Norfolk council has managed a significant cut to the county’s library budget without laying off staff.
At the fourth and final day of council’s budget committee deliberations on Jan. 19, council reduced the library system’s budget this year by 7.5 per cent. This is a half percentage point lower than a staff recommendation for an eight per cent cut.
The draft budget offered three cost-cutting scenarios. The largest – 10 per cent – would have required layoffs. The lowest – five per cent – was closer to the status quo but did not provide council with the savings it was seeking.
“This is a reasonable compromise between these two extremes,” Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele said. “This is a nice middle ground everyone can work with.”
The 7.5 per cent translates into a $216,700 reduction in the library budget. Eight per cent would have increased the cut to $231,000.
In the run-up to the budget talks, anti-poverty advocates petitioned council to go easy on the library budget. They argued that Norfolk’s library system is a key component of the social support system for those living on the margins. Some on council took their entreaties to heart.
“This is critical to our community,” Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin said in support of the five-per cent option. “It’s a warm space in winter. It’s a cool space in summer. It is more than books. It’s a space in the community where they can go.”
Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman agreed.
“For some of our most vulnerable residents – this is a life-altering decision for them,” she said.
The five-per cent option was defeated in a tie vote 4-4. At this point, Masschaele tabled the 7.5-per cent compromise.
Heather King, CEO of the Norfolk Public Library and its five branches, said the board can make this work. There have been retirements in recent months, King said, and the system can get along without filling these vacancies.
At a recent meeting, Mayor Kristal Chopp said budget deliberations and their impact on the poor are a double-edged sword.
A well-furnished library system, she said, may be a blessing to struggling households. But she added it also contributes to upward pressure on property taxes that some of these same households can’t afford.
In a post-budget news conference on Jan. 19, Chopp said the process sometimes feels like a no-win situation.
“No one wants to make cuts,” the mayor said. “Every cut in service matters to someone out there. At the end of the day, we’re trying to balance our services with our financial reality.
“The fact of the matter is we can’t continue to maintain the service level that has been provided in Norfolk County with the tax revenue we’re bringing in. That was why we were running multi-million dollar deficits every year.
“It’s hard. It’s not fun. Every single cut we make impacts somebody. This idea that ‘Mayor Chopp enjoys chopping’? Not really.”
The library board’s draw on the levy last year totalled $2.9 million. A $231,000 reduction reduces this line item to about $2.59 million.
In a report to council in the fall, the library board cited a number of areas where it would make cuts in the presence of an eight-per cent budget reduction. The options largely focussed on staff reductions and associated wages and benefits.
The pain of the budget cut was eased somewhat this fall by a one-time fundraising campaign in the community.