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Toronto Public Library staff Shinta Martina places books on the shelves of the St. James Town branch on Sherbourne Street. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Public Library staff Shinta Martina places books on the shelves of the St. James Town branch on Sherbourne Street. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto library board rejects mayor's demand for 10% budget cut Add to ...

Toronto’s library board has voted to reject Rob Ford’s demand for a 10 per cent cut, marking a clear split between the mayor and the board he chose to head one of the city’s largest agencies.

In an 8-5 decision, directors thwarted a proposal from board chair Councillor Paul Ainslie to exact savings by carving 7 per cent of the hours from 56 branches – a motion supported by the mayor’s office that would have shed $5.1-million from the library budget.

The mayor may have backed Mr. Ainslie’s motion, but some key allies did not. The eight dissenters included two members of the Mr. Ford’s cabinet-like executive committee, Councillor Jaye Robinson and Councillor Cesar Palacio, who said they the 10-per-cent command was simply too inflexible.

“I simply can’t support a reduction in hours,” said Ms. Robinson. “I think in January you will find most of council backing this up and supporting keeping libraries open and accessible.”

While a board-room packed with library staff celebrated, Mr. Ainslie didn’t hold back his disappointment. “As far as I’m concerned, a majority of the board just abrogated their duties, shirked their responsibilities,” he said.

“I’m fully expecting the city manager to be furious, I think the mayor’s going to be furious, I think the budget committee will be furious, I’m furious.”

Several board-members were subjected to persistent lobbying from the mayor’s office prior to the meeting, but in the end chose to hold the library’s total budget cut at 5.9 per cent, well short of the 10-per-cent demand Mr. Ford has made city-wide. The library now joins 13 other departments and agencies that have come up short of the decreed cutback.

The decision will now go to budget committee and then on to City Council. Last year, a previous library board fell short of reduction targets and ended up having to close the Urban Affairs branch once its budget reached council. But board member Councillor Janet Davis expects Council to snub the mayor and pass the library budget unscathed this year. “I don’t think the mayor can impose a 10 per cent reduction,” she said. “His own hand-picked executive right here rejected it.”

On Monday, directors debated a package of new suggestions from City Librarian Jane Pyper to meet the target, including installation of automated sorters, cutting the collections budget by $3-million and terminating bookmobile, adult literacy and student outreach programs.

But as Ms. Pyper’s proposals came to a vote, Mr. Ainslie introduced a motion to cut 18,400 Monday-to-Saturday hours at 56 branches. But that raised a procedural problem. Mr. Ainslie’s motion would have required the board to backtrack on a decision from a previous meeting to reject hour reductions and branch closures as a way of meeting the mayor’s demand.

In the end, members decided to stick by that prior vote and opted only for the sorters and a new fine for patrons who don’t pick up material holds.

Right-leaning board members had tried to convince the mayor’s office to be more malleable with the cutback target because several ideas for improving the library’s budget prospects will take time to unfold – including suggestions from Ms. Robinson to consolidate finance and human resources departments with those at City Hall.

The final board decision came following speeches from more than 20 patrons talking to the importance of the bookmobile and other services on the chopping block.

Peter Dean, a Toronto Island resident, told the board that the bookmobile serves as the island’s branch and estimated that he’s personally signed out 9,000 volumes over four decades.

“This is our local branch,” he said. “Closing down this service is closing down our branch.”

The board’s decision will go to executive committee before hitting the council floor in mid-January.

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