ST. MARY’S – The provincial government has agreed to pay a Halifax consulting firm nearly $40,000 over three months to help settle the 16-month dispute over fees between the Municipality of the District of St Mary’s and Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL).
“The Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage has been working with [ECRL] and the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s to resolve these issues,” department spokesperson Mikaela Etchegary told the Journal in an email last week.
“Due to the complexity of the situation, the skillset required, and the need to address the conflict in a timely manner, Davis Pier was selected to conduct the review. [It] has successfully worked with Nova Scotia’s public libraries in the past and has sufficient knowledge of the sector and the capacity to complete this work in a competent and expedited manner.”
She added: “The firm was chosen through sole sourcing, with the contract lasting from June 24, 2022, to September 15, 2022. The Province has committed $39,700 to Davis Pier to fulfill this work.”
St. Mary’s council and ECRL have been at loggerheads since the latter — which serves Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness counties, with about $960,000 in provincial and $234,000 in municipal funding (2020-21) – announced a new cost-service regime in March 2021. Under the formula, St. Mary’s would be required to pay an additional $10,531 per year ($27,458 compared with the previous $16,927) to maintain the Sherbrooke branch’s 25 hours of weekly operations open to the public.
In February, council sent a letter to Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage Minister Pat Dunn asking that it be allowed to either “stand alone, as its own entity” or “join a library system that is more responsive to community needs … Conflicting budget numbers, inaccurate reporting, non-responses to legitimate queries, as well as a completely condescending verbal attitude towards the Council and the general public during an informational meeting have brought us to this point.”
The matter has been under review by the provincial government. In her email last week, Etchegary confirmed that Piers will now “review the events leading up to the current situation; identify the contributing factors; review current service levels and how they compare to practices and models in other jurisdictions; and develop of a set of recommendations to support an ongoing sustainable and equitable solution and level of service.”
In an email to the Journal, St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier said that “Council is happy with the process and are looking forward to meetings and engagement sessions with the Davis Pier team.”
Meanwhile, ECRL announced last week that it will close the Sherbrooke library, effective July 20, due to staffing shortages. In a notice posted to its website, it stated the closure will be in effect “until the recruitment and training of new staff can be arranged. Library users will be mailed requested items during the closure period. We encourage interested applicants to apply. Please find the job competition posting on ECRL’s website. We will update the community as soon as we are able with information about a reopening date.”
Asked to comment on the circumstances that led to the closure, ECRL CEO Laura Emery told the Journal in an email: “ECRL is posting a job competition for two vacant positions for the Sherbrooke Library. We hope to split the 18 hours per week between two people to provide the staffing redundancy necessary to reduce future closures. ECRL wishes to thank its former employee at the Sherbrooke Public Library for her service and dedication to the library and the community.”
Both and Wier and Emery declined to comment on the consultant’s scope of work, timeline or contract fee.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal