The County has been struggling with providing services to all corners of this municipality since amalgamation abolished our townships and towns 20 years ago, especially since the population of the County has been on a long term decline. One of those services is our County Library.
Readers may recall that I fully supported investment in our library system earlier this year when the budget for the Picton Branch renewal was set for 2 million dollars – and I remain convinced that had the Board come in with a 2 million dollar project, the renovation would have passed handily. During the latest Committee of the Whole vote, I was very disappointed by the fact that the costs of this project had risen another 35 per cent (and a total of 125 per cent from the $1.2 million presented to Council last year). This is, frankly, unacceptable. That is why I voted to send the project back to the Board to a) get back on budget, b) provide a fully costed O&M budget for whatever new building is chosen (since every capital budget results in ongoing O&M costs that will rest with the County) and c) a plan for the future of the other five branches.
Council has directed County staff to examine each and every ‘line of business’ with the aim of finding operational and structural efficiencies of 10 per cent. We did so for two reasons, to redirect savings to chronically underfunded infrastructure like our roads and to prepare for the next round of downloading from the Province, which we know is coming in 2020. Approving a project that has wildly escalating costs is neither prudent nor the kind of example we should be setting.
In addition, this Council has declared a climate emergency. Telling people that they can access the new or improved centralized services that will reside within the Picton Branch (an 80 + km round trip for people in this end of the County) goes against the aim of the declaration as it would increase CO2 emissions. The two Ameliasburgh Ward Branches are much smaller than the Picton mother ship and have limited hours, which make them virtually inaccessible to working people except for Saturdays – this is a real issue for residents of Ward 4. This is what led to Council to asking for a plan for the satellite branches. I note that we have 6 branches for a population of 25,000 people while Belleville has one branch for 50,000 people and Quinte West has 2 branches for 45,000 people. For these reasons, we can and should at least explore ways of co-operating in the provision of library services with our neighbouring communities (Note that Rossmore is 4 km from the Belleville library and Carrying Place is 8 km from the Trenton Branch).
No one has said that the Picton branch renovation should not go ahead, it is this particular plan that was sent back, not the concept itself. In the end, Council must balance competing interests, invest wisely and ensure the County lives within its means.
Prince Edward County