Qs to Town Council 06-21-2011

Questions for Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville Council
Dr. Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, 672 Millard St., Stouffville
June 21, 2011

(Click for Meeting Agenda)

Re: item #10, 2010 Financial Statements and the Municipal Performance Measurement Indicators, Attachment #3

The statement shows that the "Operating cost for library services per person" decreased from 2009 to 2010 from $25.43 to $23.44 (or 8%, $1.99 per person). As you may know, for this "municipal performance measurement" in 2009 the province-wide average for municipalities our size was $44/person (the high was Stratford at $66); Whitchurch-Stouffville was in last position -- next lowest was Georgina at $35/person! (Source: BMA Municipal Study 2010,
 p. 124). This statement indicates that we will fall even lower in the next BMA Study. While we do very well on many fronts, the municipal performance measurements tell us very clearly what regular library users already know: the library is in a deep crisis.

This current annual municipal funding trend is unrelated to library expansion plans for 2015 (I have reviewed the funding proposal) or the fact that we rely heavily on many volunteers (most communities our size do).

As you may know, the town's library grant has dropped from 5.1% of operating expenses in 2004, to 3% in 2007, and to 2% in the 2011. Though the dollar amount went up $96,538 in the 2011 budget, that only reflects the fact that 3,000 new people arrived in town (according to the "2011 Annual Report," 967 building permits were issued for new residential development in Stouffville, or about 3000 new people).

Question: What is council's plan to address this documented area of municipal performance failure? 

(Response from Mayor: This is a "difference in accounting procedures".  

Reflection: Apparently the municipal performance indicators mandated by the province, and other provincial benchmarks don't fit our situation--at least for the library, where we come out very poorly. How do measure performance? This is obfuscation; see funding statistics page. In either case, our library is far too small for a community our size (according to provincial guidelines, and averages), our books per person falls far below the provincial average, and we should have 19 FTE staff, not 10.  

Curiously, Mayor Emmerson said during the 2010 municipal election (video) (also a question submitted by A. Neufeldt-Fast) that he had proposed a plan for "per capita" funding for the library, but Council rejected this "in order to cut their budget." This should have been stated again, and the proposal by the Mayor needs to come before Council again so that our accounting becomes truly comparable and our performance measurable by provincial standards. In the same response in November 2010, Mayor Emmerson said that they have put "a lot of infrastructure around a lot of facilities." This would be difficult to substantiate with respect to the Library facility.

Re: item#17.1, Leisure and Community Services Master Plan Update (2011)

(This is related to the neglect of the library above. ) The "Leisure and Community Services Master Plan" builds on its initial recommendation to accept a broader definition of "leisure", which hinges on the idea of "experiences" for individuals and groups: "The term 'leisure' encompasses a broad range of activities, interests and programs that are experienced by individuals and group" (Recomm. #1, p. iii).

Correspondingly, the proposed revised mission statement for Leisure and Community Services focuses on the coordination, facilitation, provision and promotion of those experiences (" ... coordinates and facilitates the provision and promotion of opportunities and services for leisure ... "; Recomm. #3, p. iii).

While there are many benefits to this broader framework, the terms "leisure" and "experiences" are hardly sufficient for understanding the role that public libraries have played in Canada. While a library should provide services that could be understood in terms of leisure, enrichment, and experiences, a central role of public libraries has been to serve a community's informational needs generally and thus to ensure equal access to information and knowledge. Leisure does not require experts at finding and organizing information and interpreting information needs or providing professional assistance with research, collecting documents relevant to the community, investing in digital archives and electronic databases, helping people get information that will help them to find a job, start a business, etc. This is crucial for an educated and literate population, which in turn strengthens and stabilizes the community.

The neglect in library funding, I fear, is reflected in and will worsen, with the proposal to subsume the library under a definition of "leisure". When the broader, historic vision of a library for a community is lost, so too is the funding (we once qualified for a Carnegie Library; I don't think we would today).

Question: Will council members re-consider the current proposal to narrow the library's mandate and mission in terms of the category of "leisure"? 

(Response from Mayor to this question: none). 

(Return to Main page ... sign the online petition ... contact the Mayor or your Ward Councillor directly)