‘Who are we trying to fool?’: SD&G library rent system blasted

North Glengarry Deputy Mayor Jamie MacDonald listens to North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan speak (not shown) during a county council meeting Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. MacDonald went to bat for his Glengarry counterparts suggesting the lower-tier municipalities should be taking care of their own library building rent. Despite his objections, a rate increase over the next three years was approved. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – While approving a rent increase for SD&G library branches, the deputy mayor of North Glengarry took one last blast at the assessment-based funding mechanism for local branches.

Jamie MacDonald also described the current system as a shell game so lower-tier municipalities can boast they are not raising taxes while keeping the increases out of the public eye at the county level.

Right now, the county library board pays roughly $54,000 in rent for the 15 branches – 14 are municipally owned, the other one in Williamstown is private.

That money comes from the lower-tier municipalities and is paid based on their taxable assessment – in other words – South Glengarry pays the largest share for all the SD&G branches while North Stormont pays the least.

The current rate of $2 per square foot will be stepped up to $4 in 2018, $6 in 2019 and $8 in 2020, followed by inflationary increases in the following years.

The library board is going to collect another $126,000 in rent over the next three years – bringing total rent to around $180,000 in 2020.

Not every SD&G municipality has the same number of branches nor the same number of hours of service, leading to a recipe for debate among county councillors.

“Where is this money magically coming from?” Coun. Jamie MacDonald asked rhetorically.

“It’s coming from our municipalities so I don’t understand why we’re going through this process when why don’t we just put our own money into it. South Glengarry, if we go through with this, just write a cheque every year for $6,000 to North Dundas, $6,000 to us (North Glengarry) and $8,000 to North Stormont. Because that’s what it equates to. You are subsidizing our buildings,” MacDonald remarked.

“Who are we trying to fool? All we’re doing is being able to say we’re not raising taxes locally but we’ll put it on the counties because who really watches what happens at the counties,” the deputy mayor said.

Not surprising, Coun. Ian McLeod, the mayor of South Glengarry, agreed saying the library should be responsible for the resources but the building should be a municipal responsibility.

“It’s administration for nothing,” McLeod said.

Coun. Eric Duncan admitted that it’s shuffling of money but disagreed saying that is an upper-tier service.

Duncan also cautioned others making criticisms because there are special arrangements in some cases where the library board pays rent directly and it doesn’t flow through the lower tier municipality.

Warden Jim Bancroft said part of the rate bump for library branches was the perception that “the one (branch) in Williamstown made us look like we’re not being fair to other libraries” because Williamstown is already paying closer to $8 a square foot while the others are $2.

“Again, we’re going through all of this because of one library,” Coun. MacDonald retorted.

Singling out North Dundas, MacDonald suggested the transfer payment would just get dumped into general revenue. Eric Duncan answered that the payment they receive, if it’s $4 or $6 a square foot, “isn’t even going to cover the utility costs” for the Winchester, Chesterville and South Mountain branches.

The additional money collected for rent is for infrastructure like new roofs, and is on top of the typical operational costs for the library branches, which will be coming to the county budget meeting in December.