Nova Scotia

Details lacking as Cape Breton regional council discusses new library

There were more questions than answers after Cape Breton regional council held a full-day session on Monday to discuss a proposed new $31-million library to be built on Sydney's downtown waterfront.

Council has come up with a list of 15 questions it wants answers on before it resumes discussions next week

Cape Breton regional librarian Faye MacDougall was one of several presenters to address Cape Breton Regional Municipality council in favour of a proposed new $31-million library for downtown Sydney. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

There were more questions than answers after Cape Breton regional council held a full-day session on Monday to discuss a proposed new $31-million library to be built on Sydney's downtown waterfront.

Mayor Cecil Clarke called a special meeting after CBRM's library funding application stalled last month when the municipality applied for federal and provincial funding.

Clarke initially blamed the federal government for holding up the project, but Monday, council heard the delay was at the provincial level.

By the end of the day, council came up with a list of 15 questions.

Among other things, councillors wanted to know if the estimated market value of land would count toward CBRM's contribution to the project.

Clarke said he hopes to get most of those answered in time for next Tuesday's council meeting.

Coun. Eldon MacDonald says CBRM staff need clarification from the province on which meetings have to be open to the public, and which ones don't. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Most councillors seemed to favour the proposal, but some wondered whether the municipality could afford the operating costs, even if the capital funding dispute was settled.

Coun. Eldon MacDonald, whose district includes the downtown area, said it's not a question of whether the municipality can afford a new library.

"We absolutely cannot, in my personal opinion, go with the analogy of 'We can't afford a new library, we can't afford to operate a new library, we can't afford to build a new library,'" he said.

"You have to find the funds to be able to do that. No different than we found the funds to fix the Bayplex, we found the funds to build a new police station. We find money to do different projects when we have to."

MacDonald said if other levels of government won't accept the market value of land as a contribution, CBRM should borrow the money.

Coun. Earlene MacMullin says she's not ready to sign a blank cheque using taxpayers' dollars. (Earlene MacMullin - CBRM Councillor District 2/Facebook)

Coun. Earlene MacMullin said she's not opposed to a new library, but she wasn't ready to sign a blank cheque.

MacMullin said she doesn't want to make a decision now without the proper financial information, and then face constituents later this year who can't afford to pay their taxes.

"We also need to be realistic, and we also need to make sure we do our research, because these are not our dollars," she said.

"These are all your dollars, and we hear every day about how high our taxes are."

One of the questions councillors asked was the annual operating cost of the existing downtown Sydney branch.

They were told no one in the municipal office or library has that information.

Mayor Cecil Clarke says council wants to know how much the annual operating costs are at the existing downtown library branch. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Clarke said later that municipal staff had not identified that as being necessary before applying to other levels of government for funding to replace the existing building.

"Part of the meeting coming forward for [next Tuesday's] regular council, staff will be asked to have those numbers broken out as requested," he said.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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