A proposal from the library on changing how it charges membership rates didn’t receive a warm response from Mayor Nolan Crouse on Monday night.
After a request last December asking for the St. Albert Public Library to review the potential to raise fees for non-resident members, library director Peter Bailey presented council with a plan to completely overhaul how the library charges residents for membership.
Approved by the library board, the plan would change memberships from the current household membership system to individual memberships. Bailey said in a later interview that St. Albert’s household system is both rare in Alberta and sometimes a barrier to people who want to join the library.
“St. Albert’s fee structure is almost unique in Alberta and it’s been that way since 1982 when we first put in a membership fee,” Bailey said. “It’s based on a family or household. So perhaps in 1982 every single person in St. Albert was in a traditional nuclear family. It’s not that way anymore.”
A 2009 community needs study also pinpointed the cost of library membership as the main reason why people who don’t have library cards never bother getting one.
Consequently, the board is proposing to move to an individual fee system. The first adult in a home would pay $20 for a year, the second adult $10 and children under 18 would be free. Currently residents pay $30 per household.
But that will mean a revenue loss to the library as great as $30,000, Bailey estimated. And while the new structure would also increase non-resident fees, that hike might only make up for $3,000 of lost revenue, leaving a $27,000 shortfall.
“Because we have this family-based fee, the St. Albert library raises more money in revenue from that than probably any other library in Alberta. So it’s sort of the golden calf,” Bailey said.
Crouse was concerned about the loss of revenue, but also said it seemed like the library was jumping to a conclusion such a move would be approved during budget deliberations in November.
“You can’t jump to the conclusion council will approve $27,000 less revenue, and outside the budget process,” Crouse said. “It has to be debated at budget time. I haven’t seen their budget package. If they are coming forward with a budget that’s shaped differently, I’m interested to hear what they say.”
The library’s position in the city is unique as an outside agency — its board runs the library, but the bulk of its funding comes from city council. So while Bailey is eyeing a Jan. 1, 2013 date to change the fee structure, any changes to its budget by council could have an effect.
“The city’s action on this would be how they approach the board’s budget request in the fall,” Bailey said.
Bailey also said one of the reasons it is changing the fee structure is to bring it in line with regional partners so more co-operation is possible, such as sharing its developing automation system with Edmonton, Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan.