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Countys five year plan includes $12 million in library spending

by David Meyer

ABOYNE - The county library committee approved a five year capital plan on Nov. 9 that includes $12 million for the building and renovation of libraries across its system.

The Fergus library is due for a major overhaul and expansion and plans call for expenditures of $2.5 million for each of the next two years.

As well, the Harriston library is expected to cost $1 million to finish next year.

Treasurer Craig Dyer said the Palmerston library needs a renovation and expansion expected to cost $2 million. That project is on the schedule for 2014.

In 2015, the county plans to start work on the Hillsburgh library over two years, and that is expected to total $4 million.

Dyer said the five year plan shows tax increases of three per cent to 2014, and then 3.5% for 2015 and 2016.

For the Fergus library, $2.5 million would come from county property reserves, and $2.5 million would be in debentures, which Dyer said is “a very manageable approach.”

He explained the process for the Fergus project would be to first hire an architect and issue tenders this summer, with the plan to occupy the building by 2013. The Palmerston library is the last of the Carnegie libraries in Wellington County, and the Hillsburgh library would be new.

Dyer said the plan calls for enhancing the library collection, and it can be done partially through development charges, and he is “not anticipating a significant amount.”

Library committee member Sheila Gamble asked if approving the plan means millions in capital projects and is “fine with [the committee].”

Dyer said accepting the plan approves only the approach, and each budget will be ratified separately by the committee, and this one returns for consideration in January.

Gamble asked if the board could consider the budget “line by line and take things out.”

Dyer said the board can make adjustments and the county and the board could make changes. County council has the final say.

Gamble asked if such things as new jobs at the libraries will also be discussed.

Committee member Walter Trachsel said the board should vote against it immediately if it is opposed to the plan. He reminded the board former county councillor Carl Hall suggested in his last year on council maybe the county should “slow down” its capital spending on libraries, by spreading them out a bit.

Committee member and county councillor Dennis Lever remembered Hall’s remarks because he followed county council from the gallery. He asked if things had moved up.

Dyer said Fergus and Palmerston libraries were not in the plan in 2010.

Gamble said, “Twelve million [dollars] is what I count up.”

County councillor Lou Maieron said now is the time to raise concerns because the issue will go to the finance committee and then to county council. Dyer said when the capital plan is adopted, it is only the first year that is actually approved. Those projects then go to budget discussions.

Warden Chris White said, “Everything beyond the first year is a guideline.”

Maieron said he added up percentage increases for various projects and county taxes already reached a hike of 4.5%.

Dyer said that is “an inaccurate statement.” He explained the county moves its capital expenditures from department to department and that changes every year. While some budgets increase, others are lowered, so it is incorrect to total such projects and assume that will be the tax increase.

“We try to manage capital projects corporately,” he said of spreading the money across the system, and not “in isolation.”

Gamble said circulation at the Fergus library has declined by 32,000, and there are also drops in Clifford, Drayton and Arthur. She said with the technology of today, “You can hold a library in your hand. Think about that.”

Gamble, a former librarian, added reference use at libraries “has been dead for years. What vision to we have for libraries? I think we have to consider what we do - and why.”

She would not be opposed to closing the Aboyne branch, county library headquarters. The building is slated to receive $200,000 in repairs to its roof in 2012.

Gamble said, “We’ve already expanded Elora. Spending $5 million on Fergus when circulation is going down - what’s wrong with this picture?”

County head librarian Murray McCabe said when the county builds a new library, circulation goes up. He said places like Barrie and Milton are building major new buildings. And of the Fergus library, “The building is exhausted. There’s no room to sit. Washrooms are not accessible.”

McCabe noted the town is growing. “Walmart and others are involved in Fergus because they see what’s going to happen.”

As for e-readers, McCabe said they have been around for years, and libraries are teaching people how to use them. “I don’t think we’re at the end of the road at all.”

Councillor Shawn Watters, said he gives  previous county councils credit for renovations and building of new libraries, and, “We can’t quit before we’re finished. To me it would be a real disappointment ... Fergus is a disaster.”

Councillor Dennis Lever had occasion to visit the Fergus library. “It is in dire need,” he said, but he added he is “stunned at the price.”

He remembered Hall’s plea to slow down and agrees the libraries program “should not stop.” But, he said, he would not mind seeing a three year plan pushed out to five years.

As for the Aboyne library, he, too, wondered if Centre Wellington has a branch in Elora and Fergus, does it need the headquarters.

Lever supports extended hours of service so people can access the services they paid for.

Gamble said, “If I was Murray [McCabe] I’d be talking the same way he has. Now, I’m on the other side.”

She argued libraries are no longer the repositories of knowledge they used to be, circulation is falling and not as many people are visiting them.

“Circulation is falling and you can’t argue with the figures,” she said.

Trachsel told the committee he had received a lot of information. “If you’ve got a good argument, give it to me.”

White said the county decided years ago to improve its system, and none of the proposals “are a shocker. The concept was we’d get to all of them. Shawn Watters asked about Fergus months ago.”

White said, “These are projects we need,” and if the committee wants more details, staff will get them.

Trachsel said if the Fergus library is falling down that is good enough for him to support the work.

Watters said discussions on the Aboyne library “are worthy.”

Maieron asked that the county staff get information before January about Aboyne, “so we can make an intelligent decision. Give us more details.”

White said, “We tried to make sure this [Fergus] wasn’t out of the blue. We knew this was coming.” He added the Fergus project is following the same process as Harriston’s building.

Gamble said she loves libraries, and has no fears about the county’s ability to pay for Fergus, but she is concerned “the real killer is the operating budget. Eighty-five per cent of the money goes there.”

But when the committee voted on the five year capital plan, the motion to accept it was moved by Trachsel and seconded by Gamble. It carried unanimously.

The board also approved a recommendation that Ventin Group and L. Alan Grinham architectural firms be asked to submit a design concept and fee proposal for the renovations and expansion of the Fergus Carnegie library and the board strike a design committee to work with staff to review the proposal submissions, interview the firms, recommend a firm to county council and participate in the design process for the project.



November 18, 2011


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