As the MLA for Rimbey–Rocky Mountain House–Sundre, the issue of whether the Town of Rimbey should fund the expansion of the Rimbey Public Library is the sole jurisdiction of the town council. As the MLA for the community I would be negligent if I didn’t correct some misinformation. Also, as a tax-paying citizen living in Rimbey it would be irresponsible of me to remain silent over the issue of selling a major town asset for a dollar.
The Alberta Public Library Standards sets 1,500 square feet as the minimum floor space required to provide essential services to a town the size of Rimbey – not 6,500 square feet as published in the newspaper. Rimbey’s library currently has between 2,300 and 2,800 square feet of floor space, which is more than adequate to provide essential services according to the current standards.
Also, when considering both floor space and essential library services, the library board must take into consideration adjacent institutions. In Rimbey’s example, there are at least three other libraries located nearby, one at the high school, another at the elementary school, and still one more at the Bluffton School.
When considering programs for the community, the Alberta Public Library Standards mandate the library board work with agencies such as FCSS to provide those programs in an efficient and economical manner. Other institutions do have qualified staff and they have the ability to acquire funding for programs. The Rimbey Public Library does not have to assume responsibility and the financial burden to provide all the programming to the community. The town council’s representative on the library board should have brought this information to the town council for their consideration before they made their decision. Why this information was not considered needs to be questioned.
Rimbey town council’s decision to sell the town’s office building (a major town asset that qualifies as prime commercial real estate) for $1 to the library board has implications. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) and the provincial regulations do set a limit on a community’s ability to borrow money based only on its tax base, however that may change very soon. The MGA is currently under review, and this issue of a community’s ability to borrow money has already surfaced at the legislature, and will come up for discussion — as I think it should. There are many MLAs that firmly believe that a community’s assets should also factor into its ability to borrow and service debt, it’s only logical.
More importantly than debt, the solvency of a community is calculated no differently than the private sector; it is based on the total assets of the community. Rimbey currently carries a significant debt load for a community of its size, and divesting itself of a major asset for less than market value makes Rimbey just that much less solvent. I would like to think this council took this into consideration before they made their decision to divest the town of a major asset.
The rationale that council is going to retain a right of first refusal to purchase the building back for a $1 is little consolation for the taxpayers of Rimbey. The library board or the provincial government (library boards are a creation of provincial legislation) could easily mortgage or have a lien placed on the building for $500,000. The building is worth considerably more and it is no secret the provincial government intends to borrow money to finance their spending. Retaining the right to possibly purchase a $500,000 mortgage or a lien for a $1 makes as much sense as selling a $500,000 building for a $1.
There are better ways for council to deal with this issue. It may make more sense to lease the property and retain ownership of the asset.