By Cole Parkinson
After some public backlash to Vauxhall town council’s proposed rates for the upcoming curling season, an agreement has been reached.
A delegation from the Vauxhall Curling Club was in Vauxhall council chambers during their regular meeting held on Nov. 4 to discuss the contract between the two parties.
“This proposed increase does not give our curling club much of a future. With that in mind, our goal with being here tonight is to start a negotiation on a contract that all parties understand and benefit from. The town has proposed a new contract of $31,263.60 for rent for our upcoming season which becomes $32,752.32 with GST. The town has increased our rent over the last three years. In the 2016/17 season, we paid $18,900 because the plant went down. The next year we paid $1,000 more and after that, we paid $2,019 more. The proposed increase will have us paying $4,184.60 more,” explained Kim Egeland, Vauxhall Curling Club secretary. “Our curling club has been operating at a loss for the last two years. We project our curling club will run about a $5,000 deficit over the next two years. With numbers like these and not having any casino income until 2021, we may have two to four years left, being optimistic, before closing our doors. We simply can’t afford this increase.”
Last year’s membership for the club was around 80 curlers, according to the club, and membership costs for this year are at $250 per person or $1,000 per team while juniors are $50.
One talking point brought back from the last contract negotiations was around the M.D. grant for recreation facilities within the town.
“The first concern is with the grant Vauxhall gets from the M.D. for recreation. According to these numbers, in 2018, the Vauxhall Curling Club only received $5,000 for operating and expenses out of $135,900,” said Egeland. “The arena received $75,000, according to this. From 2014 to 2017, the curling club has received $17,000 of the M.D. grant out of $628,000 which is three per cent in five years.”
“These are all numbers that have been worked out between the Town of Vauxhall and the M.D. of Taber,” replied Mayor Margaret Plumtree. “Most of it was before the last change in councillors. Reason for different allocations is because of what the facility is used for. So the arena, pool and the hall are more open areas, they aren’t closed off groups.”
Another issue the curling club brought forward to council was the lack of funds coming from the town’s operating budget.
“Why does the curling club not receive any money from the town’s operating budget and more so, starts at a defect of $1,000. The arena gets about $68,000, the pool about $50,000, the diamonds $6,700, the hall $11,000, parks $34,000 but the curling starts at minus $1,000,” continued Egeland.
With the curling club being the lone group in the curling rink, council pointed out that facility would be less open to the public, which the curling club disagreed with.
The group replied they had opened the rink up on Friday nights for free curling to the public to draw some interest from those who may have not tried the sport before. To open it up further, Plumtree brought forward an idea that would lessen the amount of rent the club would have to pay.
“This is just a thought and this is long-term thinking, not this year. Your situation is different from all the other facilities we have, which makes it a bit trickier. Right now, you are the only group pretty well that has a facility and you rent it year-round, even though you don’t use it year-round which puts your costs up. You are paying for time when you are not in there. If it was possible to work something out, and especially if we can do a share, which I think is the only way the town could make it happen. Maybe you can do more rental based on time or months rather than a whole year. That could get your rent down so you are not paying when you aren’t in there.”
Council also stated they could look to rent out the upstairs lounge for private parties, meetings or other events.
“The first problem that comes to mind, and we talked about this with the contract last year, is what we are supposed to take care of. You take care of structural and we take care of everything else,” said Egeland of the idea brought forward.
“If you go to a share, that completely changes. Your contract would have to change,” replied Plumtree.
While council was completely open to shuffling money around, they also pointed out that would take serious work and would lead them to look over the entire budget, not just recreation.
“If we take grant money and shuffle it around, somebody is going to pay for it somewhere. Somebody’s fees are going to go up, somebody’s taxes are going to go up. We have had angry residents about taxes already and I know people aren’t happy. We don’t want to have to raise taxes but the money has to come from somewhere and we are trying to find a balance,” added Coun. Kim Cawley.
The change in provincial government is also presenting challenges to municipalities including Vauxhall.
With the 2019 budget slashing Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding, council highlighted the fact less money will be coming in the next few years as MSI will be cut by $94 million in 2020/21 and by $142 million in 20221/22.
“We have a new government and they have cut our money in more than one place,” stated Plumtree. “We have to be mindful that we are dealing with less money, too.”
One issue council brought forward was the curling club coming forward for negotiation at the last minute.
“The sooner we would have gotten this, the sooner we could have come to an agreement. Now it is a time crunch on both sides,” said Plumtree, who also highlighted last year’s contract. “The contract was supposed to go up last year but it didn’t. They came in for last-minute negotiations as well.”
Others on council also brought forward the same concern.
“I have a fundamental problem with them coming to us at the last minute to negotiate an agreement that should have been negotiated six months ago,” said Coun. Ray Coad.
“My biggest problem is always coming late. It puts us on the spot too so we are always in this position and make a decision on the spot. They are in it for time and so are we. We can’t change our budget on the fly either. It’s pretty tough,” added Deputy Mayor Jake Wiebe.
One possibility brought forward was giving the club an extension on last year’s contract.
Coun. Coad suggested continuing with last year’s agreement and adding a deadline of February 28 for new contract negations as one possible resolution.
“If we don’t have a new contract signed by the end of day, the contract terminates and the keys are turned back,” said Coad.
If council was in agreement with those terms, there would be a shortfall for the town of around $2,500.
“They have enough time to come up with something. We are being pretty fair going them an extension from last year’s (contract),” said Wiebe.
A motion was passed to continue with last year’s contract with an expiry date of Feb. 28, 2020, and to have a new contract in place at the end of the day.