Eganville – Municipal Wayfinders Group came back swinging against assertions from the Bonnechere Union Library CEO who had challenged “their data, findings and competencies” and while they were at it also took a swipe at the Eganville Leader.
“Untrue and disparaging public remarks founded on unrealistic assertions are unprofessional and damaging to our firm and our team’s reputations,” Michael Wildman of Wayfinders said during a committee meeting of Bonnechere Valley council last Tuesday. “They ought to be known as unwelcome. They are unnecessary in professional disagreements.”
The consultants also requested a “written apology and retraction from the Library CEO regarding her comments about our firm and team.”
The Wayfinders group was back at council not only asking for an apology from the Library CEO Nikolina Likarevic but also refuting her comments and standing by their original recommendations to reduce library hours.
“At the crux of what our recommendation is we did not want to get into all the details of wages and expenditures, we were looking at hours,” David Reid of Wayfinders said. “That was the recommendation of reducing the hours and even if you use those comparators the average hours per library is 41 hours and average per branch is 29 hours, so significantly less than the 48 hours the Bonnechere Union Library is open.”
Comparing BUPL to libraires in the county, the library is the third highest at a percentage of the levy used for the library, he said. In BV, 5.67 per cent of the levy goes to the library. The highest figure in the county is Deep River where 7.95 per cent of the levy goes to the library. Petawawa uses 4.96 per cent of the levy for the library and Pembroke 3.46. As far as neighbouring municipalities to BUPL, KHR uses 2. 97 per cent of the levy for the library, Admaston/Bromley uses 0.99 per cent and North Algona Wilberforce 2.38 per cent.
“We just based it on the tax levy (the amount collected from municipal ratepayers),” Mr. Reid explained. “The BV portion is about 60 per cent higher than the average and the third highest of the 17 municipalities in Renfrew County.”
The Financial Circumstances Index of the township shows with an index of 8.8, BV can best be compared to a municipality like Madawaska Valley with a population served at the library of 4,954 and 29 hours of service to the public, the consultants showed. Its expenditures are $189,393 and wages/benefits are $132,097. By contrast, BV has a served population of 5,339 and is open 48 hours a week. The expenditures are $271,030 and wages/benefits $201,369.
Looking at comparator libraries, including those used as a comparator by the librarian and the consultations, the average is expenditures of $225,682 and wages/benefits of $157,371. As well other comparator hours were lower at 32.5 per library or 21.7 per branch.
Along with his colleague, they gave an extensive presentation about not only their report, but also the assertions made by the librarian.
“We have serious concerns with the assertions made by the Library CEO,” Mr. Wildman said. “In many cases they are false, based on flawed and problematic information and are misleading.”
He said while the librarian’s presentation used only a fraction of the data collected by the consultants, this was not a factual representation of the extensive data presented by the consultants.
Mr. Wildman said the CEO’s “omissions fuel a false narrative.”
As far as comparators, Wayfinders used several and based them on location, population, households, services provided and fiscal circumstances. The original report from Wayfinders was on finding efficiencies and he stresses BV’s ability to pay needed to be considered when deciding about library services and competing funding issues.
“We are in the firm view this is an imperative consideration,” he said of the fiscal circumstances.
Mr. Wildman said while the librarian strongly relied on the Federation of Public Libraries report, the consultants looked at audited statements and multiple reliable sources. He pointed out even the FOPL report places a caveat on the information contained since there are discrepancies with reporting. He re-iterated the closest comparators to the situation in BV are Bancroft, Marmora Lake and Madawaska Valley.
While the librarian looked for other comparators, he said it was important to have similar comparators and data. He said her use of Band 6 as a comparator base for libraries with populations of between 5,000 and 15,000 was not a good starting point.
“Unfortunately, this does not mean that every or any library in Band 6 is necessarily comparable for the purpose of the Operational Review report,” he said. “It is a great leap to make this assumption.”
The BUPL is one of the smallest libraries in this band, with only two libraries serving fewer residents. Many of those libraries are in single tier municipalities and many have much better fiscal circumstances than Bonnechere Valley, he said.
“As noted, ability to pay is an essential and responsible consideration,” he said.
For example, Muskoka Lakes comparator residential tax base is over $9.5 billion, almost 2,000 per cent higher than BV at $467 million.
Mr. Wildman said while the consultants agree hours of operation are not directly equivalent to staff hours, there is an impact. A reduction of hours from the then current 48 hours a week to 30 would result in a savings of around $78,000.
“We reduced the number to $50,000 to $60,000 for a potential savings of 63 per cent to 76 per cent,” he said.
Mr. Wildman also took issue with the Leader reporting the December meeting in which Bonnechere Union CEO Nikolina Likarevic described the report as one with “big conclusions backed by limited and often inaccurate data that demonstrates little understanding of library operations.”
He stated Wayfinders should have been given an opportunity to refute the comments made by the CEO for a fairer article. However, the Leader was accurately reporting what was said at a council meeting as is the policy at the newspaper when covering any municipal council meeting.
The Leader had previously done an extensive article on the original presentation done by Wayfinders in the fall. At that point many recommendations were made, including reducing the library hours, consolidating fire and public works operations at one location and considering selling Eganville Power Generation as a money-losing venture. As is Leader policy, this was reported as what was stated at the time with no follow-up questions to the library, fire department/works department or EGC board.
However, the Leaderdoes continue to report what is said in follow up meetings to present each side of an issue as it has done for issues in the past resulting from council or committee meetings.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader