By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
The Picture Butte Library Board has requested a significant funding increase to the Town’s annual contribution during the Sept. 11 regular town council meeting.
As the board develops its 2023-2025 plan for service, Manager of the Picture Butte Public Library, Cheryl Garratt, said it has been hard to keep up with the expected level of service under current budgetary constraints.
The delegation revealed over 5,000 people passed through the doors of the Picture Butte Public Library in 2022; a far cry from being an under-utilized resource in the community.
Garratt presented council with a copy of the library’s current budget, revenue, and expenses which shows since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the library has been unable to break even. In 2020 and 2021, the library was over-budget its annual budget by $13,000 each year, and over $10,000 in 2022. Garratt added, “So far we’re projected to lose $13k again this year.”
The Town’s current contribution is $20,000, in addition to $16,650 in funding from a provincial operating grant and another $35,000 from a rural services grant.
Garratt said, according to provincial funding guidelines, “libraries are funded primarily by the local municipality with supporting funds provided by the province,” she added, “currently that is not the situation here.”
According to Garratt, this deficit has necessitated dipping into savings to cover the shortfall.
“That money has been coming from the savings that we have, which is obviously going to continue to happen unless we get more funding from somewhere. And then when that money runs out, there is no more.”
Garratt cited several reasons for the decline in revenue during her presentation to council.
She said in 2019 the library’s resident memberships accounted for $2,085, and the non-resident memberships (Lethbridge County), were $2,535. The board report showed that in 2020 non-resident revenue went substantially, and has not since returned to pre-COVID numbers.
“That is the result of Lethbridge, who also serve(s) the County, offering free memberships.” According to Garratt, many of the people who live around Picture Butte opted to go to Lethbridge for a free library card, but said some patrons, despite having the free Lethbridge-based membership, are still using the Picture Butte library as their main library, accessing information, pickup and other services at the Picture Butte Library for free.
Garratt said there has been discussion about removing fees charged by libraries entirely. “People are obviously already paying taxes so they are always paying for the library but this (annual fee) is a user fee basically.”
A letter was drafted and sent to Lethbridge County Council directed by the library’s board asking for contribution beyond the rural services grant to help cover services for PB library patrons living in the county. As of Sept. 11, no response had been received from the County since the letter was sent in May.
The “Friends of the Picture Butte Library” group is currently working on obtaining CRA tax status. Pending approval, this would allow the “friends” group to invest in an endowment fund, such as Community Foundations, but groups are required to have $100k to invest into an endowment fund and due to the continued shortfalls in recent years, the fund which once had $130k has dwindled down to $92k.
The process of obtaining CRA status can take many years to complete, but Garratt said the goal is eventually being able to use interest earned on the endowment fund to help subsidize the library’s operations.
Mayor Cathy Moore said of the request, “That’s a substantial amount of money. It’s something that we have to discuss,” as a council as a part of the Town’s budget deliberations.
“It’s hard and everybody’s asking for money,” said Moore.
“People think libraries are just about books but actually libraries started out as information. That’s what we provide; we don’t provide books, we provide information sometimes that comes from books. But now with the world we live in,” technology plays a greater role than ever in how people access information.
The library currently provides member’s with access to internet and computers but the devices are all out of warranty, and will need to be replaced in the future.
The Friends of the Picture Butte Library is also involved in a myriad of other fundraising efforts. Including casino fundraisers. However there are restrictions on how funds generated through gambling can be spent, and cannot be used to pay wages,
Despite the shortfalls, Garret said, “we are doing extra fundraising all the time; we are doing our job.” The Picture Butte Public Library is currently spearheading a Tulip Bulb sale, and regularly organize wine/whiskey elimination draws, silent auctions, and flower and bake sales, throughout the year.
Garratt stressed although the local library has an impressive collection, the scope of services provided by a library go well beyond books, as libraries play an integral role in providing other community services social programming, and access to technology and information.
“People think libraries are just about books but actually libraries started out as information. That’s what we provide, we don’t provide books, we provide information sometimes that comes from books. But now with the world we live in, technology class a lot and that’s what people need to get information.
To stay tuned and keep up with the variety of services and programming offered through the Library, follow “Picture Butte Municipal Library” on Facebook, or visit picturebuttelibrary.ca.
The Town’s operating and Capital Budget deliberations will be take place before the end of 2023.