Inner West Independent

Pressure building on Council library budget

Leichhardt Public Library

Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne has launched a scathing attack on the State Government for reducing funding for the inner west’s library services.

The State Government, which was at one stage responsible for 50 per cent of library costs, now only funds five per cent of library services. The move has left Leichhardt Council with a $1 million shortfall each financial year.

“Our libraries are the most popular services Leichhardt Council provides to its residents with families, students and senior citizens,” said Mr Byrne. “But the continued withdrawal of State Government funding has put enormous pressure on the Council budget.

“I am calling on Barry O’Farrell to reverse this cost shifting trend and make sure that our families and our children don’t miss out on the invaluable education and inspiration that only our libraries can provide.”

Last week, NSW Minister for the Arts George Souris announced grants of $2.5 million for public libraries across the state in the annual Library Development Grants and Country Libraries Fund programs.

Mr Souris said 34 local councils will receive grants for projects, providing significant public benefit and improving public library services for NSW citizens.

“Public libraries play a critical role in our communities by providing access to collections, information and technology that help people at all stages of their lives. The NSW Government is committed to working with councils to enhance library services and facilities across the state,” he said.

But Mr Byrne said the lack of funding had been an ongoing issue.

“For 18 years the State Government has refused to increase its proportion of funding toward council libraries in line with inflation, let alone increase funding in real terms. The government pays just $1.85 per person per year for local libraries – the same amount it has paid since 1995,” he said.

Local Government NSW has continued to lobby the State Government about the impact of cost shifting.

“Leichhardt Council is completely correct in their claims that State Government cost-shifting – and their refusal to increase public library funding in line with inflation or in real terms – is a serious burden on councils,” said a spokesperson.

“Sadly libraries, and all that they have to offer local residents, are a major service under-resourced by the State Government and contribute significantly to the yearly cost shifting amount hoisted onto Local Government.

“The latest Local Government NSW survey found that the estimated amount of cost shifting by the State and Federal Governments onto NSW councils equates to $500 million per annum and the under-funding of libraries is a significant part of this yearly amount.”

Mr Byrne said emergency services are also bearing the brunt of cost shifting.

“We are paying $1.1 million a year of ratepayer money to the State Government for the fire levy to fund emergency services that has gone up on average by 7.5 per cent for over a decade, much faster than the rate of inflation,” he said.

“The Leichhardt and Balmain Fire Stations are closed more and more often each week so there’s been a reduced service and there is a danger to the community. I’m calling on the State Government to freeze any increases in the fire levy budget.”