OKANAGAN - The union representing Okanagan Regional Library workers is sounding the alarm over proposed staff and service cuts at branches throughout the valley.
Deb Dolman, vice president of CUPE Local 1123, says an alarming 375 staff hours at 19 branches are on the chopping block as part of the regional library’s plan to improve financial equity.
"There has been no community discussion of the proposed cuts to date,” Dolman says.
A financial analysis revealed fiscal inequity between the regional library’s 29 service locations and the board is now looking to even things out. For some branches, like West Kelowna's, that will mean an influx of cash. For others, such as Salmon Arm, the library board will be looking for cost savings, one of which is staffing levels.
Dolman said the proposed cuts will impact library hours and service, as well as worker safety in smaller branches if they are reduced to one-person operations. Given plans to substantially cut hours in smaller communities like Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Princeton, Sicamous and Keremeos, as well as in major centres like Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm, the union says it’s vital the public gets a chance to review options and alternatives before final decisions are made.
Without giving away many details, the regional library confirmed Thursday it is eyeing staff cuts that would be implemented gradually, as opportunities arise through natural attrition.
“Now that the ORL has begun making this information public, we are encouraging library users who are concerned about the loss of services to make sure their voices are heard by municipal councils, who are the major library funders," Dolman says.
Library CEO Stephanie Hall admits the financial realignment is a tough process, but insists the board has to be fair with what money it has.
“It’s probably one of the hardest things any organization goes through. We know the value of the services we provide and our staff are very passionate,” Hall says. “When we consider reductions, we know that’s hard on the community.”
She says the plans haven’t been brought to the public yet because they are still evolving as unions and branches provide input. Once that consultation is complete, the board will share the finalized proposals with local government and the general public.
“We definitely know people care about libraries and want to know what’s going on,” she says.
Right now, Hall says the focus is on gradually reducing positions by not rehiring after an employee leaves or retires. The loss will undoubtedly have a negative ripple effect on the programs, assistance and services libraries offer.
“We know our staff are the core of our services. When you have fewer staff, there’s a lot less you can do. We’re trying to minimize impacts as best we can but you can never do so fully,” Hall says.
The board is looking for savings in other areas too, such as facilities and centralized operations costs.
The regional library receives 86 per cent of its funding through property taxes and the rest from government and charitable grants. Hall says provincial government funding has stagnated over the last few years, with no changes to reflect the increasing costs of wages and operations. The board generates less money through fundraising than comparable libraries around the province, and Hall says it will be looking at new opportunities going forward.
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