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Coalhurst council discuss Chinook Arch

Posted on June 8, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Kenyon Stronski
Sunny South News

Robin Hepher, CEO of the Chinook  Arch Regional Library System, appeared  before Coalhurst council during  a non-regular special meeting held on  May 31. The purpose was to discuss  what the library system is doing these  days along with talk about how Coalhurst  currently doesn’t have a library  board.  “The purpose of this presentation is  just to give you an update on what’s  been happening with the Chinook Arch  Regional Library System which is a  library support system of which you are  a member and are one of 41 municipal  members. It’s probably been a few years  since I’ve been in front of this council,”  began Hepher.  “We’re a member-driven library service  organization and our primary clientele  is member libraries, but we exist  to make sure that no matter where you  live in the southwestern corner of our  province that you have an access to the  library. In the late 80s, this part of the  province was the only part that didn’t  have a library system and in 1992, the  minister signed us into existence and  so we’re very excited to be celebrating  30 years of library service.

Back in 1992,  there were 20 municipalities that have  signed on and now every member that  can join has joined, and now every resident  in this area has access to regional  library services.”  Hepher then went on to say that currently  the fee levied from library boards  hasn’t changed in the past 15 years due  to the boards having to ask the municipal  council for more money.

“They can’t just conjure that out  of thin air. They’d have to ask their  municipal councils for more money  and then they say it’s for Chinook Arch  while we also ask our councils for a levy  increase and then it looks like we’re  double-dipping.”  Hepher also noted that roughly a quarter  of Chinook Arch’s revenue comes  from the province, and that’s why there  was such a big drive to form a library  system due to the extra layer of grants it  brings to libraries across southwestern  Alberta.  “That’s an extra million dollars that  is shared amongst the member municipalities  and libraries, and it really helps  us to do a lot of good work. We do have  a four-year levy schedule, and in order  for that new levy scheduled to come into  effect, we need two-thirds of councils  representing two-thirds of the people to  approve the proposed changes. We can  lower the levy as well which we did in  2019, dropping it down five per cent and  that’s what we did to recognize COVID  had affected the province in a very significant  way.”

Deputy Mayor Heather Caldwell posed  the first question of the presentation,  asking if the plan would be to bring that  five per cent back in an increase.  “We’re still working on the draft  budget,” said Hepher. “And since we’re  still working on the needs assessment,  we need to know how members want  us to spend our resources but the very  preliminary draft budget that’s been put  together will have us at 2022 levels by  2026, so over four years will be getting  back to that five per cent. Everything we  do is public as well, and even our meetings  the public can attend — also every  municipality can appoint somebody to  our board.”  In Coalhurst, Mayor Lyndsay Montina  is appointed to the board.  Hepher then went on to discuss a  little about how Coalhurst doesn’t have  a library board, and why it may be in  their interest to form one.

“The first step is to form a library  board and that gives you the legal corporation  that would oversee things for  you and it also triggers the provincial  operating grant, so then there’s at least  a little bit of money coming in as well  which is $5.50 per capita. Provincial  funding has been very stagnant and  we’re still being funded on 2016 levels  based on the 2016 population. The grant  amount hasn’t changed in many years  and neither has the population that  they use. We’re way behind, and most  library funding actually comes from  municipal sources now. In terms of  about $180 million that go into libraries  in the province, the provincial government  pays about $35 million. Chinook  Arch has the privilege of a good municipal  funding base, the Carmangay  Library needs a break and needs the  province to step in, and some libraries  are definitely on the brink.”  Deputy Mayor Caldwell asked what  potential solutions there may be to  that.

“Well, it’s hard to know, and in some  ways, libraries are a victim of their  own success in that they’re really good  at doing more with less and we’ve done  that for years and years,” said Hepher.  “But a lot of volunteers work without  pay, and people are so devoted to the  libraries that there are just people who  want to do more and don’t mind not  getting paid. I think if there’s a mass  closure of libraries there would be a  lot of people that would fight to keep  them open — even if they don’t use it.  A small amount of money provincially  would go a long way to help us.”  No motion was required for the presentation.

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