The Haliburton County Library Board plans to discuss closing a Highlands East branch as it navigates increased budget pressures and saving interlibrary loans.

The board brought up the measure during a budget-focused board meeting Sept. 25. Staff presented a 2020 draft budget with a tentative increase of $84,371 from 2019, driven largely by a $51,921 employee wages and benefits as well as rising costs for interlibrary loans.

With that, Coun. Carol Moffatt brought up the possibility of closing one of Highlands East’s four library branches as a cost-saving measure.

“This conversation has been raised over and over and over again over many years,” Moffatt said. “That has to be part of the conversation is consolidation of services into fewer locations.

“This is not the removal of services; this is about the realignment of services in a way that works for everybody.”

Highlands East has four library branches, located in Cardiff, Gooderham, Highland Grove and Wilberforce. In comparison, Dysart et al and Minden each have one, while Algonquin Highlands has a branch in Stanhope plus a library depot in Dorset.

Coun. Cec Ryall, the only Highlands East representative on the board, said the municipality would be open to conversation, but it is not something that could happen quickly. He added the municipality would have to consider the social aspect of libraries in addition to book supply.

“What does the library mean to the people we represent, and that’s the challenge that sits with us right now,” Ryall said. “How can we make sure that, at the end of the day, the service meets the demand of the people?”

Library CEO Bessie Sullivan said the employee wage and benefits budget increase, about six per cent more than last year, is estimated based on the cost of living adjustment and periodic increases negotiated by the union of county employees. Although the library workers are not unionized, those negotiations tend to drive wage increases for them.

No motion came forward regarding Highlands East branches but the board indicated it would continue discussing this idea at a later date.

Wants to preserve interlibrary loans

The board also discussed the cost pressures it faces this year. The interlibrary loan service, which allows users to borrow books from outside libraries, was a focal point of the meeting.

The province cut the service this year, removing couriers and requiring libraries to send books using Canada Post.

Librarian Bessie Sullivan said that represents an increase in shipping costs. To return to 2018 levels for the service, the library is budgeting an extra $15,000 for 2020. Depending on the county budget, the board talked about additional limits on the number of books provided through the service.

“It’s an important program I would like to see us continue,” Warden Liz Danielsen said. “We will need to gauge the overall picture. See where we’re at and we might need to make some adjustments.”

Board vice-chair Reuben Maughan said cutting services is concerning to him.

“We’re kicking the dog too. Services have been cut from the province so now there’s more responsibility for the county, now we’re talking about turning county spaces over to municipalities,” Maughan said. “I don’t want to get into that too. It would have been more efficient for interlibrary loans to continue as it was, rather than pass that cost to somebody else.”

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