Libraries could receive more funds, but bill takes municipalities by surprise
Proposed funding formula would funnel millions of dollars to libraries starved for cash
Nova Scotia's cash-strapped libraries stand to see millions of dollars added to their annual budget, but the way the province is proposing to split the bill has taken municipalities by surprise.
While the province would pay out more under the new funding formula, municipalities would also see increased costs totaling $1.65 million.
"Our position is that, wow, there needs to be some more consultation here," said Greg Herrett, Amherst's CAO, who first learned about the new formula earlier this month.
"Usually when there's a significant change to funding arrangements, there's a fair amount of consultation. And this time around, there wasn't any. We're hopeful that will change and they'll put the brakes on a little bit and consult the municipalities."
Libraries have long warned the amount of funding they receive is slowly starving their ability to function and that some branches are in danger of closing as a result.
For years, the province's funding has been based on frozen per capita numbers.
Last year, the province started work on a new library funding formula, which it showed to municipalities at a meeting in Truro in early February.
The new formula assumes stable base funding of $402,800 per year for each board. That would cover six staff people, operating costs, and collections costs.
In addition to that base funding, each board would also receive funding based on population.
The formula still has to be finalized. The earliest that could happen would be in time for the funding formula to take effect for the 2020-21 budget year, but the province has not committed to any timeline.
"It's a great step forward," said Troy Myers, chief librarian for the South Shore Public Libraries system.
"The funding formula has come at an absolutely crucial moment in our future, because a lot of us were at the point where we're having trouble keeping the lights on."
About 71 per cent of the funding for the nine library boards comes from the province, while 26 per cent comes from municipalities and the remaining three per cent from board fundraising.
Splitting the bill
Under the new formula, the total cost to the province would be $16.4 million, an increase from the $14.4 million it currently pays.
The town of Amherst, home to the largest library in Cumberland County, could see its share of the cost rise by 46 per cent, or $27,506.
CAO Herrett said if the town had to come up with $27,506, it would have to add half a cent on both residential and commercial tax rates.
"That's not to say that the services libraries provide aren't important. It's just when we look at significant increases without consultation, that's when the flag goes up," he said.
Waye Mason, the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, said his members are glad to see the province plans to increase library funding, but many municipalities want further negotiations on how it will be done.
"We want this to be a true consultation, and we want to hear that the province is willing to make changes and that they're willing to phase it in if there is an increase required by municipalities. The ability of our members to pay the increase has to be a factor," he said.
The Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage declined to do an interview. In an email, spokesperson Lynette Macleod wrote the department is consulting with municipalities and gathering feedback to make final decisions on the new formula.
"It is premature to provide any specific details on the formula or next steps at this time as these discussions are ongoing and no final decisions have been made," she said.
Denise Corey, the chief librarian for Cumberland Public Libraries, said increased funding would be used for more community outreach, such as serving people who are homebound or don't have transportation to come to the library.
"There are so many great things that we would like to do for our communities, for our citizens," she said.
"Underserved communities, I would like to take some of this money and reach out to people like that and help them."