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Council has concerns with increased cost for library expansion

A tender award for the expansion of Picton’s Public Library has been referred back to the Library Board and applicable staff members to address concerns from council and work within a smaller budget.

Devon Jones, Library board Chair and Sandy Murray, chair of Finance, made a presentation Thursday, to council at its Committee of the Whole Meeting.

They sought approval of the lowest tender of $2.3 million from Knudson Construction to move forward with the project next month. With a draw from the Capital Sustainability Reserve of $160,000 as well as $169,135 released from the Development Charges, the budget for the expansion was sought to be increased to $2,723,427.30

Several councillors expressed concern about the increase – worried that in the end, if fundraising was not successful, County taxpayers would be on the hook for the improvements to the 112-year-old municipally owned building.

Six months ago, the library presented council an estimate of $2.1 million when it sought the go-ahead to begin the tendering process to confirm estimated costs.

“I would have been a lot more comfortable with a $2 million total addition than a $2.7 million addition” said councillor Ernie Margetson. “And the one million deficit… I see corporate donations of over $400,000 so there’s still quite a deficit to raise.

Murray, a Chartered Accountant, confirmed several corporate donations valued at $600,000 to $700,000 are being held until donors see support from the municipality. He stated he has no concerns about the fundraising meeting any short-falls.

Murray noted the $400,000 figure in fundraising tallies was two-weeks old and didn’t include other support since made, including a matching $50,000 campaign next month which is expected to raise $120,000. General fundraising and events have raised more than half a million so far.

Murray also noted access to any Infrastructure Ontario funds available and said two people are willing to guarantee any loan the library could get, and also make donations.

Any debts, assets or liabilities of the library are part of the County’s financial statements and thus any borrowing must come to council for approval.

Councillor Andreas Bolik said he reluctantly found himself conflicted.

“We were here a few months ago with $2 million ask, which we approved and I’m all for a robust library system,” he said. “Now we’re here at $2.7, which is up from $1.2 last year… I suggest we go back to the drawing board and come back with a plan for a $2 million addition.”

Bolik also wanted more information on maintenance and operations costs, and what plans are for the other five satellite branches.

“If we went for this extra money, it will lead to donor fatigue,” said Bolik, noting council had just heard updates from the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Campaign and the LoveSong Senior Housing project, which both need community donations toward worthy campaigns.

Councillor Kate McNaughton defended the need for the library and its branches that offer a value to the community in books and services, pegged at $437,305.98 every month, as determined by the Library Services Centre.

“This is an essential service,” said McNaughton, noting she has an advantage of opinion because she has worked in the system and is a long-term user of the County’s six library branches.

“This is an essential service because of who this system serves… The amount of lives that this system touches, and the amount of direct connection that it allows for people who don’t have the direct connections in their lives that they need to keep them afloat. It’s a profound service provided to those people.”

She explained that not long ago, the library was her lifeline.

“I was tired; a typical half stay-at-home mom. The library was my lifeline before I ever worked there and I would attend several branches and it was how I would maintain my social connections. It saved my sanity a thousand times over.”

The library’s statistics note there were 127,350 individual visits to the libraries in 2018. Some 21,700 used a workstation, 18,173 attended programs and 182,792 items were borrowed.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said the concern remains in the short-fall and needs to be addressed, otherwise it comes out of taxpayer pockets.

“We have to make a decision about use of public funds. We also have to be cognizant of what the provincial government will be asking of us; has already asked of us and the scruitiny we are under as to what we do with any of our expenditures and our savings,” he said, clarifying that he is fully in support of the County’s library system.

Councillor Margetson suggested reducing the numbers then “if your funding donation pledges come to fruition, then we could come back and add the extras later.”

The motion by councillors Brad Nieman and Bolik to send the tender award back to the Library board was approved. The issue will come back to council for changes or ratification.

 

 

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    We have been told by our municipality, in the past, that our debt ratio is well within our means. If we are now truly (as one writer claims) beyond affording a “$1 million unfunded liability” – then this community is indeed bankrupt! We know this is not the case and we are nowhere near it. So let’s stop with the over reactions and fear mongering and start dealing with the real issue – that is building a library expansion. Something that every community across this country seems to be able to do without all the hype and angst that we are experiencing. Then again our municipality can’t build a basic washroom in a park,without long delays and a special meeting to fire the contractor. Now if you want to talk about a waste of time and money……. If council is not careful, people will stop volunteering because of being tired of jumping through numerous and unnecessary hoops. We save millions every year because of the time volunteers give – so help them.

  2. Chuck says:

    Council is excercising due caution. Potential donations are not cash in hand. The taxpayer cannot be put at risk of over 1 million in unfunded liability.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    I too support wise spending, but let’s not pretend that this kind of cost increase wasn’t expected – particularly when no final amount was ever mentioned prior – this was an ongoing process and council should not have been surprised. The Library Board has raise a lot of money already amd will continue to do so. To put things into a perspective – the municipality’s paltry commitment of $320K over two years (according to G. Mooney’s comment)- with a “possible” $160K more in 2020, is nothing to brag about. The municipality spent close to $200K for 30 trees for the downtown revitalization, even more on the barge clean-up (a cool $600K). Not to forget the cost of a new arena, that the taxpayers still subsidize yearly – and we lose money every year on it. Remember the ongoing cost for years over the size of council debate – they spent big bucks to save their jobs – our money! All done without so much as a blink from council. Sure perform due diligence in the costings for the library, but get on with building it and stop with all this nervous hand wrenching – anyone with some smarts should have known that the cost would increase – welcome to the real world. Libraries last much longer than arenas, and sewage plants, and they serve far more people on any given day than any other facility in this community. It is money well invested for every person in this community and how often does that happen?

  4. Mark says:

    Yes. Support for a modern, respectable Humane Society building would be more in order than a 2.7 million library expansion.

  5. Rob #2 says:

    To Dennis or others who might know more about Sophiasburgh specifically, I remember when the great community kitchen plans were in their infancy hearing that there might be an opportunity to open a branch library in that school. Whatever happened to that discussion?

    I do support Council balking at this. Private donors with money ready to go once they see the County commit? Really? They can go and pound sand, this amounts almost to bribery and puts the Councilors in a miserable spot.

    There’s lots of things that require funding in this community, and the library ranks as a medium need in my mind. By not being pushed around Council did the right thing in my mind.

  6. Gary Mooney says:

    I asked Councillor Margetson (Hillier Ward) for info on how much County taxpayers might have to pay for the library expansion.

    County government committed $160K in each of the 2018 and 2019 budgets and has been asked to allocate another $160K in 2020. The rest is supposed to come from fundraising. But, if the County gives the goahead and fundraising falls short, County taxpayers would be on the hook for any shortfall.

    So, County government needs to be 100% sure that fundraising will cover everything over the amounts allocated in the 2018, 2019 and (maybe) 2020 budgets.

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    I fully support expanding the Picton Library, but within what we can afford. I live in Sophiasburgh and there is nothing up here – no convenience store, gas station, nor a basic library of any kind. Maybe the powers to be need to consider the idea of a mobile library – not just for this area, but for across the County – I’m sure there are enough seniors and people without regular transportation that would use such a facility. But for any library system to work, there has to be a large, well functioning and well stocked central library – without that the smaller satellite branches eventually die out.

  8. Marc says:

    What a silly decision considering they weren’t asking council for a penny more.

  9. Mark says:

    Should have purchased the Armoury! Laughable at millions. Look at the fantastic result from private enterprise without a cent from taxpayers. Great example of government keeping their noses out of it.

  10. Angela says:

    Good point, Gary. There are other libraries in the county and they deserve attention too.

  11. Dennis Fox says:

    My only concern with the Picton Library is the current location – I fully support expanding its operations. In the current location, parking has always been a problem and I don’t believe (correct me if I am wrong) that this proposed expansion addresses the parking issue – and more parking is definitely needed. Too bad that the old Armoury site wasn’t purchased when it was available and incorporated in with the current library. Has any consideration been given to using the Picton Town Hall and converting that into a new library? It has location, parking and the history to make it an ideal site for a library. Plus, it may save some money too.

    The current Carnegie building is historic in nature, so keeping it is a no brainer – could it be converted into Municipal offices – saving rental money from not having to use the Edward Building?

    Just throwing out some ideas and hopefully saving some tax dollars.

  12. Gary Mooney says:

    I’d like to know what contribution is being made by County taxpayers — can’t seem to tell from the numbers in the article.

    This reminds me of the plan, years ago, to renovate and expand Shire Hall, which would become the Shire Mahal. Concerned citizens put the kibosh on the plan.

    I’m a big supporter of libraries in the County. But this is too much money being spent on one library only — in Picton, which has only one-fifth of the County’s population. Will this become the Library Mahal?

    What about other libraries, especially the one in Wellington, which will double its population over the next 5-10 years due to residential development? What about Ameliasburgh, which has a greater population than Picton?

    I see libraries as major resources in the various settlement areas — especially for kids, seniors and people who are limited in their ability to travel significant distances. Ideally, people should be able to walk to their local library.

    If the plan for Picton is not majorly downsized, I can see this becoming a $3 million project when all is said and done.

  13. Fred says:

    This is good news. We presently have a Council addressing out of control expenditures. With 10 % departmental cuts coming, get used to it as there is more to come.

  14. Angela says:

    It’s good news that the library is expanding but common sense should prevail. We do not need all of the extras including an auditorium. If a group wishes to meet it is not necessary to rent the Regent. There are community halls at both arenas, church halls, Bloomfield town hall and other venues. This idea of the sky is the limit needs to be curbed.

  15. Mark says:

    I don’t think anyone opposes the Library expansion. They are just saying set a budget and work within it. It is fiscal responsibility. 1.2 million to 2.7 million is a plan out of control particularly with a significant fund raising deficit.

  16. SW says:

    I use the library frequently…. the Ameliasburgh Library or the Consecon Library. I will likely never use any other. This isn’t going the be The Only library in this county.

  17. Dennis Fox says:

    So the cost of a set of stairs and winter maintenance are your deciding factors as to whether or not we should support a new library? Come on, this community is worth having a top of the line library – far more people use the library than any other facility. If we want to attract young families, this is the kind of thing we need, It is a meeting place and a place of learning – if we are truly trying to plan for the future, then this is the place to put your money into. Far better than an arena, sewer lines or another study on the future of the County. With penny pinching thinking and sweating the small stuff, we’re going nowhere.

  18. Mark says:

    No, I totaly disagree. This plan which is much more than required, especillay a large conmon space. My other concern is operation costs. The stairs at the back will be a very costly venture to keep safe in winter. I feel Council is finally getting the desire to control taxpayer spending. It’s a positive sign.

  19. Dennis Fox says:

    More people use the library than any other public facility in the entire County and support for its expansion should not be questioned by council, particularly when they have not been asked for the money. If past councils had no problem approving large over-expenditures like the “Sewage PLant” by approximately $10 million and the “Wellington Arena” by many more millions again, while the Dukedoom still sits – and let’s not forget the recent $600K on the barge clean-up or the $600K for a convenience that sits doing nothing – then surely support for the library should be without any hesitation. This has been an ongoing matter for several years and most of the work on this proposal has been done by volunteers. A library is the true hub of any community – ours is no different. Just get on with it Council!

  20. Angela says:

    Not really free of charge. We pay for it in our taxes. An auditorium in the library might be a nice touch but not essential. There are many county seniors who will never use many of the library’s services. Not all seniors have smart devices. Those who do most likely are not the ones who are struggling financially. It’s great to see an expansion taking place at our library but plans should be tempered with recognition of the fact that extras such as the auditorium are not strictly necessary.

  21. Lindsay says:

    The library has not asked for more money. They are currently asking for a great deal less than originally planned. Yes, the price of everything is going up and people on fixed incomes are struggling. This is why the library expansion is so important. The library does not only provide books. They also provide free internet; in the libraries and mobile hotspots to take home. The library also provides free educational programs for not only children, but for seniors. The library routinely teaches older residents how to use their smart devices, and computers. The library has had an auditorium generously donated, however certain members of council suggested it be removed from the plan, as the Regent is next door to rent, should patrons be so inclined. For anyone who has tried to rent the Regent, you know the price is steep for some folks. The auditorium, just like 99% of the library services, ARE FREE OF CHARGE. The expansion is also designed to make the Picton branch one of the most sustainable buildings in PEC. All of this information is available for EVERYONE to see here:

    https://princeedwardcounty.civicweb.net/FileStorage/E60E157DC0E844869AAD9549216C8F9E-K.%20Knudsen%20-%20Contractor%20Slideshow%20FINAL.pdf

    https://princeedwardcounty.civicweb.net/FileStorage/4026D54A36AB4AD1B7F2A6FAA6E898EF-FINAL%20-%20Tender%20Award%20Picton%20Branch%20Expan%20Project%20R.pdf

    https://princeedwardcounty.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=1948

  22. Angela says:

    Kudos to council for balking at this request for more money. Where does it end? It’s a very worthwhile project but do we really need the Taj Mahal of libraries? The cost of almost everything is on the rise and lots of people on fixed incomes are struggling. Let’s hope they go back to the drawing board and cut a few of the frills.

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