By Jenn Watt
While the Minden Hills tax levy will quite likely be a 10 per cent increase over 2015 CAO/treasurer Lorrie Blanchard told council at their meeting Feb. 25 that most of that was due to policing and growth.
The township will need to bring in an additional $618000 in 2016 the draft budget documents show. Of that $391800 goes to OPP billing which is in its second year of a five-year phase-in with costs growing each year.
“If you take policing out of the equation and you take growth out of the equation what we’re looking at here is a 2.66 per cent increase over 2015” Blanchard told council.
At the meeting she gave an overview of costs and delivered the good news that water and sewer rates will not be increasing in 2016. She also said she anticipates a surplus from 2015 which she recommended be put into capital project reserves.
Another feature of the budget is to set aside $120000 for renovations and upgrades to the arena.
“The 2016 first draft budget (similar to 2015) includes a contribution to reserves that will be converted to a debenture payment upon completion of the anticipated renovations/upgrades to the arena/community centre” Blanchard’s report reads.
The arena needs millions of dollars of renovations.
It was this figure that started councillors on a conversation about the controversial $50000 cut to the cultural centre budget.
“My concern is if we’re putting this much money to a new arena we have another complex right next door that isn’t really being used in the way we want” Councillor Pam Sayne said of the cultural centre.
She suggested money going to the arena be cut to $100000 with $20000 going to the cultural centre for the coming year.
Blanchard said it wasn’t a good idea to put that kind of money into the centre for a year and then removing it the next.
“Raiding one department … for another one that has challenges I think is bad management” Reeve Brent Devolin said.
Sayne said her worry was that Minden Hills was creating more infrastructure when it couldn’t keep up with the buildings it already had. The cultural centre didn’t need a yearly $20000 she said but a funding boost to get programming moving would be helpful.
Blanchard pointed out that there is a surplus this year and that should there be a project the cultural centre needed funding for that might be a place to find money. There are also many grants for getting ideas off the ground she said.
“Throwing money at the cultural centre isn’t a fix” Devolin said.
“I don’t have confidence so I’d love to see the committee and others come forward with recommendations that have money attached.”
Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch then launched a defence of the cultural centre urging councillors to continue their commitment to rejuvenating the institution.
“The heart and soul was taken out of that place by the previous council” she said. “Volunteers who had served many many years were basically told we don’t need you anymore. You can go home now.”
She said volunteers needed to be coaxed back in order to move forward.
“Don’t let it go down the drain.”
Devolin said he didn’t want to shut down the cultural centre but they needed to change direction.
Blanchard advised that council needed to settle on the amount of money it was willing to spend annually on the cultural centre.
“That’s not uncommon to say let’s strip it down and … see what efficiencies we can find that currently aren’t there” she said.
Council isn’t in the business of micromanaging the daily activities of the township Devolin said so funding was one of the only tools council had at its disposal to effect change.
Cultural centre foundation weighs in
Jack Brezina was the first delegation of the day following the lengthy discussion on the cuts to the cultural centre. Brezina is vice-chairman of the cultural centre foundation which had been “in hibernation” over the last several years due to the previous council.
“Morale has suffered a great deal and it’s not just because of the current situation it’s because of the previous administration in my mind” he said. “Volunteers have withered support from other people has disappeared.”
He noted that the foundation had done much fundraising and was a key connection to the larger community and was just on its way to starting up again.
“The cuts that were announced … set us back on our heels” he told council.
He questioned the notion that the utility of the centre could be summed up in visitor numbers particularly taken in winter months when little to no programming is happening suggesting that the arena as an example would also have some months when few people came through the doors.
Arts and culture rarely pay for themselves Brezina said but they are a necessary resource if a community is to be well-rounded and attractive to new visitors and potential residents.
“We don’t have solutions to offer you today other than to suggest that some careful planning needs to be done to protect the operation of the MHCC even as you search for ways to reduce the operational costs. The Foundation is back and wants to support the facility in all its aspects but we need to know the municipality will continue to provide reasonable operational support for the centre as well if we are to become fully engaged again” read a letter Brezina presented to council.