Ratepayers suggest gutting museum, cutting library budget to curb TBM tax increase

·5 min read

With the facility closed to patrons, the chair of the Blue Mountain Ratepayers' Association’s (BMRA) budget committee says the Blue Mountains Public Library (BMPL) should be reducing its operating expenses.

The BMRA held a membership meeting last week where they invited The Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) Mayor Alar Soever, Deputy Mayor, Rob Potter and town councillor Peter Bordignon to address questions from association members.

“The library operations and public access to the facility will continue to be greatly limited. Should that not suggest that the operating expenses of the library could be trimmed rather than increased?” asked Brian Harkness, chair of the BMRA budget committee, during the meeting with members of council.

In the TBM 2021 draft budget, which is expected to be passed by council on Feb. 8, the BMPL has stated that the pandemic has not reduced the library’s expenses, but in fact, increased expenses and decreased revenues.

“BMPL must adhere to strict safety procedures for both a healthy workplace and the health of the community. As a result, there is an increase in the budget to health and safety PPE and supplies, as well as a decrease in revenue which would typically be gained through rentals in the facilities,” states the budget document.

The BMPL is proposing a total net cost of service of $1,055,634 in the draft budget, compared to a net cost of service in 2019 of $645,901.

Dr. Sabrina Saunders, CEO of the BMPL says that while the library may have been operating with reduced access to the facility, the library’s service levels throughout the pandemic have not wavered.

“The community has had limited access to browse the collections in our buildings, and as such, we have placed additional staff on the task of 'personal shopping' for holds and materials for our community members,” Saunders said. “Again, we have taken this direction to maintain the service levels to our community, while assuring the safe access of materials, and limiting the spread of this deadly virus.”

Potter, who sits on both the library and museum boards, says the library is one of the most-used facilities in TBM.

“I know that the library staff are still very busy. They are starting up the book exchange program again and they still have curbside service for people that want to borrow books. There's still a lot going on,” Potter said.

According to Mayor Soever, TBM is spending half the amount of what surrounding municipalities are spending on their respective libraries.

“And we have the highest usage per capita, because people are really using the library,” Soever said.

According to the 2021 draft budget, BMPL’s level of service includes 3,201 cardholders, who borrow 81,887 print and 19,864 digital items annually, as well as offering 726 community programs.

Soever added that, through the council’s budget deliberations, town council and staff will be looking at the possibility of tying the library budget to the tax base. A concept welcomed by Harkness and the BMRA.

“We're also looking at a separate library levy so that it actually shows up as a separate line item. And then we'll take direction from our community on that,” Soever added.

As for the Craigleith Heritage Depot (CHD), in an effort to reduce the town budget, which is currently being proposed to have a 1.3 per cent levy increase, Harkness suggested TBM council should explore the idea of housing TBM archives and displays at Grey Roots, the county-run museum.

“Would we not be better served to send our historical archives and museum displays to the Grey County museum, which our tax dollars help to fund, and avoid having to invest in the CHD, which is apparently quite ill-equipped to house the artifacts?” Harkness said.

However, the idea didn't go over well with councillors.

“I, for one, would not want to see our local history crammed into a space somewhere in the back rooms at Grey Roots where it's never to be seen again. I want our local history here in our community,” said Potter. “The depot itself is a historical artifact. It is the only railway station of its kind in Ontario, and it's a reminder of the very first railroads that served this country.”

Saunders added that moving the contents of the museum would defeat the purpose of collecting community content.

“A community museum is just that, a museum focused on community content. Our county and regional museums do not hold the same mandates as local community museums, which is to hold and preserve the local artifacts and heritage in the locality,” Saunders said. “The social fabric, history, and nuance of TBM would be lost in a larger museum, which has to be a rounder collection to a greater region.”

She added that CHD has thrived in building relationships in the community and preserving local artifacts, content and stories, which would otherwise be lost.

“Our museum staff have been an integral part of the BMPL. Over the past four years we have been able to share new research, engage our community memory bank and developed an award-winning film series that has generated new appreciation and understanding of our own history and heritage. This work has been done for and within the community where it most strongly connects,” Saunders said.

Saunders also pointed out that the TBM invested in the CHD facility in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years to assure the museum is set for collection development, maintenance and storage through the remediation of the facility and a capital investment of mobile storage shelving.

“We are very happy with the results and know this has further expanded the capacity of this local community museum,” she said.

Soever added that it would be highly unlikely for council to consider the completely dismantling the CHD.

“We can certainly look at storing artifacts at Grey Roots, if they have the capacity. But, I think we really need to keep the depot as the place where people can see local history and, certainly, the library has generated a lot of good work that is keeping our history alive,” Soever said.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca