The City of Coquitlam says the library got the money it asked for at budget time.
The Coquitlam Public Library (CPL) contends not all of the money was received in 2021 and 2022.
And now the library’s executive director, Todd Gnissios, says the consequences of two years of what he called underfunding are playing out with job cuts and reduced hours for librarians, and program cutbacks.
Gnissios says the CPL is experiencing its first significant deficit since he took the role eight years ago and he blamed grant shortfalls, as well as increased operational costs and loss of revenues during the past two years as contributing factors to the red ink.
In an interview with the Tri-City News last week, Gnissios said he raised the alarm with city managers and leaders of CUPE Local 561, which represents unionized staff at the two branches, in January, February and March to find solutions to a $177,000 hole.
He suggested to the board that library hours be cut to save money; however, he said, the board turned him down and recommended a different approach via attrition.
The result? Layoff notices to seven employees — effective May and June — and shift or hour change notices for up to 15 staff members who are also with the union local.
“This is a fairly big change for us to try to make it so, at the end of the day, there will be very, very few people who will be without a paycheque,” Gnissios told the Tri-City News.
However, he stressed, meetings were held in advance with staff members. “It’s not like this is surprise to anyone. I tried to communicate clearly that we have a problem.”
RED FLAGS TO COUNCIL
Gnissios said he was clear in his presentation last November, as arts leaders delivered their budget wish lists before council to request grants to run their facilities in Coquitlam.
(CPL gets two grants for its capital and operations: one from the city; the other from the province totalling $272,000, of which Gnissios says hasn’t budged in a decade).
At that time, Gnissios flagged to council CPL’s financial struggles and noted some line items had to be permanently cut to balance the 2022 operating books. The reductions included webpage support, marketing consulting, computer equipment, library materials, furniture and equipment, and computer sustainability and replacement.
“These reductions are unsustainable over time, and service reductions will be required in order to rebalance the budget lines without additional operating funds,” he noted.
Gnissios said the $1.3 million in reserves, listed as of December 2020, is now gone. And with the $150,000 drop in revenue, “there’s no money to pay for this deficit.”
While the library didn’t get an inflationary boost in 2021, it did for 2022. Still, he said, items like benefits, insurance and licenses all rose last year “and everything’s just compounded for 2022…. Our expenses are increasing faster than we expected.”
But Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, told the Tri-City News the library runs independently from the city and he stressed the library got the money it asked for last November — including funding to meet contractual obligations and a new Library Link vehicle for community outreach.
Englund said CPL won’t get any more cash until the next budget cycle.
UNION LOCAL REACTION
As for the union local, president Jane Gibbons said it wasn’t notified or consulted before the layoff notices were issued to seven full- and part-time staff April 4 and 5.
Two of the affected employees are in the top five on the seniority ladder, she said.
“Nobody is happy with this,” Gibbons said. “It’s a very upset staff right now. They’re devastated.”
The local also wasn’t consulted about the 12 to 15 staff whose shifts or hours were about to change, Gibbons said. As a result, she triggered Section 54 of the Labour Relations Code, which applies “if an employer introduces or intends to introduce a measure, policy, practice or change that affects the terms, conditions or security of employment of a significant number of employees to whom a collective agreement applies.”
Gibbons declined to say what unionized positions within the CPL are targeted; however, she plans to meet with the board next week about the library’s job cuts.
Asked about the press release issued by the library about the budget crunch and staffing reductions, Coun. Dennis Marsden, council’s delegate on the CPL board, said, “It is not a board duty to approve press releases nor was such an approval sought.”
Marsden added, “I look forward to the joint service assessment that is underway, and I value the services that our library and staff provide to our residents. I continue to be a strong advocate for the library, as evidenced by council’s recent capital commitment for a new and improved Library Link service.”