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Libraries brace for cuts

Province holds back half this year’s cash pending budget
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Alberta libraries learned last week that the province was holding back half of the cash they'd normally get from the provincial government until after it passes its budget this fall. St. Albert Public Library CEO Peter Bailey said that cash was important to ensure equal access to libraries for all Albertans and hopes the other half of that cash won't be cut come budget time. CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Area libraries are preparing for the worst after learning the provincial government is holding back half its library cash until after it passes this fall’s budget.

Municipal Affairs confirmed this week to the Gazette libraries would receive half the amount of provincial cash they would normally receive per year this month. The other half would be contingent on what happens in this fall’s budget. The NDP made a similar move after the 2015 election, but they released 75 per cent.

In a Twitter post, Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said this cash was being provided as an interim measure until the budget was finalized, and that library funding had not been cut.

Braced for cuts

While municipalities provide most of the cash to run local libraries, the province provides an annual grant to those that meet various requirements under the Libraries Act, said Peter Bailey, CEO of the St. Albert Public Library. That grant usually goes out in the spring following the provincial budget.

Bailey said the province told libraries last week it would release half of the grant this month but hold back the rest until after the budget, which he predicted would come out in November. That’s a concern, as this is cash libraries need to operate.

“We made our 2019 budget last year and we’re most of the way through that 2019 budget.”

Bailey said operations at the St. Albert library would not be affected by this delay as the grant accounted for about seven per cent of its budget and he was reasonably confident the rest of it would come through this fall. The concern among librarians now is that the other half of the grant will be cut from the provincial budget, given what the UCP said about deficit reduction during the election.

“If you take the government at their word during the campaign, there are concerns there will be a reduction in funding,” Bailey said.

Gibbons Municipal Library manager Gayle Boyd said the provincial grant accounted for 25 to 30 per cent of her library’s budget, so this delay means she’s now short 13 to 15 per cent of her annual funding.

“For a library our size, that’s a big hit. We don’t have reserve funds we can dip into.”

Boyd said she’s now preparing for the worst and drawing up a list of cuts to recommend to her board this week in case the second half of that grant gets cut in the fall.

“Will that money come? We’re not going to be able to magically pull it out of the air.”

Morinville Community Library director Isabelle Cramp said she was also expecting cuts in the provincial budget.

“It’s going to put a lot of stress on municipalities again,” she said, as it will be up to them to pick up the slack.

“I’m not sure how the municipality will be able to cope.”

While the grant accounts for just eight per cent of the Morinville library’s budget, Cramp said that cash paid for basic frontline services like books and literacy, with educational programs covered by sponsors and fundraising. Any grant cuts would mean cuts to operational hours and more stress on those who use the library to try and improve their lives.

“For us, every penny counts,” she said.

Bailey said this grant was crucial for small rural libraries and ensured their patrons had the same level of service as those in Edmonton and Calgary. St. Albert’s interlibrary loan and Me Card services are both backed by this grant.

Bailey said he hoped the province would pay attention to the mass public protests that erupted in Saskatchewan and Ontario recently when those governments cut library support.

“People need their local library, and I hope the Alberta government knows that.”

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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