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Barrie councillors cracking down on library spending

Councillors discussed Barrie library capital spending budget, June 19, 2024. (CTV NEWS/BARRIE) Councillors discussed Barrie library capital spending budget, June 19, 2024. (CTV NEWS/BARRIE)
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Months ahead of 2025 budget deliberations, the Barrie Public Library is under the microscope by city council for concerns many councillors have over spending practices.

On Wednesday, Barrie city councillors passed a motion without notice, meaning it was added after the agenda was published. The motion aims to provide the City with greater oversight over the long-term spending of the Barrie Public Library board.

"I didn't get the answers to questions that I asked during the budget period," Mayor Nuttall said during Wednesday's council meeting.

Ward 6 Councillor Nigussie Nigussie brought forward a two-fold motion. The first portion calls for city staff to work with the library's board to create a financial policy to improve financial governance and oversight, specifically with grant and reserve spending. That policy is to be brought before council for approval.

The second part of the motion states that until that financial policy is in place, the library board must seek city council approval for any capital expenses that haven't already received council approval.

"At the most recent board meeting, there was some discussions about further capital expenditures in relation to some further furniture purchases that was north of $1,000,000 and that was in public session," said Councillor Gary Harvey, who seconded Nigussie's motion. "That's where the concern comes from."

Many councillors' concerns stem from the discovery that the library has a reserve reportedly in the range of approximately $2.6 million, of which city staff say most of it comes from taxpayers.

Most recently, the library presented a budget of approximately $9.3 million.

"I just think that is were over funding them year over year in allowing them to accumulate this," said Ward 10 Councillor Bryn Hamilton. "Of course, there is a certain present of a reserve that you should have for wind up costs and for repair costs and whatnot. But that, to me, is just out of the ordinary, and alarms did go off."

Councillor Amy Courser, who sits on the board as a council member, expressed concerns with the motion coming without notice, bringing forth an amendment to have it deferred to the next sitting of the Finance and Responsible Governance committee in September.

That motion was seconded by Councillor Ann-Marie Kungl, who said she worried about governmental overreach.

"I feel like it's an arm's length overreach for us to be saying until…members of the board get what they want the city's going to get into the sandbox with them and say, you can't touch your assets that we've historically approved and can't even differentiate if they're municipal dollars or donor dollars," Kungl said to council.

Austin Mitchell, the library board chair, expressed his disappointment with the motion in a statement to CTV News.

"The Board, with cooperation from management, has been doing everything it can based on previous guidance (both formal motions and informal comments) provided by City Council earlier in 2024," Mitchell said in the statement. "The Library is audited each year by the same third-party provider the City of Barrie uses. The results of this audit are provided to the City, and Council approves a consolidated audit."

Courser's motion to defer failed, with just her and Kungl voting in support of it.

For her part, the library's CEO, Lauren Jessop, pointed out a detailed process for preparing the annual budget in a statement provided to CTV News.

"In the past, a summarized version of the budget has been provided to council. We are happy to provide a more detailed budget moving forward," Jessop's statement reads. "Throughout the year, a detailed up-to-date budget to actual comparison is provided at every Board meeting for approval. Management is happy to answer any questions from any Trustee, including our council representatives during, and leading up to, our board meetings."

The original motion passed with 8 of 11 votes in favour in a recorded vote.  

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