By Emily Stonehouse
Nearly half a million dollars for a concession stand.
A hot topic in the community these days. I’ve had a series of emails, people stopping me on the street, calling my cell phone, all to say that they are outraged. One email just said “YIKES!” in caps lock in reference to the $423,554.51 proposed in the report that was presented to council on Jan. 26.
As James Matthews indicated in his article this week, Minden Hills council wasn’t thrilled with this price point. There is talk that it will be whittled down. Somehow. This isn’t surprising. What is surprising, though, is the fact that we’re still having this siloed conversation.
I remember sitting in a packed room at the Minden Community Centre sometime in 2018. I had just settled into Minden after being on the road for a few years, and I recall walking down to the public meeting that was essentially a Q and A with the McDonald Brothers – the single bidders on the arena project – where they promised a room full of people, “It will not be more than 9 million.”
Here we are, a few years later, having slid past the 9 million dollar mark a while ago, and opening up the windows to let the cool breeze of additional expenses ruffle our hair.
For loyal readers of the Times, some may recall a previous role I held. Between the years of 2018 and 2020, I was the economic development, destination and marketing officer for the Township of Minden Hills. While wearing this hat, I was also responsible for the supervision and day-to-day management of the Minden Hills Cultural Centre. The weight of these roles taught me a lot more than realizing I am truly not cut out for a career in politics. It gave me new opportunities and insights into our community with the inner workings that twisted and turned with each budget season.
To provide some context for the enormity of this price point for arena snacks, the budget for the township role I held in 2020 was $524,535, just over $100,000 more than the proposed concession stand cost. That was for an entire department that included all programming, upkeep, maintenance and staffing for the Cultural Centre, as well as services and support for local businesses to enhance the economic development of Minden. Even with that amount, I recall receiving feedback that it was too high.
But when it comes to the arena, I guess it’s okay. To a point.
Now don’t get me wrong. I value and utilize that arena in our community. I myself attended a hockey game just last weekend, and felt the energy and sense of belonging that it provided. I see the economic prosperity that it brings to the county as a whole. They are called the Haliburton County Huskies, after all.
What I am curious about though, is the weight of heightened taxes and maintenance that has fallen on the shoulders of Minden Hills. Even if the bottom line of the concession stand can be whittled down slightly, there will still be a cost, and it will still fall on us.
When I left my position with the township, it was to focus on my family during the early days of the pandemic. After I walked away, they never filled the position again. The responsibility of economic development was kicked to the county; a place I realized it probably should have been housed all along.
These towns aren’t built the way they used to be. Nowadays, we blur the lines of municipalities. Folks live, work, shop, and play in all different corners of the county. So, with rising costs across the board, maybe it’s time to spread out the services we all benefit from, and work together at a macro level to create a community where we aren’t holding our breath every time a new project is proposed. Maybe, through it all, we can just share the snacks.