The library took this one on the chin.
Prince Rupert city council knew they faced a tough decision, to fund community group applicants, and not increase the tax rate.
The sacrificial lamb became the Prince Rupert Public Library.
In a move to save organizations, that are feeling the financial pinch, from shutting down completely, mayor and council passed the 2016 Community Enhancement Grants allocations in line with 2015 — with a few exceptions.
The library had its 2016 budget allocation from the City slashed by $66,000 dropping the facility to $500,000 in allocations
The Museum of Northern British Columbia was increased $15,000 to bring them up to $126,000 and an increase to the Prince Rupert Performing Arts Centre Society by $15,000 brought them to $125,000.
With applications to the city’s Community Enhancement Grants totalling more than $1.3 million for 2016, the City’s $850,000 cap left many groups without a majority of the funds they were seeking.
The resolution to cut the library’s budget was put forward by Coun. Wade Niesh and supported by Mayor Lee Brain, Coun. Blair Mirau and Coun. Nelson Kinney in the grant distributions’ passing, with Coun. Barry Cunningham and Coun. Gurvinder Randhawa signalling their opposition. Coun. Joy Thorkelson was absent.
“[The library] is currently taking two-thirds of the community enhancement grants and I just feel that we want to help everyone.
“Unfortunately the library ... in my mind, is the one that needs to be affected. And the only reason why that is, is because they’re the ones that can only be affected ... who can reduce hours a bit and reduce services and still be in business,” said Niesh.
“We can’t take any more money from the Performing Arts Centre [Society] and we can’t take any more... from the museum because these places will shut down if we continue to cut.”
The $850,000 distributed is $36,085 less than the 2015 distribution amount to community groups. The main reasoning behind the grants cut is that council wanted to avoid raising the tax rate. Cunningham proposed that council use money from the Prince Rupert Legacy Fund, money designated to support Planning for Major Projects initiatives, however that idea was met with staunch opposition from Mirau, who told council that using Legacy funds for anything other than temporary major projects and to use them in an operational basis in this instance would be a mistake.
Mirau later put forth a friendly amendment to the grant passing, adding that the City enter into talks to create a long-term, approximate five-year contract with the organizations that the City distributes grants to.
The library’s cuts were respected but not welcomed by Prince Rupert Public Library chief librarian and Library Board representative Joe Zelwietro.
“It’s important to realize that this cut, although it will hurt library service providers, the main people affected will be the public who have nowhere else to go for information resources. Some have no other place to go when it’s raining and people looking for work doing online job applications, applying for unemployment insurance, applying for welfare, fishing licences – there’s a lot of people who don’t have other options than here,” said Zelwietro.
“I want to make it clear that it’s important to live within our means, but without a stable society, there will be a lot more cost in the future that will make this decision seem not the most wise use of funds. I recognize the pressure that council is under too, to not raise taxes for people, but in a democratic society, taxes are the price we pay for a healthy society.”
Zelwietro added that the board will meet within a week to discuss their plans for the rest of the year and what services will be impacted. They will announce the results of those talks “shortly”. He also said that the library board, as of now, cannot meet contractual obligations to the union and to the City.
The full make-up of 2016 distribution includes $585 to AFFNO, $126,000 to the museum, $15,000 to Kwinitsa, $10,000 to the Prince Rupert Community Arts Council, $6,000 to the Prince Rupert Community Halloween Fest Society, $125,000 to the Performing Arts Centre Society, $500,000 to the library, $30,000 to the Prince Rupert Special Events Society, $6,000 to the Prince Rupert Wildlife Rehab Shelter and $31,500 to Tourism Prince Rupert and the Visitor Information Centre.