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Reader question: Library funding

Don Schneider asks all candidates in St. Albert's municipal election: Do you support the Ernst & Young recommendation to reduce St. Albert library grant funding?

Gazette reader Don Schneider asks: Do you support the Ernst & Young recommendation to reduce St. Albert library grant funding to be in line with comparable municipalities given it represents a substantial saving opportunity for the city and consequently the taxpayers? (The report indicated that "reducing library grant funding levels in line with comparable municipalities" would result in an estimated $5.9 million to $9.5 million in savings over a five-year period)

All candidates had 60 words to answer. 

Mayoral candidates:

Cathy Heron: After the election I will ask to explore all opportunities that Ernst & Young presented. The library has already identified some issues with comparables, and so I believe further investigation is required. 

David Letourneau: Library services are accessible to all residents and are especially important for the underserved populations within our community. I always support exploring opportunities for operational improvements and cost savings. However, I would be very wary without further investigation of the projected cost savings from grant reduction projections. 

Bob Russell: Assuming the Ernst & Young recommendation is correct, I would support adjusting our contribution to the library to match other comparable municipalities.

Angela Wood: This requires a look at the costs, benefits, and services provided in greater detail, including a review for the necessity and costs of the storefront library. It would be irresponsible of me to answer without this information. Based on the E&Y report, I am not prepared to support it without a closer look and sense of the broader picture. 

Council candidates:

Leonard Wilkins: Yes, I support the Ernst & Young recommendations.

Ken MacKay: The Operational and Fiscal Review has been presented and its recommendations accepted by council. Work is currently underway between the library and city administration on identifying the best methods on how to move forward. Our library remains a core service in our community, already demonstrating its important role in our pandemic recovery.

Louis Sobolewski: Yes, I support that recommendation. 

Rachel Jones: I feel that our library’s funding is justifiable, given its high performance and lower cost in comparison to other municipalities. Peter Bailey, the CEO of the St. Albert Public Library, provided stats on the ROI of the library to all candidates. Libraries are an important landmark for knowledge and its services are vital to our community.

Joseph Trapani: In 2019, council rescinded the library capital project. Now we need to review why there is a difference of nearly $6 million on the cost of running the library as recommended by Ernst & Young. The library board needs to show the new council their budget and how they are spending it. The money will go a long way to cover the debt and over-budgeting from the prior council. Overall, I support Ernst and Young recommendation.

Mike Ferguson: No. I love our library. It is the quintessential family hub. It's where the good kids hang out. Should we force all our children to rely on TikTok for entertainment?

Shelley Biermanski: I support reviewing any possible taxpayer savings.

Natalie Joly: Accessibility of St. Albert’s libraries — to services ranging from borrowing books, resume support, Indigenous history education, or children’s literacy programs — is an investment in our community. Library services are part of the reason the quality of life in St. Albert is exceptional, so savings from a cut have to be considered alongside the benefits of the service. 

Sheena Hughes: The E&Y report is a high-level recommendation. We need to next take a deeper look into the financials and their processes before making any decisions. Balanced discussion is needed with the library board to explore potential savings and its effects on the public. We need to also review the costs and contract involved of the library storefront, which has an operating budget of about $500,000 a year.

Shawn LeMay: Yes. I want to revisit the research and data to confirm the math, but the report suggests a major savings opportunity. I’m a supporter of libraries, and want to protect our municipal library, but we must be responsive to more fiscally responsible ways of doing business. I hope the taxpayer hasn’t forgotten that, although the report has some merit, it cost us almost $1million! 

Jennifer Cote: I would require more information about why this recommendation was made. For example, the reports didn’t appear to include information about library usage. If our library is well-used and funding for services is justified, we would have to look for efficiencies in ways that ensure service disruption is minimal. But I cannot definitively answer without more information. 

Kevan Jess: I support efficiencies/reducing spending while retaining valuable services, and I think further examination is warranted. The E&Y recommendation, like many others, fails to recognize/account for significant facts and differences between libraries in comparable municipalities. St. Albert Public Library has the second highest per capita level of support but also the highest rate of circulation and second lowest cost per circulation.   

Isadore Stoyko: I read the report twice and this figure isn’t substantiated. If this report is what the city paid $1 million for we should ask for a refund. There are ideas for improvements, possible timelines, and estimates — pure conjecture and crystal-ball gazing. This … is another report that will probably collect dust. How do they plan to save all this money from the library alone — shut the doors? 

Mike Killick: Yes. The library sent candidates a spreadsheet, two-question survey (value? core service?). I questioned the financials, regrettably it contained "quirks" that the board clarified. Example: library pays $10 a year rent for space until 2037, so St. Albert’s support is more than the $4.6 million reported. I support the library; it's not a core service like roads, water, sewer, fire, police.  

Wally Popik: Reduction in costs helps reduce tax increases. The library, as well as others receiving funding, need to take a hard look at reducing waste and redundancy. Increasing funding is not permanent, and as the economy improves so could funding. My answer would be yes to the recommendation.

Sandy Clark: I would have to fully understand the impacts of a decision such as this, including service and accessibility, before I could answer this question, but I believe that it may be found to be a necessary reduction. 

Gilbert Cantin: I am glad you asked that question. Absolutely, for years I have been saying that the library board keeps asking for more money when what they had was perfectly fine. The library board is well connected with council and has been asking for more money for years. In an online world, libraries does not need to be as large as before. 

Ross Guffei: I don’t know enough about this topic to have formed an opinion. However, if an independent consultant is suggesting there are substantial savings, we should consider it. I am supportive of identifying cost savings for the taxpayer. The library is an important service for the residents of St. Albert, but I am still disappointed that council ignored the results of the plebiscite on the branch library.

Donna Kawahara: I am a library user and find great value in public libraries, but realistic funding levels should be provided. These potential reductions in grant funding levels may impact the service levels from our library, but with the current reduction in city grants from the province, we need to consider spreading the spending reduction through all city expenditures, including the library.

Wes Brodhead: Every recommendation presented by Ernst & Young needs to be considered — including the recommendation related to the library support grant. The implication of reducing the grant will have impacts on hours of service, but perhaps that needs looking into.

Rachel Narvey

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