Library budget pegged at 28M

Norfolk County can cut the library budget as much as it wishes, but council was warned this week this could lead to service reductions.Library board chair Tom Morrison made the observation Wednesday while defending the library’s request for a 4 per cent increase in its 2019 allocation.“We’re at your mercy as to how much we get,” Morrison said near the end of council’s final day of budget deliberations.“But it’s up to us as to how it is spent. There’s not much wiggle room here. We’ve got to a certain level and we run a lean machine.”The library board asked the county for $2.85 million. Council reduced the 4 per cent increase to 2.1 per cent, which was where the increase in the residential tax levy sat at this point of the budget discussion.Reducing the proposed increase to 2.1 per cent cut $52,000 from the library board’s initial request.Mayor Kristal Chopp told Morrison that the county is not in the best shape financially and that everyone has a contribution to make to correct this situation.Since her arrival at Governor Simcoe Square nearly three months ago, Chopp has noticed some inconsistencies in the delivery of library services arising from the fact that Norfolk’s five branches are under separate management from the rest of the county’s operations.Chopp expressed hope that library employees are compensated on par with other county employees discharging similar responsibilities. She also noticed that Governor Simcoe Square was open for business during some of the recent severe weather while the Simcoe branch of the library next door was closed for the day.Many of the newcomers to the new Norfolk council are still finding their bearings when it comes to the many services and responsibilities Norfolk oversees.For her part, Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman was surprised to learn that a separate board oversees Norfolk’s libraries and that council’s relationship to the library service is arm’s-length.“I feel a little silly that I didn’t know you are your own entity,” Huffman said. “A lot of people won’t know that.”As its own entity, the Norfolk library system has a dedicated CEO, Heather King.There is also a significant Norfolk council presence on the library board. Council appointees include Mayor Chopp, Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts, and Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele.A fact sheet distributed at Wednesday’s meeting suggests that library branches in Simcoe, Port Dover, Port Rowan, Waterford and Delhi are busy places and true hubs of their communities.A total of 19,654 active library cards were on file as of Dec. 31. This compares with 17,002 at the end of 2017. Other highlights from the 2018 report include: Library staff provided 47,759 responses to questions last year that required more than a “Yes” or “No” answer. This compares to 44,391 through all of 2017.  A total of 270,365 people passed through the doors of Norfolk branches last year. This is up from 253,437 in 2017 but down from the 273,846 who visited in 2016.  There were 99,169 visits to the library website last year. This is up from 93,170 visits in 2017. After it approved the 2018 library budget, Norfolk council approved the creation of a $1-million “council initiative reserve.”The plan is to draw on this reserve in case of emergency or to fund worthwhile undertakings that are brought to council’s attention in 2019. Money left over at the end of the year will be allocated to the county’s contingency reserve fund.This newly-minted reserve raised the proposed residential tax increase from 2.1 per cent to nearly 3.2 per cent. There was, however, no corresponding increase in the library board’s budget.MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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