Town council did not support Parkland Regional Library’s (PRL) budget proposal, which proposed a two per cent increase for staff salaries.
Presenting the proposed budget Oct. 11 during council’s regular meeting was Ron Sheppard, director for PRL. The proposed increase would mean an additional 16 cents per capita — to $8.04 up from $7.88. The increase would amount to $1,100 extra for the Town of Ponoka, said Sheppard.
PRL’s 2016 budget stood at $3.07 million and the proposed budget would see the numbers at $3.24 million. That increase is partly due to a provincial grant of $101,250 for First Nations programming.
“We’re assuming stable funding for 2017,” explained Sheppard.
Where the costs get high for PRL are in its services that benefit the member libraries. Sheppard says along with technology services such as Hoopla and high speed wireless connectivity for patrons, the cost of vans to transport books back and forth to member libraries is high.
Vehicle expenses are set at $41,000 annually.
Sheppard said the two per cent increase for salaries was proposed due to a policy stating wages should be reviewed every two years. In 2016, salaries were budgeted at $1.39 million and for 2017, the proposal sees salaries at $1.5 million. For Ponoka that would be a cost of $54,454, compared to $53,371 in 2016.
There was the question of the reserves, something that the PRL has had member councils concerned about in recent years. PRL reserves sit at approximately $1.1 million.
That extra money has some mayors skeptical of the proposed increase, said Mayor Rick Bonnett. “In talking to some of the other mayors…it’s just a bad economy.”
He suggests this is not the best time, during an economic downturn, to make a salary increase.
Sheppard suggested that if the proposal saw an increase for something other than salaries, then concerned councils may not be so against the request.
A letter from the Town of Rocky Mountain House requested Ponoka town council to request a zero budget increase. Sheppard said he has been fielding many email requests related to the same issue.
Coun. Marc Yaworski suggested with the money in internal reserves at PRL, there should be a line item for salaries.
For her part, Coun. Teri Underhill said much of the reserves are important. “One of the things is that their building is not in good shape,” said Underhill.
She added that if something were to happen to the building, a request would need to be made to member municipalities to help pay for repairs.
Coun. Tim Falkiner was in favour of the proposal. “We waste more money than $1,100. Why would we not give them the two per cent?”
Council voted in favour of a motion for no salary increase with councillors Underhill, Falkiner and Sandra Lyon voting against it.
Council’s vote does not necessarily mean PRL won’t get its request.
Every municipality must vote on the proposed budget, explained Sheppard. If two thirds of the membership representing two thirds of the population vote in favour of the proposal then PRL would get its budget.
At press time seven municipalities, representing approximately $46,000 people, voted against the proposal. However, there are 64 municipal members with 49 public libraries representing a population of 210,000.
If the proposal gets turned down, PRL’s executive board may provide some suggestions to keep the two per cent increase while reducing services in other areas. Sheppard added he is unsure how the board would react in that situation but said that the wage salary budget may get reduced as well.
Where he struggles is when councils raise concerns about PRL’s reserve. “Nowadays if you talk to anybody, especially conservative individuals, is you have to have a savings account.”
He says the money isn’t being wasted. As an example, PRL paid $150,000 out of its building reserves last year, without adding to it, to pay for roof repairs.
“It’s that balancing act…so that we can smooth those operating costs,” said Sheppard.
He feels not allowing a salary increase will also put PRL further and further behind, making it difficult to retain quality staff. He provided Ponoka News with a salary study conducted by the Peace Library System comparing six other systems to determine where the different salaries sit.
On the low end of most of the positions, PRL sat among the lowest, while on the high end of the pay spectrum, PRL sat among the middle to low end of the scale.
Ponoka News editor Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye is a member of the Ponoka Jubilee Library board of directors.
***Correction: The Parkland Regional Library (PRL) budget story featured on page 13 of the Oct. 19 edition states that council voted in favour of a motion for no salary increase. To clarify, council voted on a zero per cent increase to the proposed PRL budget. We apologize for the error.***