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Viewpoint: Taxpayer alert brings library into focus

by Paul McMahon City of Powell River council has decided not to allow a public review and discussion of less expensive new Powell River Public Library options.

by Paul McMahon City of Powell River council has decided not to allow a public review and discussion of less expensive new Powell River Public Library options.

Due to the overwhelming public rejection of the Willingdon South site in the Campaign Feasibility report of July 4, 2013, council instructed city staff to look at other library site options.

City staff, knowing that the city has underutilized facilities and is experiencing budgetary shortfalls, quite rightly looked at site options which would have less of an initial and ongoing cost impact for the taxpayer.

Reports issued this year by the director of planning on January 16 and May 9, and May 15 by the chief administrative officer, included less expensive library options and indicated that the “showcase” designs by The Miller Hull Partnership LLP were typically twice as expensive as Unitech, order of magnitude $600 versus $300 per square foot.

It was also suggested by city staff, that one of the lower cost options be presented at the upcoming public meeting intended to “garner support for council’s preferred location, Willingdon site.”

At the special meeting of council on May 20, Councillor Debbie Dee indicated that the Unitech report lacked credibility and in an effort to maintain the preverbal apples-to-apples comparison, only Miller Hull designs would be considered at the public meeting. It was pointed out again to council, that the new Westview Elementary School was built at a cost of $295 per square foot, giving additional credence to the Unitech proposal.

Council expressed a need to proceed quickly if a referendum were to be available for the fall elections. If it were a referendum on site selection then Dee pointed out that this would be an referendum of opinion and as such not binding. However, if it were a financial referendum it would be binding. I assume this was setting the stage for yet another manoeuvre, en route to Willingdon.

Clearly Dee has council in total control on this issue, the brave exception being Councillor Myrna Leishman, and in fairness to Dee, this is the councillor’s portfolio. While other councillors voiced desires to look at other cost options and in fact start anew on site selection, they expressed the need to let the current process “play out,” clearly playing to the audience, and not reflected in their voting.

If in fact, there is to be a referendum of opinion, on new library site selection, it is guaranteed that it will not, repeat not, have clear wording such as: Do you want a new library at the Willingdon site: yes or no? Rather, the referendum will be worded in such a way as to support council’s desired outcome of the costly Willingdon option.

Ten million dollars for a new library building plus $1 million in annual operating budget are inappropriate investments for an institution in decline (due to technological change) and a city with limited near-term growth potential. As city staff have recently reported, there are more cost-effective options, if we could only divert council’s obsession with Willingdon Beach and the Taj Mahal.

Paul McMahon is a resident of Powell River and a regular public library user.