By J.W. Schnarr
While they support the application of the Vauxhall Public Library board to turn the library into a Visitor Information Centre, council turned down a funding request which would see the town shoulder many of the associated costs.
During their regular meeting on April 7, council discussed a request for support and funding from the board, and while generally supportive of the initiative, council decided there were too many unanswered questions to provide funding at this time. The board is currently in the process of trying to apply for accreditation and the Tourism Highway Signage Program for Alberta Visitor Information Providers.
There is an accreditation criterion which must be met in order to obtain no-cost trailblazer signage, some of which needs to be met on an annul basis.
The library must apply and be approved and the Visitor Information Centre must be approved by the municipality as an official VIC. In addition, the board is requesting a sum of $1,350 in order to send two staff members to Edmonton for three days of training. Costs include wages, mileage, and meals. The training would need to be taken on an annual basis for the library to remain accredited.
Additionally, the library would need to be open 40 hours per week, including Saturdays, during the months of July and August (the two months they hope to run the VIC). The library is currently open 32 hours per week and is requesting the town pay additional wages amounting to $720 for those two months.
The Ministry of tourism, Parks, and Recreation would provide all signage, installation costs, and maintenance costs.
During discussion, Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips said it was unclear whether the library could constitute as a visitor centre, as the first, main requirement is that visitor information be the primary duty of the facility, while the primary goal of the library is not.
“Their very first point, in bold, is that the VIC has a primary purpose of providing tourism information,” he said. “My understanding is that our library has a primary purpose of functioning as a library. This, by definition, would be a secondary purpose. It would be very embarrassing for a library to apply for something which says, in bold print, (they) are not qualified.”
“All they need from us to get going on it, is they need our support, and they need our money (for training),” said Coun. Christie Sorensen. She said her understanding is that many of the other issues surrounding accreditation such as parking, and hours of operation, have already been looked into and approved, leaving the impression the issue of primary and secondary uses was a minor one.
According to council, the board has not registered or applied yet in part due to not knowing whether they had council support, a necessary step in the process. However, members of the board have insinuated the process could be completed =and approved in a timely manner.
“They made it sound like they were good to go, and it will happen this year,” said Sorensen.
As a visitor centre, the government would supply tourism information and signage for the library. It is hoped the VIC would provide a reason for visitors to come in to town, potentially to make use of local businesses and features.
But Mayor Margaret Plumtree expressed concerns over spending tax money on the project and to pay for the wages of employees who do not work directly for the town.
“They are asking for us to pay them for driving up there, to pay them while they get their training, and to pay for any meals,” said Plumtree. “I’m saying, we don’t even pay their wages, and they are asking us to pay this. And then it’s a yearly cost. Is (the program) going to bring in enough people to warrant this? In the end, it’s taxes.”
Coun. Martin Kondor asked if the board could opt out of the program if no benefit was seen after the first year, but Sorensen said it was unclear if that was possible. Kondor replied it made a large difference between one year of costs and five years.
Plumtree said there were still a number of questions without answers and time was running out.
“We’re rushing through this and we need to do everything fast,” she said. “Maybe this isn’t the year to do this. There are just too many questions.”
Coun. Linda English said the costs were too high for the program.
“It’s too much,” she said.
One question was brought up about whether the board’s intention for the VIC was because they want the library to be a tourist centre, or if they were in fact looking for a way to subsidize their summer hours.
“I’d say it’s a plan to draw more traffic into the library,” replied Phillips. “Which is a worthy goal. But, again, based on the criteria, we fail.”
Sorensen said if the board has not sent in an application, there is little need to provide them their requested expenses at this time. However, it was generally agreed that council should send a letter of support to help along the application process.
Following discussion, council passed a motion to support their application to become a VIC, however. However, they were not going to provide funding at this time.