The library of Prince Rupert can breathe easy this year, and possibly for the next five years, after the City of Prince Rupert found enough money in its coffers to support the institution.
In January, the city decided to cut funds from the library’s budget to find support for the Lester Centre of the Arts and the Museum of Northern British Columbia.
At start of the year, the library asked for $596,000 from the city through the Community Enhancement Grant. In return, the city offered $500,000, slashing the previous year’s grant by $66,000.
In reaction to the cuts, 400 supporters of the library signed a petition against the city’s decision. There has also been a corresponding increase in patrons and books borrowed.
“It would have been difficult for some of our programs and staff would have been laid off,” said Joe Zelwietro, the chief librarian, adding that they get 200 people through their doors every day.
However, he had nothing but words of praise at the public budget meeting held at the Lester Centre on Monday, March 14 after hearing that the library would receive the initial ask, and wouldn’t have to pitch for a Community Enhancement Grant next year.
The city is taking the organizations that need operating grants, such as the library, the Lester Centre and the museum, out of the enhancement grant system and placing them on a five-year contract.
“We’re making the financial decision even before going through a budget process.
“The good news is our chief financial officer has been getting invoices in and out and we’ve realized across the board of the corporation that we’ve been able to save on expenses,” Mayor Lee Brain said.
Coun. Joy Thorkelson was pleased that the city was able to find financial support for the library.
“This is significant. It would have been a very bad cut,” she said.
The announcement was news to her as well, and she commented on her displeasure with not seeing the budget yet this year.
The public meeting only had approximately 30 people among the 470 empty seats at the Lester Centre. The budget information was placed at the edge of the stage where the councillors sat at a table in front of a screen.
There was an interactive voting segment, where only a fragment of the city’s population participated by texting their responses to two questions anonymously via their cell phone.
Both questions were about the need to make asset renewal a priority, or in other words, should the city raise taxes to rebuild or renovate the old and worn out infrastructure in the area.
Ultimately, the mayor said the hope is that new revenue comes in from industry, but in the meantime the city needs money to pay for the repair of its aging infrastructure.
“We’re asking the public tonight, would you want us to put money away annually, through a two per cent tax for asset renewal,” Brain said. “Technically, we can’t move forward in the 21st Century without an asset management plan. All municipalities are facing this situation.”
The city is starting the conversation to prepare residents just in case they do see their taxes raised to support the asset renewal plan.