Without support from Area G, the library will see a reduction of staffing hours and only be open four days a week starting February.
Stephanie Hall, executive director for the Okanagan Regional Library said she waited to announce the change of hours because regional politicians thought they might be able to come up with the money.
“Unfortunately it looks like we will be reducing the hours starting in February. There was some idea from the Village of Keremeos and Area B that they wanted to keep funding the library, but one regional district area is saying no. We’re keeping the hours the same in January to see if anything can be cobbled together but it doesn’t look like it will happen at this point,” she said.
Elef Christensen, director for Area G including Hedley, Olalla and Rural Keremeos, said a recent survey he did with his constituents pointed to them not wanting to pay more taxes to keep the library open.
“I sent a letter to both George (Area B) and Manfred (Keremeos) and Stephanie Hall… I can’t do anything. I had a survey and the constituency said no. No more funding. They get $55,000 out of Area G already. So, it’s not me. It’s the constituency that said no.”
The results of that survey have not been presented at the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen or provided to the Review.
George Bush, Area B representative said he’s disappointed in Christensen’s decision not to continue funding the library for one more year.
“Of course I’m disappointed. I think our library is much more than just a library and I think a lot of people think that with the internet the library isn’t as important as it was but that’s wrong. It really acts as a hub for our communities and it’s important,” he said. “There’s no hard feelings. I don’t think it’s the director so much as I think he’s just following his job and doing what his constituents want.”
Bush said he did not poll his constituents on the matter, but hadn’t heard much in the way of resistance to the idea from the public at least in the Cawston area.
“We were only thinking of doing it because we have a new government and we were thinking of doing it for one more year and then the Province would hopefully come up with a solution,” he said.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer was committed to putting in the village’s portion of $16,000 needed to keep the library open five days a week and keep staffing hours.
He planned to continue discussions with the Province on developing a rural library fund to help the funding formula issue. Currently the library is taxed using a formula of property assessment and population. Rural areas that have lower valued properties and smaller populations collect less money to run the library.
Although details are continuing to be worked out it looks as if cutbacks are required, the new hours will be Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday closed, Tuesday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for a total of 20 open hours.
Hall said programs will be cutback as a result of the loss of a five-hour per week staff position in February. Another 5.5 hours at the library will be lost through attrition in the future.
“Staff in the branch are, in my view, excellent, and very committed to the community. This is a difficult change for the ORL and for them, but we will work to provide the best library service we have within available funding,” she said.
The regional district started provided supplementary funding to the library in 2016 after the ORL underwent a strategic review and found that money from larger centres like Kelowna were being used to subsidize smaller centres including Keremeos, Princeton and other areas.
In 2016, after a public meeting in Keremeos the regional directors agreed to provide $25,000 in funding to keep the library functioning at the service level at the time. In 2017, regional directors reduced that funding to $16,311 split between Keremeos, Area B, and Area G which meant a reduction in staffing hours but not open hours.