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Library moving ahead with future centralization plans

While officials with the Thunder Bay Public Library are thankful for council’s approval on the bulk of their budget, they are confident they can get the $150,000 needed to hire an outside consultant to explore a potential Intercity Shopping Centre location.
Thunder Bay Public Library CEO Richard Togman takes questions from city council on the library's proposed budget at a city council meeting on Jan. 25, 2023. (Ian Kaufman, TBnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY – Officials with the Thunder Bay Public Library are thankful for council’s approval on the bulk of their budget, but they will have to look elsewhere for funding to hire an outside consultant to explore a potential Intercity Shopping Centre location.

Red River Coun. Michael Zussino, who also sits on the library’s board, put forward a request on Jan. 30 to add $150,000 from the capital general reserve fund for 2024.

In the late hours of Feb. 1, council elected to not commit further funds to the central library project “until the result of the planning process as per the planning act to amend the official plan and zoning by-law is complete.”

Library CEO Richard Togman said the $150,000 figure emerged from a request for proposal with a number of architectural firms bidding on the work to do that consultation.

“We have had some questions in the past around cuts to the library, but thankfully that wasn't on the table this time around. We're very thankful to the city council and administration for the support on that front,” Togman added.

“We can continue to provide really high-quality library services to the community without even contemplating cuts.

“It was a little bit disappointing that council didn't choose to fund the additional money for the consultation, but with the library board's endorsement, we're confident we can source those funds from other funders and continue to move forward with the work.”

The $6.9 million budget approval for 2024 is subject to ratification on Feb. 12.

Togman was asked by a few councillors during the Feb. 1 meeting about the library’s ability to draw on reserves to fund the consultant’s work.

He said unlike the city, the library doesn’t have multiple reserve funds to draw upon.

“What we have is an accounting mechanism called internally restricted funds. What that means is we look at our annual budget and determine which things are big ticket items that need more than one budget cycle to look after - for example, major renovations or infrastructure updates that the library can't afford if we had to purchase them all in one year.

“We set aside little bits of money every year to essentially build up a kind of quasi reserve so that we can actually afford those things when we need them. Possibly in the entire history of the library, we have never had to go back to council to ask for more money outside of the budget process. We have a really strong record of very prudent and forward-thinking accounting.”

Togman said Monday that having the consultant’s work done ahead of June is crucial to providing council all of the information they need going forward.

“We have seen with some other city projects where different votes have happened that maybe have had less complete information or had full information on one aspect of the project,” Togman noted.

“When you renovate a house, you’re not asking what does the living room cost? And then what would the kitchen cost? And then, what would the bathroom cost?

“We want all the information available at the right time in front of the right people so that both council and the community can make a fully informed decision where everyone feels confident moving forward, whichever way they decide to go.”

City staff are expected back before council in June to report on the ISC branch concept, as well as a closer look at two different options the library had put on the table to achieve it, both of which include branch closures.

The 2024 operating and capital budget is expected to be ratified on February 12.


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