The city’s budget committee will impose a 10 per cent cut on Toronto's libraries despite continued protests that it can’t be done without slashing hours.
During a rancorous budget committee meeting on Monday, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande insisted that the library board’s proposed cut of 5.9 per cent was not nearly enough and passed a motion to carve an extra $7-million from the Toronto Public Library budget.
Just one member, Councillor Chin Lee, voted against the measure.
“It’s 10 per cent,” Mr. Del Grande said with a judge’s finality. “Leave it to the library board, in terms of it’s their responsibility to determine how they’re going to use that envelope. That’s the envelope.”
The library board has been grappling with Mayor Rob Ford’s demand of a 10 per cent trim for months. It has repeatedly voted against cutting hours to reach the mayor’s demand.
But the budget committee’s new tactic may force just such a measure. While Mr. Del Grande’s doesn’t prescribe how the library board must find the extra savings, both Chief Librarian Jane Pyper and several library board members have said they likely can’t shed $7-million without reducing hours.
Late last year, Ms. Pyper suggested, but did not recommend, cutting over 19,000 hours from 54 branches and reducing collections by 150,000 items as the least painful route satisfying Mayor Ford, but it was roundly rejected.
That proposal now rises from the dead. Library Board Chair Paul Ainslie, a Ford ally, said he will ask members to revisit the hour cuts and argued that libraries are not a top priority for Torontonians.
“I don’t think libraries are an A-1 top priority for a lot of people,” he said. “People have jobs and kids and need to get to the grocery store. There are a lot of priorities there, and I don’t think libraries are at the top of everybody’s priority list. Libraries are important for society, but I think they are in the general mix of having a stable community.”