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Questions arise surrounding library funding model 

 

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Something is not adding up inside the budget of Oshawa Public Libraries.

Going into the budget discussions for 2017, councillors are looking at a nearly $8.9-million ask from the OPL that is making a push to stay relevant with a branding effort and new technologies while also looking to improve the accessibility of their four branches and fix some aging infrastructure.

And while the OPL will be spending approximately $260,000 and $680,000 on these items respectively and over $1 million for programs and office supplies, the largest chunk of its budget, more than 80 per cent, will be going towards paying salaries and wages.

And while the personnel costs are generally the largest chunk of the budget for many organizations, the percentage of OPL’s budget dedicated to organization staffers is near the top of other libraries serving similarly sized populations, and for the past two years, the cost has only grown.

In 2014, for libraries serving populations between 100,000 and 250,000, the OPL’s percentage of salaries and wages in their total operating expenditure was almost 75 per cent, behind only Thunder Bay’s 76 per cent and Oakville’s 78. Thunder Bay operates the same number of branches as the OPL, but has a smaller population, while Oakville operates six branches along with a holds depot.

In 2015, Oshawa’s percentage increased to 77 per cent of its budget and jumped to more than 82 per cent this year. If approved by council as is, the percentage would remain slightly above the 80 per cent mark.

When The Express reached out to the management of the OPL to provide an explanation for the high cost of salaries and wages, spokesperon Dina Pen only provided this statement:

“We presented the budget to city council’s finance committee on Nov 17. The budget is currently under review, and we trust council’s decisions will reflect the needs and best interests of the community.”

Requests for further followup were not returned as of The Express’ deadline.

Dan Carter, the city’s representative on the board of the OPL, says the concern about the increasing cost of wages is always a concern.

“We are always looking at what is operationally efficiencent and we’re looking at our staffing costs and our obligations to our staff that are part of our team and we’re very, very proactive, or we’re trying to look at proactive ways of being able to deliver services in the most efficient way,” he says.

He referred more specific questions about the OPL’s staffing complement to the organization’s management.

It is unclear the number of managers currently working at the OPL and their respective salaries. The last time the OPL provided their financials for Ontario’s Sunshine List was in 2013 and three staffer members were on the list.

According to 2014 numbers from the Ontario Public Libraries, 19 per cent of paid staff were professional librarians, and according to numbers from CUPE Local 960, the union representing library staffers not in upper management positions, there were 59 full-time and 28 part-time workers along with approximately 10 temporary employees with the library last month. Without access to the number of management positions and further financial information, making more current comparisons is made difficult.

“Frontline staff, librarians are super important to the day-to-day activities of the library,” says Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, a vocal proponent of the OPL. “What we need to know in order to make sure we’re streamlining services is that we’re not bloated in the area of management.”

Tiffany Balducci, the union’s president, says the OPL board has been increasing the management complement in recent years, hiring previous members of the union into management positions and have restructured previous jobs to be more than one position.

“They’ve been slowly adding more and more managers,” she says.

However, Carter says this is something the OPL is very weary of.

“We’re very cautious about our leadership team and how lean that is,” he says. “We are continuing to look at how do we make sure that, dollar for dollar, when it comes to the taxpayers’ dollars, they they’re being utilized in the most efficient way, in the most transparent way and the most accountable way.”

This also isn’t the first time questions have been asked about the library’s funding model. Ron Foster, the city’s former auditor general, raised concerns about the libraries’ funding and the high percentage of costs for salaries and not enough money being put toward new materials. In 2014, compared to 17 libraries serving similary sized populations, OPL had the second lowest percentage of its budget being put toward new materials at 8.53. City council cut OPL’s budget by $300,000 between 2012 and 2014 in response to the report.

Now, councillors are seeking further information.

“When the library board comes to council during the budget process, I guess they can explain it as to why that is,” says Councillor John Neal. “Do they have an explanation for that?”