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Springwater council split on contracting out library services

Some township councillors welcome more information, while others think everything's fine just the way it is
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File photo.

Springwater Coun. Phil Fisher is no fan of the township's library board.

At the Nov. 1, 2023 council meeting, Fisher ignited a firestorm when he advised council that he intended to bring forward a motion asking for a report from staff regarding the potential for contracting out library services.

With few details and no context for the request, Fisher’s comment started tongues wagging.

A Facebook group called 'Midhurst Families' lit up with chatter.

Some people thought Fisher was calling for a closure of the township’s library, while others applauded his concern for taxpayers’ money.

His motion never materialized, leaving many in the community wondering about the fate of the library.

Springwater Coun. Phil Fisher says he plans to bring forward a motion that looks at the possibility of contracting out library services in the township. | Image supplied

Coun. Brad Thompson, who sits on the library board, made an attempt to get Fisher to update the status of his motion a few weeks ago at the Jan. 17 council meeting, but was prevented from asking the question when it was challenged on a point of order by Coun. Anita Moore.

Last night, Mayor Jennifer Coughlin advised council that the point of order that she upheld at that meeting was, in fact, not in contravention and invited Thompson to ask Fisher his question.

Before asking his question, though, Thompson told council that, as a member of the library board, he felt it was his responsibility to get an answer for the 15 staff members who work in the libraries, the thousands of residents who use the libraries and the board which is in the middle of a strategic planning session.

“Where do you currently stand on your motion to get information on contracting out our library services?” Thompson asked.

“I am working on it,” Fisher replied.

He also tried to clarify his position.

“At no point did I ever say that 15 members of staff would be let go,” Fisher said. “It was me bringing forth a notice of future motion, which is what I’m allowed to do.”

He apologized for the vagueness of his notice of future motion and told council his motion, when he brings it forward, will provide more details on his intentions. 

“It’s not that I have it in for the library,” Fisher said. “I just have to say, the board and the fiscal management is well, it just doesn't make any sense to me.”

Over the past few months, Fisher says he has exercised his rights and duties as a duly elected council representative and challenged multiple library requests — from replacing an aging lighting system in the Elmvale branch to adding staff. He has also supported a number of library requests.

And, he’s not alone in his desire to review the library’s activities.

When Fisher first mentioned his intention to investigate contracting out library services, BarrieToday reached out to other Springwater councillors to get their input.

While most couldn’t commit one way or the other, some were open to hearing information.

“I really don’t know if I am in favour or not,” Moore said. “I believe that the request is asking for a report to advise if there are any other options. I believe that we should review all opportunities to explore efficiencies while providing the best service model and delivery for the residents of the township.”

Moore said it’s routine practice to periodically review all contracted and departmental services.

Coun. Danielle Alexander said she’s open to staff providing a report on the different options of operating the Springwater Library.

Deputy Mayor George Cabral said he was neither for nor against any action as he doesn’t know what the possible impacts, implications or cost savings, if any, may be.

“I do believe it's a prudent, reasonable and responsible request for a report that respects our taxpayers by exploring all potential budget-saving possibilities,” he said. “It certainly doesn't mean our libraries would be shuttered, but rather oversight and operation would be handled in a different manner."

Coun. Matt Garwood didn't think a change was needed.

“I am not in favour of contracting out library services,” he said. “I wholeheartedly believe our residents are best served by the current library structure. 

“Members of the community I have spoken with see the value in the annual taxpayer investment in the Springwater Public Library and appreciate accessing excellent library services minutes from home,” Garwood added.

Thompson said contracting our library services would be disruptive and costly to the community. He said currently residents pay about $40 per person, or two per cent of the township’s total budget in taxes for library services.

“Severances alone would cost our taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. 

Coughlin had a one-word answer when asked if she thought it was a good idea to contract out library services.

“No,” said the mayor.

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Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Wayne Doyle covers the townships of Springwater, Oro-Medonte and Essa for BarrieToday under the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI), which is funded by the Government of Canada
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