November 7, 2023, Message to the Membership
Posted on November 7, 2023 in Message to the Membership
In the words of the late, great, Conway Twitty… Hello Darlin’, nice to see you, it’s been a looong tiiiiime…
Now that you’ve got that ear worm working (if you’re old enough to even get that, that is), let’s move on to the business of the day.
And the business of today is going to speak to the results of our recent survey that we conducted amongst not just the NSBA membership, but the community at large as well, regarding Saskatoon Public Library funding.
We here at the NSBA have been fairly critical of the library, particularly their plans to spend more money than they have on a colossal legacy building for a new downtown branch. And we wanted to make sure that we were representative of what our members thought.
So in order to take the temperature, we conducted a survey that we’re sharing the results of today. Well, it looks like that, if anything, we were likely less critical than what our membership – and community at large, as it turns out, would like us to be.
Indeed, a full 71.74 per cent of NSBA respondents said that they were not in favour of the Library’s plans to build a new central branch downtown. This number went up to 77.39 per cent of all respondents (non-NSBA members) who were not in favour, with a full 60 per cent of that number in the strongly opposed category.
Nor were they supportive of another round of funding to be applied to this year’s tax roll. In fact that number spiked to 87.9 per cent of respondents (EIGHTY-SEVEN-POINT-NINE!!) who said they were against such a notion. (The Saskatoon Public Library Board has approved a budget increase of 3.49% for 2024 and 3.54% for 2025, which will be coming up for debate in the 2024-2025 Civic Budget .)
The positive pieces for selection of: improved access to library services; enhanced community services; and new downtown library infrastructure were heavily outweighed by negative perceptions including safety concerns; concerns about increased library tax (60-plus per cent in both the NSBA and non-NSBA respondents); along with other; which oftentimes related to the City staying in its own lane and not trying to have a civic facility serve as social programming place, which should be the province’s jurisdiction.
As for an appropriate budget range for a new downtown library, more than half of the respondents admitted that they were unsure what a reasonable amount would be. But one-third of respondents believed the number should be under $50 million, while just three per cent (THREE PER CENT!!) of respondents believed that it should be in excess of $70 million.
And then our final question dealt with what’s more popular, a downtown event and entertainment district (DEED) or a library – or no development at all. This one was a clear-cut victory for the DEED, with 69 per cent of NSBA respondents supporting it, although the number dropped to 55 per cent for non-NSBA members (but still a strong majority). As for the library, just nine per cent of NSBA member respondents supported a new build, while 11 per cent of non-NSBA members supported a new library. As for the option of no downtown development at all, 22 per cent of NSBA respondents thought that was a good idea, while one-third of non-NSBA members would prefer to see no downtown development.
So, if I were a betting man, I would bet my last dollar that the vast majority of people of Saskatoon are in no way shape or form supportive of a new downtown library. And yet, here we are, looking at a multi-million-dollar build on the horizon for the Saskatoon Public Library, which is entirely funded by your tax dollars.
It seems a little reminiscent of a battle back in the day when my predecessor and our outspoken members from the NSBA Tax committee chose to take on the Saskatoon Public School Board when they wanted to build a ‘Taj Mahal’ in a location that was not going to be conducive to better outcomes for students. They were looking at a north-end location that clearly would not have provided opportunity for inner city students to travel to and take part in any programming within, which was the goal of the ‘Administration Centre’ in the first place. The NSBA rightfully argued that the location would be far better if it were in an existing downtown location.
As it turned out, the Saskatoon Public Schools Board succumbed to the pressure (and common sense) and instead chose to retrofit an existing downtown building – the former Army and Navy Store on 3rd Avenue and 21st Street – where it still resides.
If only there was another vacant building with all the amenities needed to support a ‘new’ public library. I’m being facetious of course, but of the several to choose from, it seems that the former StarPhoenix building checks all the boxes… for pennies on the dollar in comparison to a new building.
We shall see if common sense prevails… but don’t hold your breath.