VIRL cost ‘troubling’: Ruttan

The VIRL is requesting a two per cent increase this year—something that Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan isn’t sure he’s willing to agree to.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library is requesting a two per cent increase this year—something that Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan isn’t sure he’s willing to agree to.

“This entire region (Port Alberni, Tofino, Ucleulet), for the library system,  spends about $1.2 million a year. Are we getting $1.2 million worth of service out of the regional library service?”

Despite Ruttan’s concerns, it’s the lowest budget increase that VIRL divisional manager of finance Steve Hurcombe says that the library has had in several years.

The VIRL, which operates with 36 board members on a co-op basis, passed its budget in September 2015. Coun. Sharie Minions is Port Alberni’s representative on the board. The two per cent increase for the VIRL falls under three categories: core services (0.96 per cent), a facility master plan (0.74 per cent) and new budget items (0.28 per cent).

The three new budget items for 2016 are $30,000 for a “welcome back week,” $55,000 for a website redesign and $14,350 annually to have the Campbell River branch open on Sundays. For the core service portion of the budget, it’s driven largely by wages.

Ruttan said that the city has worked with the VIRL to curtail some cost increases.

“The initial proposal from the regional library board was that our costs would increase from about $640,000 [in 2014] to $820,000 by 2018. That  was astronomical—we couldn’t support it, we couldn’t afford it and we didn’t seem to be able to influence it,” he said.

Working with other mayors from central Vancouver Island, Ruttan said that the increase has been reworked to approximately $720,000.

“So it has been cut back but we still have to ask ourselves, are the residents of Port Alberni—who are paying the lion’s share of the cost of the library service in our entire regional district—are they getting value for that money? We need to know.”

The VIRL’s co-op system means that a city like Port Alberni pays for upgrades in other cities as well. For example, while the Port Alberni branch has no upgrades scheduled this year, local taxpayers are pitching in to pay for renovations and upgrades in Cowichan, Nanaimo and Sooke branches.

Similarly, all of the other branches will pitch in when the Port Alberni branch undergoes renovations in 2019 and have done so for prior renovations.

Ruttan isn’t sure that the system is working.

“When people pay their taxes in June and July, they look at the bottom line and say ‘gee, the city is raising our taxes’. Well yes, you pay more taxes but a significant chunk of those taxes, we as a city don’t control. We collect but we don’t control.”

Ruttan said that the city will be looking at other options in the coming months but emphasized that Port Alberni’s library isn’t going anywhere.

“Getting rid of the library isn’t an option. We have to have a library. It’s a great service and people in this community really value it. What we’re concerned about is the cost, not the quality of the service.”

He’s looking at either an independent library or joining a different library system.

“Do we look at an independent library? Squamish is the same size as we are and they have an independent library,” Ruttan said.

“Do we look at joining another library system? Langford decided it was going to join the City of Victoria. It’s done that and it’s saved a lot of money.”

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