Consultants are suggesting the County consider cutting library branches which are failing to meet provincial guidelines.

Sudbury-based KPMG Canada presented a draft organizational review to council Dec. 18. The report outlines how the municipality is doing in service delivery

Although most County services are on par with provincial standards or guidelines, it identified libraries as lagging behind.

As such, KPMG implied changing services, and reducing branches, may make sense. They also suggested the County focus on number of branches per one hundred households as a key performance indicator.

“The rationalization of library services may be perceived as a service level reduction but if the intent is to offer library services in line with provincial guidelines, it may result in an overall service level enhancement,” the report said.

Senior Manager Chas Anselmo redirected a request for comment to County Library CEO Bessie Sullivan. She indicated it was her understanding the report was suggesting branch cuts.

The province sets guidelines based on the size of libraries, highlighting best-practices in metrics such as floor space, hours, computers, staffing and programming.

She said the report did not surprise her and this has been an issue for years. She said the newer branches in Dysart and Minden are meeting guidelines and Wilberforce is close. But the other four branches in Cardiff, Gooderham, Highland Grove and Stanhope are well below.

The report notes that failing to meet those guidelines will not impact provincial funding levels. But Sullivan said meeting them is still important.

“I feel like there is a widening gap between what urban dwellers can expect and what rural dwellers get,” Sullivan said. “We need to guard against not having service just because it’s a rural area and not feeling the guidelines are important just because it’s a rural area.”

The Haliburton County Library Board discussed the idea of branch cuts as a cost-saving measure during a meeting Sept. 25. But no decisions were made and Sullivan said the matter has not come up at the board-level since.

She further said municipalities could increase funding instead of branch cuts if it wanted to improve service levels. She also said the library depot model, which replaced the Dorset branch Sept. 1, and which still allows people to order books to borrow, could be considered elsewhere.

“Nobody wants to take anything away, ever,” Sullivan said. “The problem is we don’t have unlimited funding.”

KPMG found that 95 per cent of County services meet provincial standards, beside libraries. It also found its financial indicators compare well to similar municipalities.

The organizational review also offers other ideas for how the County could operate more efficiently, such as a continuous improvement plan, centralizing human resources, implementing more electronic records management and establishing development charges.

“Mere mention of that (charges) in some cases can irritate,” Anselmo said, noting about 40 per cent of Ontario counties already have them. “This is an area to assist the municipality on a go-forward basis with your capital costs associated with any growth and development.”

Chief administrative officer Mike Rutter said the review was a good exercise for staff and they will look for ways to improve efficiency.

“It’s a good, foundational document for us,” Warden Liz Danielsen said.

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