Claims library funds have been cut
LISMORE City Council has been accused of using “smoke and mirrors” to quietly slash spending on library resources and divert funds intended for the Richmond-Tweed Regional Library (RTRL) elsewhere.
After conducting a thorough examination of Lismore’s proposed RTRL budget for next year, the library’s former director Martin Field said despite the council’s claim that spending on new books and other resources would rise, it would in fact be reduced from $4.35 per capita in 2008/09 to $3.93 this coming financial year – significantly less than the state average of $4.52.
“It’s a smoke and mirrors budget because it is a big drop considering that the population of the region has grown and, of course, inflation – it’s a double whammy,” he said.
Lismore took over the network comprising Ballina, Byron, Lismore and Tweed councils in controversial circumstances last June, making Mr Field’s position redundant.
Lismore’s finance manager Rino Santin disputed Mr Field’s figures, claiming total expenditure would increase by $26,100 next financial year.
However, this includes all costs, such as administration expenses.
“These claims are disappointing,” Mr Field said. “The fact is Lismore is increasing expenditure on things like administration and spending less on books. They have totally ignored the point.”
Mr Field also said estimated interest earned on the quarterly contributions from member councils had also been slashed by $40,000 in the budget and he believed those funds would now find their way into Lismore’s own budget.
He said under his 14-year stewardship of the organisation investment returns on the contributions had consistently returned $100,000 annually, not the $60,000 Lismore now estimates.
Mr Santin responded that the council would invest all surplus funds in accordance with guidelines, with all interest “fully applied to providing the regional library service”.
Once again, Mr Field said he was dismayed by this response.
“We always followed the guidelines and we have the runs on the board that prove we managed to return $100,000 a year. Once again they have totally ignored the issue,” he said.
The former director, who said he had no axe to grind and simply wanted the best for the library, also queried Lismore’s decision to lease new computers for the network, which he said would be a cheaper option for the first year, but prove much costlier over the life of the leases.
While Mr Santin said the leasing arrangement would ensure the library had new technology sooner, Mr Field said when the council took over it was surprised to find the library’s software was about two or more years ahead of Lismore Council’s.
The proposed budget also estimates the cost of using casual staff when someone is sick is expected to rise 30% because of the use of a private recruitment agency rather than the library’s casual staff list.
“If you are employing road workers, using a recruitment agency makes sense because you have high workers compensation and if you employ someone through an agency that doesn’t apply,” Mr Field said, “but library workers aren’t outdoor workers so the constituent councils are unnecessarily paying a 10% loading on top of the extra cost of paying higher casual rates.”
Mr Santin said using an agency would, among other things, save money on advertising and interviewing. However, Mr Field said this was not needed as the library already had an up-to-date list of qualified casual staff.