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Books

In my previous post I described how our public library is a vital city service and I voiced my concern about the 0% budget. The library (and every other city service) is being mandated to hit a 0% 2013 budget, which will result in service cuts (as laid out in this statement on the library’s website).

Please consider this important issue. Please get involved and contact City Council to let them know how you feel about the cuts to the London Public Library (and other services vital to our city) to reach a third 0% tax freeze this year. This page has a guide to the city’s wards and how to contact City Council, and below is the letter I have submitted to council. You’re welcome to use it as a template if you’d like to!

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To London City Council,

I write today to ask that as you shape our 2013 budget, you consider how much the public library means to Londoners. In 2011 (according to the library’s website), 3.2 million people visited a library location, 1.31 million people asked library staff for help finding information, 4.25 million items were borrowed, 192,000 people attended a program, 972,000 holds were placed on items, 567,000 uses of library computers were logged, and 4.5 million people visited the library website. Absolutely stunning numbers!

As well, they write that “London has the highest annual library use per capita in Ontario at 40.6 annual uses per capita (median use is 28.1), according to the most recent OMBI report. London has the lowest operating cost per use in Ontario at $1.27 per use, according to the most recent OMBI report. In a 2012 survey, overall public satisfaction with library service was at 97.9%. 96.3% of people surveyed felt that the Library gives good value for taxpayer dollar spent.”

Our public library is so much more than just the books on the shelves. Libraries are a gateway to early literacy, social programs, and continue to be one of the key community hubs for a city. Libraries are also important community centres, with classes for numerous social skills, job search portals, community lectures, research centres, and much more. In London, we’re fortunate to have a central library that includes a community lecture and performance hall, as well as easy access to city and county records and archives.

I write to you to ask that you would consider this as you examine the hard budget decisions before you. I understand that you want to ensure that tax payer dollars are spent in the most efficient and appropriate ways possible, which is absolutely commendable. However, I’m concerned that without proper funding for our library as well as our public safety, transportation and community service programs, we will pay much more in the long run by running ineffective programs stretched beyond their means, failing to serve the people that rely on these services.

As you consider the public library and how important it is to our city, please also examine the overall cost the goal of 0% tax increase will have on our city. As we get into the budget process, London Public Library, London Transit Commission, London Community Foundation, Pillar Nonprofit Network and United Way London & Middlesex have all spoken out against the path to 0% and the cuts that will be necessary to reach the target this year. More organizations will likely join them as the budget process continues, and the cost that will be born by London’s most vulnerable.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely,

Brian Gibson, Ward 2

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Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for considering this important issue. The budget process impacts us all, and the decisions we make now will impact our city for years to come. The great thing is that there are many ways to get involved!

There are several public participation meetings over the next two months, culminating in the final budget approval February 28th. The link has all the important dates, and all sessions will be streamed live. These are a terrific opportunity to see Council in action and to see first hand the decisions they’re making on the budget. Today the first public participation meeting starts at City Hall at 4pm, with many community groups and organizations slated to speak to the budget and the impact it will have.

You can  also e-mail, Facebook, call (Financial Planning @ 519-661-4638) and Tweet (@CityofLdnOnt) to the City budget teams with your ideas. If you’re on Twitter, you can also use the hashtag #LdnBudget13 to post your thoughts.

Please get involved London, and have your say!

Books

I’ve always loved books.

I feel like I almost grew up in the library of my home town of Wiarton. My mom was one of the librarians there, and I spent long afternoons buried behind the shelves, amazed that (as it seemed to me at the time) all of human knowledge was available to me there. My time there helped foster an enduring appreciation for books and reading, and a thirst for knowledge and further learning and discovery.

But libraries are so much more than books. Libraries are a gateway to early literacy, social programs, and continue to be one of the key community hubs for a city. Libraries are also important community centres, with classes for numerous social skills, job search portals, community lectures, research centres, and much more. In London, we’re fortunate to have a central library that includes a community lecture and performance hall, as well as easy access to city and county records and archives.

As we discuss the city budget, and where to place our resources as the city struggles with stubbornly high unemployment levels, it may seem like an old-fashioned, bricks, mortar and paper institution like the library would be an easy place to find cuts. For sure, with the advent of the internet, many organizations and businesses have struggled to keep up. Businesses including major music and video rental stores have closed, unable to compete as their services became increasingly available online.

Despite this, London’s library system is only seeing both its physical and digital attendance growing. The numbers the library lists on its website show how indispensable a service it provides to our community. The library took the bold step of actually posting a news release to their website to outline how busy they have been, and how a third straight 0% would impact them. The release states that in 2011:

  • 3.2 million people visited a library location
  • 1.31 million people asked our staff for help finding information, materials and other resources
  • 4.25 million items were borrowed
  • 192,000 people attended a program, including those for newcomers, teens, job-seekers, new parents, seniors and those looking to connect with all this city has to offer
  • 972,000 holds were placed on items
  • 567,000 uses of our public computers were logged, many by those without access to the Internet or a computer in their home
  • 4.5 million people visited our website

As well, this opinion piece by LFP’s Ian Gillespie shares more good news:

According to a recent report from the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI), London has the highest annual library use per capita in Ontario at 40.6 annual uses per person (the median use is 28.1).

And with an annual budget of about $19.5 million, London’s libraries boast the lowest operating cost per use in Ontario, at $1.27 per use, according to  OMBI.

More than half of all Londoners possess a library card, and in 2011 they used library services nearly 15 million times.

And those users were happy, too: A 2012 survey showed overall public satisfaction with library service was at a whopping 97.9%.

It seems stunning that despite this information, council is pressing for the library to find more ways to cut funding, without somehow harming service. This year, it just isn’t possible. There are many hard decisions in the 2013 London budget on this third year of the “Path to 0%”, as each year compounds the cuts of the last. This year, to achieve 0% the library warns that it will have to reduce service by reducing service hours in most locations, removing Sunday service entirely, and offering fewer items to borrow.

As I said, our community relies on the library services far beyond borrowing books. Many Londoners rely on the library services for their internet access, for job searching, for resume and job search advice, and for life skill training. If the library is required to meet a target of 0% by council, it will be one more way that 0% will cut services to Londoners most in need.

The London Public Library is only one of many community organizations speaking out, and I imagine the din will only rise as we get closer to the budget process. The London Community Foundation posted this letter on their website, also outlining the impact a third straight budget of 0% will have. They state:

London Community Foundation has traditionally preferred to influence public policy with a light, often unseen hand. This year we have joined Pillar Nonprofit Network and United Way London & Middlesex to collectively voice our concerns on the proposed City of London budget because we strongly agree that those who are most vulnerable will be disproportionately impacted by proposed changes and cuts.

Please, speak out to support our vital library system. My next post will be a letter to council, including information on how to contact your councillor as well as the entire City Council. Please reflect on what the library means to you, and how it helps those members of our society most in need. Contact your member of Council, and participate in the budget process to make sure your voice is heard!

budget

We’re now getting into the dreaded “budget season”, where the city lays out the budget for the year ahead. But it doesn’t have to be painful.

It can even be insightful, interesting…even fun…?

This is an excellent time for all of us to reflect on our vision for our city, and analyze how closely Council’s vision (coined the “Path to Zero”, or 0% tax increase) falls in line with our personal values. It is an excellent time to get to know our member of council, see how they represent us, connect with the entire council, and meet and discuss with other Londoners about an issue that impacts us all.

And there are many ways to get involved! For the first time, the city has created a budget participation project similar to “ReThink London” for the planning process. They are encouraging Londoners to connect and participate in a number of ways, including:

  • Check out the main budget page, and read through the budget documents. The documents are broken down by the main services, so subjects of interest can be found easily without reading through the entire (massive) report.
  • Read, listen to, and contemplate opinion pieces on this proposed budget. As we get closer to the budget sessions London media will have many different writers and speakers discussing this important issue. Two blogs I recommend are by Abe Oudshoorn (@AbeOudshoorn) and Philip McLeod (@TheMcLeodReport), Citizen Corps also has a list of London bloggers.
  • Build A Budget Workshop happening Saturday January 12th at the top floor of City Hall (see this link for more details). It will be an opportunity to learn the about the budget, and ask questions and provide input into the process. Citizens, Mayor Fontana, Councillors and senior City staff are invited to come together for this event. I’ll be at the afternoon session, hope to see you there!
  • There are several public participation meetings over the next two months, culminating in the final budget approval February 28th. The link has all the important dates, and all sessions (except the Build A Budget) will be streamed live. These are a terrific opportunity to see Council in action and to see first hand the decisions they’re making on the budget.
  • You can e-mail, Facebook, call (Financial Planning @ 519-661-4638) and Tweet (@CityofLdnOnt) to the City with your ideas. If you’re on Twitter, you can also use the hashtag #LdnBudget13 to post your throughts.
  • Meet, call, write your Councillor with your ideas about the budget, and hear their thoughts about the process.
  • Discuss with other citizens, read about the budget process, blog your thoughts! The more people that are thinking about and analyzing where our collective money is going, the better it is for our city. I hope that this year many Londoners new to the process will become involved (as I did last year), and many more will become even more invested this year.

This can actually be an exciting time of year, and is truly an opportunity to become more involved in our city. It is my hope that we can use this time to connect as a community, invision our future and work to find a way to make it happen in a way that can be to the satisfaction and benefit to as many as possible.

As Philip McLeod states in his latest blog post“What is important to you about the services the city now provides in exchange for your tax dollars? What do you value most? It’s time to speak up, London. After all, we pay for this budget.”

new year

As we start the new year with new goals, aspirations and motivations, my hope is that we will all become more involved with shaping out future.

One of the best ways we can do this is to connect with those that make policy decisions, at all levels of government. This year, let’s work to create relationships, get to know them as people, beyond the issues that directly impact us. Let’s work to celebrate their hard work and achievements, and when critical of their policy do it fairly, without tearing them down personally.

This year, get to know your member of Council. Get to know their personality, their policies, see how they represent you, your community and the greater city. Discuss with them where your views converge, and where they part. As well, there are many groups that work to make London politics exciting and accessible, including Citizen Corps (@CitizenCorpsLDN).

And get to know the entire council! Read news reports about council/committee sessions about the issues impacting your community, and the entire city. Join events like the Build A Budget sessions coming up later this month, and spend time at City Hall. As we enter the important budget season, get to know the people making decisions on our behalf.

Don’t forget that City Hall belongs to us citizens, we paid for it, and collectively we dictate what happens there. We elect our officials, and even if the person we voted for isn’t our councillor, they still work for us. They represent us, and they are obligated to represent the views of the majority of their constituents. Make sure that they know how to represent you, don’t let the vocal minority swing votes when you and your neighbours silently disagree. It’s as easy as a phone call, an email, or being really brave and inviting your councillor out for coffee. It may take some time, because they’re busy people, but a councillor worth their salary will always say yes to a face-to-face meeting.

Going to City Hall for the first time may seem daunting, but not only is it where city business happens, it is our civic centre to meet, discuss, debate and share concerns with our elected representatives. There is also an excellent cafeteria open to the public on the top floor, with breathtaking views of the city. If you haven’t been before, make 2o13 the year you check out City Hall!

In the end, council is made up of people working to move forward our city, though their visions of that future may conflict. I hope that each and every one of us can share our vision for the city, and work with them to find a future built on common ground. This year, let’s meet, collaborate, discuss, debate and dream together.