 and running until 2012.

City workers had their wages frozen for several years in the early part of the last decade. Wage increases for non-union and unionized city workers (not including firefighters) cost $112,000 this year.