The Prince Rupert Library grant allocation saga is far from over.
At last Monday’s city council meeting, and after a plethora of outspoken community members made their case as to why the library shouldn’t see its grant allocation funding slashed by $66,000 in 2016, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain explained the rationale behind council’s decision to increase funding for the Lester Centre of the Arts and the Museum of Northern British Columbia.
“It needs to be clear to the public that we don’t see the library as a luxury item in the community. In fact, we see it as a necessity to the community,” said Brain last Monday, Jan. 25.
The problem, for mayor and council said Brain, is that the grant system they have inherited is flawed in that the library, the Lester Centre and the museum all need base operational costs to keep running – the Lester Centre and the museum.
The pool of organizations encompassing the Community Enhancement Grant allocations are meant to be just that, enhancement grants, said the mayor.
“What we don’t want to do is have the library and those three institutions competing with other groups in the community for a pool of funds that’s really about helping organizations with $5,000 here or $10,000 there,” he continued.
Council will engage in negotiations with the museum, library and Lester Centre to ensure that the three don’t have to keep applying for funding through the grant applications, but can have solid, established long-term contracts that will provide certainty to the recipients.
Despite the museum and Lester Centre charging admission for some of their services, council was told that if both organizations didn’t see some sort of increase in funding for 2016, it’s possible that one or both organizations would close their doors, as well as be unable to address infrastructure issues.
“I can assure you, there wouldn’t be any room for people to be sitting here because people would be outraged at us, ‘How could we allow that to happen?’ … so we provided funding relief for those two organizations [at the expense of the library’s budget].
“The good news about the library is that the building is owned by the City, so it falls under the City’s maintenance, so we do maintain the library as well,” Brain said.
Additionally, the grant allocation process is problematic because organizations applying for funds are doing so before the City has had a chance to finalize its budget in May. But the community organizations need the grants right away in January.
Not all council members were on board with the decision, including Coun. Joy Thorkelson, who made her opinions known at the public forum.
“I believe it was done in an exceedingly poor manner, trying to take $66,000 dollars off of the budget of the library in one fell swoop. It’s going to put it into the kind of financial pit it was in just after the mill closed,” she said.
“I think it was an absolute idiocy to put on a cap [of $850,000 for grants distributed] that everybody knew you couldn’t possibly live in. That was the wrong way to go about it.”
Going forward, Brain added that it’s very possible that the City could find $66,000 in their budget discussions in the coming months that can be allocated toward the library’s deficit.
“If that $66,000 emerges, I can guarantee to everybody here today that that’s going to the library’s operating budget, hands down,” said the mayor.
Coun. Nelson Kinney added that the Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, of which he is a director on the board, is also working to find more funding in their budget talks.
The funds needed to negotiate more permanent contracts with the three organizations will come from new, potential revenue generated by the City in 2016, but should that new revenue not be realized, Brain said that personally and not speaking for council, he wouldn’t be opposed to raising taxes two per cent next year to finalize the contracts and ensure long-term security for the library, museum and Lester Centre.