Saturday, December 2, 2023

Funding for library crisis intervention worker turned down

The city is not looking to fund a crisis intervention worker at the public library. The initiative, which asked for around $90,000 for each of the four years in the budget cycle, was defeated in a 4-4 vote at the economic standing policy committee during budget deliberations. Mayor Blaine Hyggen was not part of the vote, as he stepped out to attend a meeting.

Before the item was voted on, it was amended to potentially provide funding for the first two years and after that, it would have been conditional on a provincial grant for the next two. 

Councillor Jeff Carlson supported the motion and said it would have benefitted all residents who use the library. 

“I see the merits in this when they talk about the diversion of our police officers from having to attend the library as often. I think it’s a cost saving initiative,” he said. “The flip side is spending way more money to achieve not as good goals so this seems like a very innovative, positive move forward in our community that’s already having a positive benefit.”

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The library has already piloted the project and has a social worker in the role currently, but funding will run out at the end of the year. Terra Plato, library CEO, said the library applied for a provincial grant, which could fund the position for two years, with the expectation they may need to seek other funding. She said the position is having a positive impact on the vulnerable population in the city who visit the library.

“I have dozens of referrals being made to recovery, to housing situations, to addictions. They are helping people connect where they need to. They are also supporting customers who aren’t safe or don’t feel safe at the library. Security is calling them in to support them because they do have a very different skill set than security,” she said. 

Councillor Ryan Park did not support it and said he believed funding the position would inhibit the ability to get provincial money for it. 

“I think the library should just change the way they do things so that they don’t have this situation. I know it’s easy for me to say it on the sidelines but at the end of the day, whatever they are doing obviously isn’t working so they need to work with police, they need to work with The Watch, they need to work with DOT, they need to work with everything,” he said. 

Plato said police calls can often take hours, depending on how busy officers are and it is better to have a social worker to de-escalate and take care of the situation instead.

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ALSO READ: Lethbridge police looking at big budget increase

“This position is meant to allow staff to run a library and not be social workers, so this position is a registered social worker position so there’s a lot of years of education and training that go into that and the skills that the position brings to the library is around supporting staff, supporting security, supporting the customer who comes in and need help,” she said. 

All decisions made at budget deliberations this week are subject to change as members of council debate new initiatives and craft the budget. It will be forwarded to a later council meeting for final approval.  

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