SHERBROOKE – The next chapter in the ongoing conflict between the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s and Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL) will include an “external review” of their fractured relationship by provincial officials.
That process, as Nova Scotia Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage Minister Pat Dunn wrote in a letter to St. Mary’s municipal council, will be aimed at reaching an agreement on “sustainable and equitable solutions going forward.”
Although his department says it respects the independence of the relationship and remains “hopeful” that the sides could solve their issues, Dunn indicated that things are “clearly at an impasse.”
This correspondence from the provincial minister came in response to a Feb. 22 letter sent to him by the municipality – one signed by every councillor, and copied to Guysborough-Tracadie MLA Greg Morrow and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser – in which council outlined a strained relationship with ECRL that spanned, at that time, almost one year.
The seeds for the conflict were planted when ECRL – which serves Guysborough, Richmond and Inverness counties – unveiled a new formula for its municipal funding partners, one that would see St. Mary’s cost to maintain 25 hours at the Sherbrooke branch spike by more than $10,000 for the recently ended fiscal year. If the increase wasn’t paid, there would a reduction in hours.
St. Mary’s officials have also indicated it is not solely a financial issue; the scheduling of operating hours and staffing have also been areas of concern. They contend that they have received little, if any, response from ECRL, which the latter has denied.
In its letter, municipal council asked Dunn to consider either allowing Sherbrooke Community Library to operate on its own – while maintaining a relationship with the Nova Scotia Provincial Library – or leave ECRL and join another system, such as the Pictou Antigonish Regional Library (PARL).
During discussion of Dunn’s response, which took place at council’s committee of the whole meeting on April 27, St. Mary’s CAO Marissa noted that Justin Huston – deputy minister of the provincial department – indicated in a follow-up conversation that the aim is to complete the external review in two to three months.
Municipal officials – as part of this process – stressed the importance of having community consultation.
“It is important that we go through this process first before taking additional measures,” Dunn wrote.
He also indicated he is “confident” that – in working together – a resolution can be reached.
Deputy Warden James Fuller wondered what Dunn meant by “additional measures.”
Wier said he is hopeful that this process will lead to a positive conclusion.
“I think that we are moving in the right direction – slowly, but surely,” he said.
With files from Alec Bruce