SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council has thrown its support behind moves to ensure the ongoing success of libraries at a regional and a state level.
Council endorsed three separate motions relating to libraries at the meeting last Wednesday.
More controversially, in a separate motion, Council voted to delay the signing of a new 10-year lease with Parks Victoria on the building PV shares with Foster Library, following concerns raised by the Friends of Corner Inlet Libraries that such a move could dash their hopes of extending the library.
The move revives memories of eleven years ago, when a hard-fought battle was waged by Parks Victoria and backers in the community against attempts to relocate rather than extend the regional office. Eventually, the inestimable worth of Parks Victoria as a major employer in the district and a valuable tenant in the Council-owned building was acknowledged. On August 6, 2003, discussions between PV and Council resulted in an agreement to extend the premises, which PV had leased since November 1990. The costs associated with the extension were to be offset by the negotiation of a commercial rent for the lease, as the extension to the building required Council to take out a loan for the works.
This time, the Friends of the library have written in a letter to the council CEO: “We emphasise that we do not wish to jeopardise Parks Victoria’s importance and tenure in our community. However, we need the Shire to start working on a plan to enlarge our library.”
It was a straightforward matter for Council to endorse the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation Regional Library Agreement 2014. WGRLC incorporates libraries across South Gippsland, Bass Coast and Baw Baw shires. South Gippsland Shire alone has 9705 library members, representing almost one-third of the total population. During the 2013/14 year there were a total of 135,353 visitations to the five library sites and mobile library services across the shire.
Council also pledged support for the Victorian Library initiative. Aiming at a state wide approach to library service provision, this initiative arose out of the State Government’s review into public library services, from which the report ‘Tomorrow’s Library’ was developed. Council sees implementation of the initiative as an opportunity to address the imbalance between state and local government contribution to libraries in Victoria.
“The big cost-shifting over the years is unfair,” said Cr Bob Newton, who has long been Council’s representative on the WGRLC Board.
Twenty years ago the State Government funded over 80 per cent of the total operational costs of library services in Victoria. Over the past 20 years there has been a gradual but significant cost shift which now sees the State contributing just 14 per cent of the operational costs of the WGRLC services and the three partnering local governments footing 83 per cent of the bill. The State Government level of contribution to WGRLC is below the State average of 17.7 per cent. The WGRLC total budget for 2014/15 is $5,311,036. South Gippsland Shire Council has made budget provision of $1,266,665 for the 2014/15 year.
Council voted to support the Victorian Library initiative “in principle, provided that the full cost of implementation is met by the State Government”. It also voted to “advocate to all major political parties leading up to the 2014 Victorian State Government elections for the implementation of the Victorian Library initiative”.
Each year councils have the opportunity to put forward notices of motions relating to matters of strategic significance to local government for consideration at the Municipal Association Victoria (MAV) State Council Meeting. Council feels so strongly about the issue of funding for libraries that it will get its appointed MAV representative (the mayor, Cr Jim Fawcett) to submit a motion calling on the MAV to support the Victorian Library initiative and call on the State Government to fully fund its implementation. SGSC will firstly seek written support from Baw Baw and Bass Coast shire councils and other Gippsland local governments for its motion.
The matter of a new lease for Parks Victoria on the shire building on the corner of McDonald Street and Main Street in Foster was listed on the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting, with a recommendation from shire officers that Council commence negotiations with PV for a new five-year lease with an option of a further five years.
However, the letter from the secretary of the Friends of Corner Inlet Libraries, Moya Allen, encouraged Councillors to delay any move to get locked into a long lease. Writing on behalf of the Friends group, Ms Allen explained: “If the lease is passed in its current form we are locked into another ten years before anything can be achieved. We are looking to you to provide some alternatives to overcome the space shortage.”
Ms Allen said the Friends had the support of fellow tenant Stockyard Gallery and the library board. (In a separate letter to Council, the CEO of the WGRLC, John Murrell, has warned that by 2019 Foster’s library facilities will be completely inadequate for the community it serves.) The Foster Community Association has also identified the need for library expansion.
The letter goes on: “As it currently stands, the library was not built to full library specifications because of Council budgetary constraints. The library functions to full capacity with library users being disadvantaged when Story Time activities are held because of the amount of space required for young children, prams etc. Story Time is held in a narrow area of eight square metres with twenty children attending regularly. Library users are unable to access parts of the collection and can be distracted by the engagement of the children. There is also not enough room for meetings, storage, study, seating, technology, wifi for tourists and ratepayers or for dealing with cancelled stock. We have no room to hold fundraising activities, literary events or regional programmes. There is also an opportunity to integrate other Shire or community activities if the library had more space.”
The letter concludes: “We request the formation of a working committee to formulate a plan to meet the increasing requirements of the Stockyard Gallery complex and in particular the Foster Library. We need to see evidence of the Shire’s direction in implementing a plan with budget moneys allocated for a plan. We do not wish to see the lease rubber stamped and locked into a situation where nothing can be achieved for another ten years.”
Cr Mohya Davies said that she had been approached by several people who had requested that Council take a strategic look at the use of the building into the future before committing to a long lease.
“Deferring the signing of the lease will give us time to consider the space pressures that exist – for the gallery, the library, Parks Victoria and the visitor information outlet – and come up with the best solution,” she advised, and received unanimous support from her fellow Councillors.