St. Mary’s lodges formal complaint against ECRL

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ST. MARY’S – The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s has lodged a formal complaint with two departments of the provincial government against the Eastern Counties Regional Library (ECRL) for “non-compliance” with the laws under which it operates.

In a letter obtained by The Journal, dated April 29, 2021, to ECRL board chair Shirley McNamara, St. Mary’s Warden Greg Wier states: “Under the provisions of the Municipal Government Act, the Minister of Municipal Affairs is required to provide 12-months’ notice of any legislation, regulation or administrative actions of the Province that could negatively impact on financial situations for municipalities in Nova Scotia.”

ECRL’s recent decision to charge the district an additional $10,000 to keep the Sherbrooke Library open to the public 25 hours per week, effective immediately, contravenes the notice rule, Wier asserts. As a result, he writes, “The Minister of Communities, Culture, and Heritage and the Minister of Municipal Affairs are copied on this letter to formally register a complaint against the Eastern Counties Regional Library Board for non-compliance with the MGA legislative requirements, namely the 12-month rule.”

Weir’s letter is also copied to: Hon. Lloyd Hines, MLA, Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie; Laura Emery, CEO, Eastern Counties Regional Library; Warden Vernon Pitts, Municipality of the District of Guysborough; and Councillor Courtney Mailman, Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.

Section 519, Subsection (1) of the MGA stipulates: “The Minister shall notify the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities at least one year prior to the effective date of any legislation, regulation or administrative action undertaken by or on behalf of the Government of the Province that would have the effect of decreasing the revenue received by municipalities in Nova Scotia or increasing the required expenditures of municipalities in Nova Scotia.”

The ECRL operates under the terms of the Nova Scotia Libraries Act. Roughly 80 per cent of its annual $1.2 spending budget comes from the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage. About 18 per cent per cent derives from the participating municipalities of St. Mary’s and Guysborough; the towns of Mulgrave and Port Hawkesbury; and the counties of Inverness and Richmond.

Quoting from a memo dated April 27, 2021, from Municipal Affairs Minister Brendan Maguire to Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) Mayor Amanda McDougall, acting president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, Weir stated in his letter: “The mandated amounts under the new funding model for Libraries come into effect for fiscal year 2022-23. The Minister [indicates] that ‘municipal funding contributions remained at current levels for 2021-22.’ Municipalities, should they wish to do so, can implement their new funding amounts to libraries this year.”

But, Wier noted, “This is to inform you [ECRL] that the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s do not wish to implement the new funding amount this fiscal year and have not budgeted to do so.”

Furthermore, he stated: “Any reduction in service by ECRL to the Sherbrooke Library, in particular the reduction of open hours unless the municipality increases their funding contribution, is deemed a negative fiscal impact to the municipality and contrary to the intent of the 12-months’ notice section of the MGA.”

In an email to The Journal, Wier said: “As of today [May 10] I have not received any reply to my letter.” Meanwhile, ECRL CEO Laura Emery declined to comment, stating in writing: “We have received the Council’s letter and out of respect will be responding to the Council directly.”

The municipality and ECRL have locked horns since the latter unilaterally imposed a new “funding alignment” last month. The move has prompted concern and outrage among St. Mary’s residents, some of whom have called it “unwarranted” and “mean-spirited”.

Two weeks ago, The Journal reported that St. Mary’s council had begun shopping for a potential new partner, the neighbouring Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, to run the Sherbrooke branch. Asked for an update on this initiative, Wier said: “It’s still a work in progress, but [there’s] nothing new to report.”

Frustration with ECRL’s demand for more funding to keep service levels the same is shared by the Municipality of the District of Guysborough and library users in Guysborough and Canso, which have been similarly impacted.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal