Prospect of county-wide library system angered local library boards

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The consultants say the creation of a county library would save about $ 3 million; Library board officials say it was “an exercise in frustration”

Consultants charged with “seeking efficiencies” in service delivery in Simcoe County suggest that a county-run library system would be more efficient than the current local library systems in place in each municipality.

Consultants, however, are not on the same wavelength as representatives of local libraries, who are protesting against a single system that would destroy local services created by local decision-makers.

Almost two years after Simcoe County Council voted to seek efficiency in their departments, the Service Delivery Task Force is still working on staff and consultant reports.

“These necessary reviews are apprehensive among some, creating a defensive reaction,” said task force chair and Mayor of Wasaga Beach, Nina Bifolchi. Village media this week.

“This is understandable, however, the board members as elected officials and, in this case the library board members they appointed, have a duty and financial responsibility to the taxpayer to find a modern way forward with balanced costs. “

In October, KPMG Consulting first presented a draft report on the effectiveness of library services to the working group. The report describes three options for local libraries going forward:

  • Option 1: Maintain a modified status quo
  • Option 2: several union councils in the county
  • Option 3: The County of Simcoe would establish a county library with all lower level municipal libraries

The consultant recommended Option 3, which they believed would result in approximately $ 3 million in service delivery savings each year.

At their November 9 meeting, the task force received a secondary report from KPMG outlining the correspondence they have received regarding the report since its publication.

Letters have been received by KPMG expressing the concerns and frustrations of the Executive Directors of the Libraries and Boards of Collingwood, Township of Essa, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, Township of Springwater and Penetanguishene.

“The Collingwood Public Library is a safe space for its patrons. It provides a hub of community connection opportunities and bridges the digital divide with free access to computers, internet and Wi-Fi, as well as support for social services, ”read a letter from the board of administration of the Collingwood Public Library.

“Having a local board of directors and making decisions at the local level equates to the success of services rooted in where we spend our time. A single solution will destroy that autonomy, ”they noted.

Matthew Corbett, managing director of the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library, questioned the methodology of the report as a whole.

“The report suggests that the consultants were not well versed and did not spend the appropriate time trying to understand the library services offered by cooperative or individual libraries,” noted Corbett.

“The council believes that this report was not only a waste of taxpayer money, but was an exercise in frustration,” he added.

According to the KPMG report, a total of 108 board members oversee the delivery of library services in Simcoe County, which is more than 10 times the number of benchmark library systems. Comparison library systems included the counties of Essex, Oxford and Wellington.

There are 144 staff, 124 volunteers and 27 student interns who provide library services. The comparison average is 42 employees and a minimum of volunteers / students.

Analysis of Simcoe County’s operating expenditures for library services found it to exceed the benchmark average of $ 10.5 million. The personnel costs for the system are $ 8.4 million or 340 percent higher than those for the comparator systems.

After considering all options at their Nov. 9 meeting, the task force voted to maintain an amended status quo, a vote that has yet to be ratified by Simcoe County Council.

“Option 1 was selected by the committee because of the flexibility it offers in maintaining the governance structures of the library system, while providing new opportunities to assess KPMG’s recommendations and identify efficiency gains in current service models, ”said Bifolchi. “For example, evaluating library boards at the municipal level and examining the continued movement towards e-circulation options at the county level. “

According to Bifolchi, Barrie and Orillia were included in polls and research for the report despite being separate towns; however, their inclusion in any recommendation would require further discussion with Barrie and Orillia staff and boards.

The working group was initially formed to offer service efficiency suggestions for the review of regional governance in the province, and continued its work after the province announced in October 2019 that it would hand over decision-making powers. in the hands of municipalities instead of forcing change from top to bottom.

A task force has been formed to support the exercise, which includes Bifolchi as chair, Deputy Mayor of Springwater Jennifer Coughlin, Deputy Mayor of Severn Township Jane Dunlop, Deputy Mayor of Bradford West Gwillimbury James Leduc and the Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson and county staff.

In January 2020, Simcoe County Council voted to hire third-party consultants to explore the possibility of streamlining fire departments, land use planning (official plans and zoning), and library services in Simcoe County. . They also voted to use their own staff to investigate possible efficiencies in stormwater management, legal services, public transportation, water and wastewater.

Over the next nearly two years, consultants were hired and some reports released, but no major service changes have yet been made at the board table.

“There were takeaways from all of the reports, including Legal Services and the Library, which identify opportunities for efficiency, support and additional collaboration between lower levels and the county,” Bifolchi said.

At present, the reports on land use planning, fire departments and water and wastewater are still pending and will be assessed further in early December and in January by the task force and council. county.

The service delivery task force’s recommendation for library services will be presented to Simcoe County Council at its regular meeting on November 23 for a full council vote.


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