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Security guards at library 'an absolute necessity,' staff warn

Myriad, escalating issues are 'compromising the public’s safety and enjoyment of the space, and creating excessive stress for staff,' official says amid request for $71,000

It’s a ‘sad day’ when a security guard is needed at the Orillia Public Library, but officials say we’ve reached that day.

On Thursday, Library CEO Suzanne Campbell pleaded with Mayor Steve Clarke and city councillors to approve $71,000 during next week’s budget deliberations so security guards can be on patrol at the downtown library whenever it’s open.

“It’s a large ask but we think it’s an absolute necessity,” said Campbell, referencing one of the library’s mantras: “We cannot have community without community places.”

In a report to budget committee, library officials noted that “in the fall of 2019 it became clear to the library board that the situation was affecting the provision of service, compromising the public’s safety and enjoyment of the space, and creating excessive stress for staff.”

Susan Dance, the library’s director of technical services, said the issue has been emerging over several years, but escalated in the months prior to the pandemic-forced shutdown.

She said on two separate days in March, library staff had to call the OPP three times for three separate incidents each day.

“We had a lot of incidents since last fall with large, boisterous groups of people, 911 calls for people who are unconscious, laws being broken in the building, thefts of people's personal belongings,” she explained of the litany of incidents happening inside the library - most notably in the public washroom and cafe area. There are also issues outside the library.

Dance said on many occasions, when staff have intervened to quell disturbances, there is “blowback” that has threatened to become dangerous. 

She said the OPP are often tied up with “more serious calls” and may not be able to respond quickly, forcing staff to take on the role, diverting them from their work.

Officials noted library staff are well trained in de-escalation and safe procedures, but a security guard would “bring training beyond what staff has. A guard brings dedicated time, training and a better fit for dealing with issues,” said Dance.

Campbell said both the Barrie and Midland public libraries contract out security service to the same company. That company provided the quote for services - multiple people to cover off 59 hours of security guard service - to Orillia’s library.

“It’s kind of a sad day when this kind of thing has to happen,” said Coun. Tim Lauer, who applauded library staff for their quick pivot to online programming during the pandemic.

That was a sentiment echoed by Coun. Rob Kloostra, council’s representative on the library board.

He said hiring security personnel would be “a step in the right direction” and is a strategy the city should employ.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth questioned the cost, saying he did some research that suggested a security guard, on average, in 2020, made about $29,000 a year.

Campbell said the amount was quoted by the security firm used by both Barrie and Midland and noted there could be “cost savings” as they had not had time to explore other options.

The library board request was one of more than a dozen made during the boards and agencies presentations on Thursday.

No decisions were made. Each of the requests will be considered during next week’s budget deliberations as council works toward passing its 2021 budget, which is expected to be ratified and approved at a special Dec. 7 meeting. Council has said the goal is a zero per cent increase.

The most significant hit to Orillia’s budget this year is a 17.9% increase from the County of Simcoe for the city’s share of services offered through the county. Click here to read a story about that. County officials made an hour-long presentation Thursday about their services, how the pandemic impacted costs and detailed 2021 plans.

Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, provided council with a detailed update on the unit’s response to the pandemic but it’s not yet known what Orillia’s share of funding will be as the health unit’s budget has not yet been set.

Meanwhile, the Orillia OPP is requesting a funding increase of $272,630, raising the total cost for police services in 2021 to $8,503,117.

Almost $200,000 of that increase is earmarked for an anticipated rise in cost in services, while about $73,000 is related to the move to a new detachment building in West Ridge and covers provincially-mandated accommodation and cleaning costs of the new facility.

Here’s a quick look at some of the other requests made to council:

The Orillia Museum of Art & History is requesting the city to continue its commitment of providing $150,000 in annual funding.

The Orillia and Area Physician Recruitment and Retention Committee is seeking $18,000 - the same as 2020.

The Accessibility and Advisory Committee is asking for the same as last year: 1,750.

The Waste Management Advisory Committee is asking for 10,895 - $30 lower than last year.

The Commemorative Awards Committee is asking for $1,600, the same as last year.

The Orillia Food Council is not asking for any money

The Municipal Heritage Committee is seeking 10,895 - the same as 2020.

Child & Youth Advocacy Centre Simcoe Muskoka is seeking $15,940, which is the same amount as last year.

Information Orillia is seeking $25,000. In 2019, the agency received $60,000 from the municipality, but funding was halted in 2020 as the agency, briefly, closed its doors before reforming.

Sustainable Orillia is once again seeking a $10,000 grant.


Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of OrilliaMatters.com
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