Sunday, October 17, 2021

Dispute over library hours, funding
ECRL reps to meet with St. Mary’s council

  • September 8 2021
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – In a bid to address an ongoing and bitter funding dispute, Eastern Counties Regional Library’s (ECRL’s) top brass is meeting for the first time with representatives of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s at a special session of council on Sept. 8 at 3:30 pm.

In an email to The Journal, Warden Greg Wier confirmed that ECRL’s CEO Laura Emery Emery and board chair Shirley McNamara McNamara will outline their policy, introduced last spring, which cuts public hours at the Sherbrooke branch by 40 per cent. Both ECRL reps have indicated that they are willing to restore service with a 60 per cent increase in municipal funding to operations.

Asked whether Emery and McNamara are attending the session to describe the new hours of operation and funding requirements, he said: “That is correct.”

Asked whether they will be available to answer questions, he said: “Yes, there is a 30-minute Q&A pertaining to the agenda after the presentation.”

In a Sept. 2 email to the local garden club, District 1 Councillor Courtney Mailman – who represents the municipality on the ECRL board – stated:

“We would love to have as many concerned community members as possible to show support for our library. There will be an opportunity for questions and council has decided to give some time for questions from the gallery. In the interest of the limited amount of time that Laura has agreed to answer questions, we thought it might be best if there was one representative to ask the questions. I believe that someone from the local book club will be appointed amongst themselves to do that. I know that many garden club members are concerned about the library as it is a valuable resource for us as gardeners.”

The Journal’s email to Emery and McNamara requesting additional information was not returned by press time.

St. Mary’s council and ECRL have been at loggerheads since March, when the library board announced its new funding-service regime.

Emery has maintained that the decision to cut hours in Sherbrooke, unless the district pays a $27,458 annual fee, compared with the previous $16,927 – is both justifiable and necessary.

“The open hours costs [at the Sherbrooke library] have been paid with the assistance of tax dollars from the Municipality of the County of Inverness and the Municipality of the County of Richmond,” she told The Journal earlier this spring. “[But] library open hours need to correspond to the population and tax base that generates the funding.”

Meanwhile, Wier has insisted that the decision has forced council’s hand. “If your insurance company increased your premiums by 40 per cent for the same coverage with no option but to pay more or accept less coverage, most people being fiscally responsible would look for other options,” he told The Journal in April.

At that time, Wier said a one-on-one consultation had been planned for May 3 “to discuss [the] increase and possible options.” That meeting, however, did not proceed.

The dispute has generated substantial debate and controversy in the community, with Nova Scotia’s former privacy and information watchdog Dulcie McCallum – a resident of both St. Mary’s and Halifax – going as far as telling The Journal in April that ECRL’s move is tantamount to “an attack on children and poor people” showing “that they are not in tune with how we use our library.”

Added retired local school teacher and poet Deborah Banks in an interview with the newspaper: “I just don’t get it; it feels like the death of a thousand cuts…The [Sherbrooke] Library is a community centre, and it has been for years.”

In response, Emery stated, “We’re encouraged to hear that people care about library service and would like to see the service restored. We hope that concerned individuals will speak with their councillors to support increased municipal funding for library service.”

The meeting, the proceedings of which will be posted to the municipality’s website, is scheduled to last an hour-and-a-half.