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Comment: Library funds given the oversight the public demands

Dec 01 2012

The Greater Victoria Public Library board is keenly aware of the care that must be taken in the use of public funds.

During these tough economic times, when provincial funding for libraries is limited and municipal budgets are stretched, it is exceedingly important that our contributors and the community have complete confidence in our management of public funds.

The board fully stands behind its policies and our diligent, efficient GVPL staff. We are confident that we have taken every precaution to ensure that funds are used judiciously, frugally and properly.

I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the facts as they have been presented recently in media reports regarding expenditures attributed to the former CEO of the GVPL from 2006 to 2010.

A significant majority of the expenses cited by the media were made at a time when there were only two purchasing cards used throughout the library system. Thus, the CEO's purchasing card was used for a wide range of general library expenditures, including items such as computers, software, conference attendance and training for staff.

One item that has drawn particular media attention is a $500 purchase in 2007 reported to be for "body cream." In fact, an order was placed for non-allergenic lip balm with a company that distributes body cream and other skin care products. This lip balm, with the GVPL logo on the applicator, was ordered for a GVPL teen promotion as part of outreach and programming activities. Funds for this purchase came out of our promotions budget.

Practices have been and continue to be in place to verify and approve all such purchasing-card expenditures.

In 2008, GVPL implemented a new purchasing-card policy to update the process and allow for greater accountability by individual departments.

With these new procedures, individual staff members are directly responsible for all library-related purchases on each card, all of which have individual limits. All purchases are thoroughly documented and signed off by a supervisor. The CEO's card is used only for expenses related to the position, expenses are verified by finance staff, and I, as board chairman, take the responsibility of signing for those expenses very seriously. All departments, including the office of the CEO, have approved budgets, and expenditures are carefully monitored. A consolidated financial report comparing budgets to actual expenditures is presented to the board each month as a standing agenda item.

The board's finance committee will be reviewing our current purchasing card policies and processes to determine if any changes are required to provide further assurance to the public that the library provides the best fiscal value to taxpayers. GVPL's financial and other policies are posted on the GVPL website, www.gvpl.ca.

The GVPL is committed to continuous improvement of our services and programs and results illustrate this. As the Victoria Foundation's 2012 Vital Signs Report indicates, GVPL is a success story for our community. With the third-highest circulation rate per capita in Canada and ever-increasing demand, our innovative staff continues to create and expand public library services for the Greater Victoria area with limited funds. Public response continues to be overwhelmingly glowing and highly appreciative.

The GVPL is a local treasure, an invaluable, well-loved and well-used friend to so many. I can assure all of our valued cardholders and all those who generously support the library that municipal, provincial and private contributions are being managed effectively, transparently and with full accountability. We welcome any and all questions - looking things up is what we do.

Karel Roessingh is chairman of the Greater Victoria Public Library board.

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