City council cannot direct the Saskatoon Public Library Board not to build a new library downtown, nor can it order the project to be delayed.

However, the board can prevent the library board from borrowing money and can refuse to increase the share of property tax collected on its behalf.

That message was from Pavilion 1 Universe. Darren Hill following news that SPL will pause construction of a new downtown library after tenders for construction resulted in bids that were “significantly in excess of the available budget,” according to a Thursday statement from SPL.

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Hill said he was not surprised to learn that the project could not be completed on budget with its current design, noting that he questioned previous reports by SPL that the project remained within budget, even as inflation affected construction costs citywide.

While he said he was still hopeful of finding a replacement for the old Francis Morrison Central Library, Hill stressed that the SPL would not have his support if it came to council approving any further loans or raising interest rates.

“I will not support any additional borrowing or another property tax increase at all,” he said, adding that he had long-standing concerns about SPL’s decision to focus on a newly built central branch, rather than exploring the acquisition of one of the branches. Empty buildings in the heart of downtown, like the former police headquarters on Fourth Avenue, or the former Star Phoenix building on Fifth Avenue.

Hill suggested that the construction pause might be an opportunity for SPL to reconsider some of those options, or perhaps consider including a new library in the proposed new event and entertainment district downtown, where economies of scale could help reduce the cost. .

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Hill noted that he warned SPL against trying to do an “old building” years ago, when the council approved the first round of borrowing for the project.

In 2019, the council voted 6-5 to approve borrowing $67.5 million, $20 million less than previously requested. The council decided among four borrowing reduction options, each proposed by a different consultant: $76.3 million (County Merryn Lewin), $67.5 million (County Darren Hill), $63.5 million (County Zach Jeffries), and $35 million (County Troy). Davies).

The approved proposal came from Hill, whose proposal removed the emergency fund built into the project.

SPL ultimately selected a design from Formline Architecture, Chevalier Morales Architectes, and Architecture49 intended to evoke different aspects of indigenous and Métis culture.

“I said, ‘I just want to see a square box and all the money and resources go to the programs and services inside of it, and what’s being proposed is an old building,'” Hill added.

Keith Moen, executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association, said he “appreciates” the SPL board’s decision to pause for now and reevaluate the scope of the project, rather than turning to council for more borrowing.

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He said the message from his members is that Saskatoon businesses are “strongly opposed” to any further rate increases, whether they come from the city or the library.

Moen noted that the City Council has not always been clear in its communications about the authority it has over library affairs.

Although he does not suggest that council members abdicate responsibility, they tend to point to provincial legislation that sets the SPL’s governance structure separate from that of the city while they “cooperate” with the Library Board in approving its requests for borrowing and publishing. He said increasing taxes.

“Council has an obligation to the taxpayers, and I think they should listen to the citizens of Saskatoon, and I don’t think this particular capital project is one that has a lot of support from the general population of the city, and the business community certainly has questions about it.”

Some of those questions include whether there should be a downtown branch at all, Moen said, adding that much of the planning for the proposed new building seems more akin to building a “social services center” rather than a library. Moen added that the provincial government has jurisdiction over such services, and they should not be paid for with property tax money collected in Saskatoon.

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