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Decision to axe city advertising pages in The Richmond Hill Liberal deferred for now!

Council was poised to axe the city advertising pages in The Richmond Hill Liberal during Nov. 26 budget committee deliberations, however, the move was deferred after Mayor Dave Barrow suggested staff present “other options” at the next budget meeting for possibly reducing the advertising costs in the local paper.

A staff recommendation moved by Councillor Greg Beros suggested the city save an annual $160,000 by eliminating the two-page weekly ‘Bulletin Board’ feature, which presents planning notices, upcoming events and city news.

The advertising manager of The Liberal/Metroland Media, Jack Tynan, was a delegation to council, explaining that their outside polling confirmed that approximately 100,000 people read each issue of the paper, delivered to about 50,000 homes each week.

In response to questions by Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli and Councillor Karen Cilevitz, Tynan said if the paper loses the revenue from the city, it would “impact our page count and our content”.

Barrow asked what had changed from previous legal requirements that planning and bylaw notices had to be published in the local paper.

City clerk Stephen Huycke responded, noting that “provincial legislation has been updated” so that municipalities don’t have to provide such notices through newspapers, but can publish information on their websites, and also mail out planning notices to nearby affected residents.

Beros noted that both a staff report and an outside review by Deloitte suggested elimination of ads in The Liberal to save money, adding that anyone can sign up with the city’s website to be automatically alerted of any news.

Councillor David West objected to the move, saying during this period of high growth pressures and in the face of fragmented communication channels, it would be the “worst time” to cut off communication and engagement with residents via The Liberal. He suggested the city move to one page per week, and use less legal wording to promote open houses, development projects and upcoming events.

Cilevitz also objected, stating the “local paper is incredibly important to our community” and that despite austerity discussions, saving $160,000 is a minuscule drop in the bucket of the city budget. She also pointed out not every resident has a computer or smartphone, and can access digital information.

Councillor Godwin Chan asked what the impact would be on communication staff if Liberal ads were eliminated, and the department head, Meeta Gandhi, stated the communications department had not asked for more resources for 2020 and they would develop a process to position planning notices on the city website, instead of The Liberal.

Chan also asked about the “hit rate” and number of visits to the city website and was assured by Gandhi that while she didn’t have exact statistics, the “number of visits has increased significantly along with social media penetration”.

Councillor Tom Muench warned that keeping the status quo was not an option and “we have to make difficult choices,” adding it doesn’t show leadership to make decisions against the recommendation of staff.

Barrow stated he felt it was still important that there be city information published in the paper, and asked for the item to be referred to the next budget meeting for staff to provide more options and choices regarding advertising.

In a recorded vote to support the deferral, Councillor Castro Lui voted yes, along with Barrow, West, Cilevitz and Chan.

– by Marney Beck, retired journalist

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