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Library infrastructure cash could be better spent

Berrigan Shire Council director of corporate services Matt Hansen believes the NSW Government should help fund library operating costs.

June 25, 2014 3:36am

The NSW Government should be helping fund library operating costs instead of throwing money at infrastructure, Berrigan Shire Council has said.

As one of several NSW councils crying out for the state government to share the costs of library services, director of corporate services Matt Hansen said the Public Library Infrastructure Fund was misguided.

He said the $15 million competitive grants scheme could be better utilised supporting the everyday activities of libraries.

‘‘While the additional capital funding under the Public Library Infrastructure Fund is welcome, Berrigan Shire is unlikely to be eligible for any funding,’’ Mr Hansen said.

‘‘The shire has used its own funds to upgrade all of its own libraries over the past 15 years.

‘‘There has been no increase in recurrent funding for library services, and this state budget makes no impact at all on the ongoing and increasing costs of the library services borne by the council.

‘‘The council spends about $450,000 on library services each year, of which the government contribution is a mere $38,000.

‘‘Over the past 12 years, council has spent over $3 million upgrading each of its four public library buildings, of which the NSW Government contribution was about $175,000.

‘‘Government funding for public libraries is still massively inadequate and amounts to continued cost shifting to local government and ratepayers.’’

The $15 million competitive grants scheme will be implemented from July 1, 2014, and will be spread over four years.

The library infrastructure funding announcement comes only two weeks after Berrigan and Jerilderie shire councils announced they would join forces to gain more funding. It included a petition from Jerilderie Shire Council.

Councils say the intent of the NSW Library Act in 1939 was for equal funding from state and local governments to provide library services.

Mr Hansen’s disappointment has been echoed by Local Government NSW president, Councillor Keith Rhoades, who said council demands for additional funding have fallen on deaf ears.

‘‘While a modestly funded Public Library Infrastructure Fund has been set up, library funding remains at the same level as previous years,’’ he said.

‘‘This is despite calls from NSW Public Libraries Associations and Local Government NSW to increase funding for these important facilities, which act as community hubs.’’

Councils say the intent of the NSW Library Act in 1939 was for equal funding from state and local governments to provide library services.

The state government share has gradually dropped over the last few decades, forcing local government to shoulder the bulk of the costs.

They argue the constant cost shifting is forcing councils to pass the costs on to ratepayers.

NSW Minister for the Arts Troy Grant says the infrastructure fund will help public libraries ‘‘to better meet the changing demands of local communities’’, but councils say they will continue to fight for a fairer library funding scheme.

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