The Toronto Library board slammed one door on branch closures and hour reductions but opened another to further job cuts, elimination of adult literacy programs and unprecedented uses of development charges and foundation money as it struggles to meet Mayor Rob Ford’s stringent budget guidelines.
The late-night five-hour debate on Monday offered another significant test for a rookie board that is balancing Mr. Ford’s buzz-saw demands with the unrelenting public furor that erupts at any hint of library service cuts.
With several board members appearing to misunderstand or ignore motions and procedural rules, little could be gleaned about the board’s will but this: a clear majority have no interest in a reduction of hours, something Chief Librarian Jane Pyper suggested as a means of lopping 4.3 per cent off the agency’s budget, the remaining amount it must lose to meet Mayor Rob Ford’s demand of a 10 per cent cut.
The board had already consented to a 5.7 per cent cut by eliminating 100 jobs and introducing new technology.
But Ms. Pyper gently reminded the board that if it doesn’t squeeze 4.3 per cent in hour reductions, it will likely have to consider dropping adult literacy, bookmobile and student homework programs.
“If the board’s top priority is to preserve branch open hours,” she said, “we have to look at programs we have tried to protect which generally speak to children and those who are less able to access our services.”
Ms. Pyper also revealed that the results of a forthcoming efficiency study by consulting firm DPRA will likely be “unpalatable” to most board members for its proposals of branch closure, hour reductions, increased automation and additional use of radio-frequency technology.
Ostensibly, the board was meeting to debate a series of revenue-generating suggestions arising from its budget committee. Those measures included increasing overdue fines, introducing fines for held books that are not picked up and bringing in more sponsorship and advertising to branches.
Vice-chair Michael Foderick and Councillor Jaye Robinson added a few more options to that list. Mr. Foderick introduced a motion asking the Chief Librarian to look at how much money could be saved by shedding 60 more jobs and diverting $2-million in development charges to cover shortfalls in the operation budget. Those suggestions prompted stiff resistance from Councillor Janet Davis and guffahs from an overflow crowd of roughly 140 people.
“We’re looking for solutions that just aren’t there,” said Ms. Davis. “This is not efficiency. You don’t want to close library doors and library hours, great, that’s what people told us they wanted. But they didn’t ask us to gut what goes on inside those doors either. We have skeleton staffing.”
Councillor Jaye Robinson asked that the Toronto Public Library Foundation consider funding a significant portion of the collections budget and offload much of its $5-million finance and human resources departments to staff at City Hall.
Towards the end of the meeting, Ms. Davis argued that the board should simply hold the line at 5.7 per cent and force the city budget committee to live with it, just as the city has excepted lower than 10 per cent cuts from police, water, solid waste and other departments. She said the final 4.3 per cent won’t come without significant pain.
“What was very clear tonight is that this new board does not want to cut hours or hurt programs,” she said. “If these members of the board want to have one more look to find that secret solution to solve this budget situation and cut 10 per cent, then let them. There is no gravy at the library.”
But Mr. Foderick countered that the board tried a similar hold-firm tactic last year and ended up having to close the Urban Affairs Library.
Others appeared wary about abdicating budget-cutting duties at the library to the city’s Budget Chief, Mike Del Grande, a hardline fiscal conservative. “I’m afraid what they’ll send back to us,” said board-member Kenneth Stewart of leaving further cuts in the hands of City Hall.
With the meeting running close to 11 p.m., the board decided to defer any final decision on the slate of cuts and cash diversions before them until the City Librarian can report back prior to a Dec. 12 meeting.
“We’ll be working hard to find what else the board can consider,” said Ms. Pyper.