A blog from the Ontario Library Service

The Estimates Process

I have been thinking about the use of the word ‘budget’ in the public library world. That is, not the use of the word budget as it refers to the document used to track expected revenues and expenses each year, but the use of the word budget in relation to the financial support of the library by its appointing Council.

Each year, representatives from the local public library, perhaps the board chair and the library CEO, must go to their local council to ask for funding support for the next year.  To prepare for this request, the library board prepares a financial plan for the coming year, often prepared in the format of a budget. Section24 of the Public Libraries Act is the provincial legislation that describes the process by which a library can ask for this funding request.  Note that this section of the legislation is called ‘estimates’ and not ‘budgets’:

Estimates – 24 (1) A public library board, county library board or county library co-operative board shall submit to the appointing council, annually on or before the date and in the form specified by the council, estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the board.

In other words, the library representatives present a document which specifies how much money will be needed from the municipality or county to carry out the library plans for the next year. This document would likely specify how much the library will get in the provincial grant and estimate other sources of funding, such as self-generated revenues. By using a budget format (which is perhaps the form specified by the council), the councillors can see the library’s plan for the year and can decide whether they wish to support this plan by providing those requested funds.  Another part of Section 24 of the Public Libraries Act describes the approval of estimates.

Approval of estimates – (2) The amount of the board’s estimates that is approved or amended and approved by the council shall be adopted by the board and shall be paid to the board out of the money appropriated for it. 

In this sub-section, it is noted that after the council sees the library’s plan for the next year, councillors can approve or amend the amount of money which will be provided to the library.  Once approved, that money is paid to the library board – sometimes in a lump sum and sometimes in monthly or quarterly payments.  By the end of the fiscal year, the library can expect to receive all the approved amounts of money, or at least have that amount of money applied against library expenses.

Keeping Section 24 of the Public Libraries Act in mind, I believe that there are two points to consider about the Estimates process:

  • In the Estimates process, the Council is not approving the library’s budget, rather the Council is deciding how much money they wish to provide to the library. The council’s decision is based a presentation of the estimates of all sums required during the year for the purposes of the board, that is what you plan to do, and how much money is needed to achieve this plan.
  • A Council can approve the requested amount; they can decide to give additional funds to the library; or they could decide not to give the full amount of the funding request. If the Council decides to reduce the amount to be provided to the library– they technically did not cut the library’s budget.  Rather, it is the work of the Library Board to take the amended amount of the board’s and determine what to do about library services in the coming year.  Of course, one option is to drop specific items from the budget to balance the revenue and expenses on the proposed library budget. A second option is to determine if it is possible to find other sources of revenue to keep that original proposed plan for the year in place, for example, grant, fundraising, increased self-generated revenue.

The Estimates process has been a part of the provincial library legislation since 1984, and, from time to time, it is important to go back and read what the legislation states.  By taking this step, you can call it the presentation of estimates required and not the approval of a library budget.