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Sidney residents see small increase in levy toward Vancouver Island Regional Library

North Saanich will consider library levy at a later council meeting
Average Sidney residents will pay an additional $1.35 for library services through the Sidney/North Saanich branch of Vancouver Island Regional Library. North Saanich residents, however, will face a more substantial increase. (Black Press Media file photo)

A dollar and 35 cents.

That is how much additional money the average Sidney residence will have to pay for library services at the Sidney/North Saanich branch after the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) board of trustees approved the 2023 budget in September, according to Sidney.

Broadly, the municipality will face a smaller increase than other communities, including North Saanich, with which Sidney shares the library.

VIRL’s budget totals $33.14 million with participating municipal and regional districts contributing $27.5 million, up 8.1 per cent.

Sidney’s contribution to its share of VIRL’s Sidney/North Saanich branch in 2023 will be $851,776, up 1.44 per cent from its 2022 contribution, when the average residence paid a levy of $106. But North Saanich’s share of the levy rose by eight per cent — $72,457 — to $978,113.

So what accounts for the difference? Sidney’s total levy increase is less than the system-wide average of 8.1 per cent because of the formula based on population and assessment used by VIRL.

North Saanich’s population rose more than VIRL’s population as a whole and its assessment increase of 28.53 comes close to the 30 per cent threshold triggering the 8.1 per cent increase.

The formula with which VIRL calculates the levy falls under provincial legislation and relevant figures come from the ministry of municipal affairs.

Regionally, the per capita levy change for the entire VIRL system serving 490,000 people across 39 branches is $3.44, according to VIRL.

Overall, the global rise of the levy by 8.1 per cent represents a departure from historical practice as VIRL reports in a budget backgrounder.

“For (five) years, VIRL has worked to keep the increase to the total levy in the (three to five per cent) range,” it reads. “Unfortunately, continuing at that level is unsustainable given the current economic conditions, where inflation has been steadily increasing since March 2020, leading to a 31-year high in inflation of 8.1 (per cent) due to supply chain issues and world events.”

Gaby Wickstrom, who chairs VIRL’s board of trustees, acknowledged these economic pressures in an email to Sidney council. “With costs rising everywhere, these are challenging times for organizations, governments, families, and individuals in every corner of VIRL’s service area,” she said. “I truly believe now more than ever is the time to commit to investing in our libraries.”

The email quotes Joel Adams, VIRL’s director of finance, who said the system faces significant cost increases. “With 97 (per cent) of our costs fixed, there is little room for us to shave our budget without negatively impacting our services,” said Adams.

RELATED: BCGEU announces tentative agreement with Vancouver Island Regional Library

Wages and benefits make up VIRL’s largest expenses, accounting for approximately 65 per cent of operating costs, according to a budget report.

The 2023 budget includes a series of wage increases including the ones negotiated earlier in 2022 following a labour conflict. Higher staffing needs and a commitment toward livable wages for some staff members also led to higher labour costs.

Library materials including physical and digital items within VIRL’s collection represent the second largest operating expenditure. They account for 13 per cent of the 2023 budget. This is the area where inflation appears to have the most significant impact.

“Collections dollars are eroded by the combination of actual and market inflation, at a rate of 12 (per cent) from 2020 to 2022, with 2023 projections continuing at higher than historic rates,” it reads. “The cost of books and other print materials are subject to inflationary increases, and digital materials are subject to shifting licensing models which lead to cost pressures.”

Ultimately, inflation erodes VIRL’s buying power for materials. “VIRL manages these tensions by carefully monitoring usage, making adjustments to our purchasing strategies, working with other libraries to leverage digital discounts and working with a primary print vendor to ensure the greatest discount,” it reads.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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