Six months after a consultant’s suggestion of closing libraries sparked a public outcry and the famous feud between Atwood and Councillor Doug Ford, council voted this week to spend $3.9 million to avoid any cuts to branch hours or programs in 2012.
Both Mayor Rob Ford and the chair of the library board, right-leaning Ford ally Councillor Paul Ainslie, opposed the proposal to provide the extra funding. It passed by one vote, 22-21 — with Councillor Ron Moeser, who usually votes with Ford, absent recovering from surgery.
Ford’s executive committee had added another $3.1 million back to the library budget last week. The library ended up with a $10.1 million cut rather than the $17 million Ford originally wanted; the $10.1 million will come from internal efficiencies, new revenues and 100 job cuts, not major service reductions.
“I’m very pleased that council responded to the thousands of residents of the city of Toronto who said ‘don’t touch our libraries.’ I have never seen that level of community engagement and commitment, to any city service, ever,” said Councillor Janet Davis, a left-leaning library board member who led the opposition to the cuts.
The $3.9 million council added Tuesday was taken from the city’s estimated $154 million 2011 surplus. Because the surplus is one-time money, Ford allies say council will again face a hole next year.
“I won’t support closing library branches,” Ainslie said, “but I think we’re certainly going to go through the whole discussion, if not ‘battle,’ again, this year or sometime in the near future, over library hours, and why some branches are open at times when everybody has pointed to the fact that they’re not very well-utilized. It’s a business model that I don’t think is sustainable in the long run.”
Davis acknowledged that the $3.9 million is not a permanent solution, but she said Ford may seek less severe cuts from the library in future budgets than he did in this one.
“There is no doubt we’ll have to revisit the library budget again next year, and the adequacy of its funding,” Davis said. “But I hope that next year both the mayor’s office and the city manager will recognize that getting the level of savings they asked for this year out of the library budget is not a good strategy. I think there’ll be a new level of respect for the value Torontonians place on their library.”