Toronto Public Library considers service cuts amid city request for 0% budget increase

The Toronto Public Library says it has been told by the city to find a way to keep its budget at the same level for 2023. (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)
The Toronto Public Library says it has been told by the city to find a way to keep its budget at the same level for 2023. (Katherine Holland/CBC - image credit)

Officials with Toronto's public library system are working on a "menu" of options for service reductions in the face of a request for a zero per cent budget increase from the city for the upcoming year.

Even though each year there are different pressures on the budget for the Toronto Public Library (TPL), Howard Balter, the system's budget and financial reporting manager, said at a September board meeting that this year is exceptional due to pressures like inflation and high interest rates.

"The budget guidelines that were provided by the city state that all non-COVID related base pressures should be fully offset in the budget, meaning we're supposed to have a zero per cent base budget increase," said Balter, who noted continuing pandemic pressures include loss of revenue and higher costs.

"We're currently working on identifying savings and offsets, though getting to a zero per cent increase without impacting service is highly unlikely."

News of the budget crunch was first reported by The Toronto Star.

Brandon Haynes, president of the Toronto Public Library Workers Union Local 4948, told CBC News a zero per cent increase is effectively a cut, given external pressures.

"I don't think that is what the people of Toronto who use libraries deserve, and it's certainly not what we would expect in a world-class library system like Toronto Public Library," Haynes said.

The potential cut to services comes months after an April board report said despite COVID-19 closures, the pandemic "intensified" trends the library system was already seeing, like increasing virtual visits and electronic circulation.

The TPL also provides a range of services that go beyond books, like health and wellness presentations and employment resources.

Councillor vows to fight any cuts

The library states its operating budget for next year will be presented at the next board meeting on Oct. 25.

Coun. Gord Perks, who represents Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park and is on the TPL board, confirmed the city has proposed to the library what its budget should be, but says he's not going to support that number.

"Over the last four years ... the library board has had to fight the city to get the resources for the best library system in the world," said Perks, who is running for re-election in the Oct. 24 municipal vote.

Oliver Walters/CBC
Oliver Walters/CBC

Perks says libraries are a "cornerstone of democracy" and an important place for people who can't access the internet from home, for newcomers who need help integrating into their new community, and for people who are experiencing homelessness and want to build their social networks.

But beyond libraries, Perks says the budget request is part of a trend of cuts in recent years to the city's public services and amenities like street maintenance and recreation programs.

"People should be very worried and be prepared to fight for the services they need and enjoy in Toronto."