The Alice B. Donahue Library board and the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society (ARMS) are in negotiations after Athabasca’s town and county councils discussed how the society was looking to nearly double the library’s facility “usage fee.”
Library board chair Paula Evans said she met March 29 with Multiplex manager Dustin Pysyk to talk options, as he’s the one who has been tasked by the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society (ARMS) to work with the library.
Evans said the two of them came up with some interim possibilities, but she did not want to give details while still negotiating.
“(The possibilities) were mutually agreeable. I’m not completely happy, but I’m between a rock and a hard place,” Evans said.
During the March 20 Town of Athabasca council budget workshop, the library board approached council for guidance after they were advised by the Multiplex society – which handles “usage fees” for town buildings – that the monthly fee the library pays to use the space may need to be raised.
Pysyk said this came about after the library board asked for their bill to be reviewed.
“I actually think they thought they were paying too much,” he said.
According to his findings, he said ARMS has actually been subsidizing the library, and past management either did not know or did not bring it to light.
Pysyk said he has been tasked with doing a full analysis of all rates, which has not been done since 2010.
After Pysyk brought the library issue to the attention of ARMS, he said the debate of “should the Multiplex be subsidizing this shortfall from the library?” began.
According to Warren Griffin, Athabasca County councillor and ARMS board member, he said at least half of the board was of the opinion that “this isn’t something we agreed to do.”
“My stance is that the Multiplex shouldn’t be subsidizing the library. It is the Town of Athabasca’s library, and it is the town’s responsibility to fund the services it provides,” he said.
The county pays for library services for its residents through a service agreement, Griffin said.
“We pay for a service, so to pay the utilities and the janitorial and maintenance for the town’s library via the backdoor through the Multiplex in my opinion is unacceptable,” he said.
It was pointed out during the March 30 Athabasca County council meeting that the county is already putting more than 50 per cent of their budgeted library funds towards the Athabasca library, and they have service agreements with five libraries.
Athabasca County manager Ryan Maier explained to council that the Multiplex’s mandate is to provide recreational services to the community, which does not include the library and the Old Brick School.
The only reason management of the library falls under the Multiplex’s umbrella, he said, is because when the Multiplex was built it was decided that the Multiplex was best suited to handle the maintenance work for the library, theatre and school.
“If we’re going to be a contract cleaning company, we should do it at a very even rate. At a minimum,” Maier said.
He added that nobody is saying money should not still come from the town and the county to fund the library, but that these contributions should not show up as a loss in the Multiplex operating budget.
Last year, the county provided the Alice B. Donahue Library with $63,170, and has increased its spending on libraries every year since 2014. The Town of Athabasca’s contribution last year to their library was $39,563.
This year, the county is budgeting for the same amount to be given to the library as last, and the town is currently set to put $59,800 into the library this year.
Aside from dealing directly with Pysyk, Evans said she would be attending the next ARMS meeting to discuss the usage fee hike directly with the board.
She also said going into that meeting, she also hopes to see the issue of maintenance of the old school, theatre and library solved.
“I am very concerned about the history of that entire area, in terms of maintenance, and I would like to see that solved. It’s not just the library…that needs to be sorted out,” she said. “In some respects, we’ve got to start speaking out as a cultural group about managing our facilities, or they’re be let go…like the old pool.”