Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The People of the Crowsnest Pass have spoken, Loud and Clear!

The vote on Bylaw 766 was 986 for No and 453 for yes a clear rejection of the bylaw by 69%.
There was only one small area where the vote was a yes, that was on the mobile poll where out of 35 votes 19 were in favour.
Other polls results:
Advance Yes 44 No 81 65% rejection
Coleman Yes 148 No 256 62% rejection
Blairmore/Frank Yes 182 No 294 62% rejection
Bellevue/Hillcrest Yes 60 No 339 85% rejection

Those numbers speak loud and clear on where the public stands, people will start making the excuses, somebody stated the Yes side didn't run a campaign. Yesterday I had at least a dozen people tell me that the Crowsnest Centre Board went through the phone book calling people all day Sunday.

But all those excuses really are irrelevant both sides had the opportunity to do what they wished. Bylaw 766 is now done lets put it behind us and move forward.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Crowsnest Centre, Questions, Answers in the Crowsnest Pass

Over the last week I have been asked a lot of questions about the Crowsnest Centre. I will answer everything I can.

Isn't the Crowsnest Centre a tax payer owned and subsidized facility? The answer to both those questions is yes.

Then if the both of those are true why does council have such a hard time getting answers? I have been on council for four years and can not get figure that out. I have taxpayers that call me and say "what does it cost to rent in the MDM" I can tell you right now. Ask me about the Centre I can't tell you.

The Centre's day to day finances must run through the municipality don't they? No they don't.

Don't we have other facilities ran by societies on behalf of the municipality? Yes the swimming pool and the ski hill.

How are their finances different than the Centres? Because all of their payables and receivables are handled by the municipality. So we has councilors can receive that information by requesting it. I can tell you with those two facilities where your tax dollars have gone.

Don't you have council representation on the board? Yes there are two council members on the board Mayor Irwin and Councilor Taje.

Can't the council reps put an expectation on the board to provide you information that you request? Good question, many questions have been asked by councilor members for the last four years, very little information as come forth.

Who else sits on the board? President Lisa Sygutek, Vice President Cathy Haslam, Secretary/Treasurer Gini Decoux-Filipuzzi, Board Members Ted Moser, Diane Peterson, Renso Castellarin, and the two members of council listed above.

Isn't it a conflict of interest to have two members of the board sitting on council and voting on Centre issues? No all members of council sit on various boards and vote on decisions affecting those boards. It's only a conflict if the person is receiving some kind of financial gain by voting on those issues.

Who are all of the tenants? councilors have asked this question for the last four years, we received a list of tenants on August 19, 2008 it shows the Education Consortium, Adult Education + Literacy, Food Bank, Air Cadets, Integrated Comm Services, Compassionate Friends, and Global Training.

What do these tenants pay and how long do they have left on their leases? Don't know either the Centre won't tell us.

The Elderhostel program doesn't that bring in a lot of dollars to run the Centre? I have some vague numbers on four Elderhostel programs that show they barely broke even.

The Westcastle Ski Hill Lodging program that must bring in a lot of dollars? I am told that last year they averaged 18 people staying a night at $12.50 per person that equals $225 per night. While they stayed we had staff working there 24 hours per day at $8.50 per hour that works out to $204 per day. That leaves $21 per day to run the lights, heat, wash the sheets etc. How long do you think you will hang on to staff for at $8.50 per hour?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vote goes ahead! In the Crowsnest Pass

Just hot of the wire, the court injunction to stop the vote on the Crowsnest Centre scheduled for Monday September 22th was denied. The vote will go ahead. To the taxpayer that asked me who pays for this legal action. At the end of the day as I said to Global TV its so ironic the taxpayers may well end up paying for both lawyers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"No" We have lots of money in the Crowsnest Pass!

Well going back to my previous comments about the state of financial affairs in the Crowsnest Pass. Reserves are near gone we have almost $3 million in debt. I suspect that we are going to run a significant deficit this year. We already have a $94,000 deficit from the Crowsnest Centre that we have to cover in this years budgetary process. We were told last night that our Municipal Employees wages are going to be a "minimum" of $250,000 over budget this year. We have done nothing this year of an extra ordinary manner so chances are those dollars will be spent next year again, unless of course we are prepared to do some things differently. The employee's also receive a 4.5% pay increase on Jan 1,2009 which will cost us an additional $160,000 next year. Thankfully we as a council had the sense to put an end to the new Public Works Shop for Coleman last night. (That would have cost us $160,000 per year for the next five years). Then I have a taxpayer that tells me yesterday he spoke to one of my fellow councilors who told him that we do not have any financial problems. Sure hope that was a case of miscommunication.
Maybe its time to realise that we can't maintain what we have been doing and look at some alternatives.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Crowsnest Centre, Concerns, Questions, Answers

The Building is in great shape.

Judge for your self in 2007 the municipality had Hirano Heaton conduct a study of the centre. There report is available at the Municipal Office and on the municipal web site at http://www.town.crowsnestpass.ab.ca/
It provides four options for moving forward on the building.

Option 1 Carry doing what we have been doing, with costly replacements required in the next 5 to 10 years.

Option 2 Complete renovation of the entire building. Cost to the taxpayer $3-4 million or $554,851 per year for the next 10 years @ 7%.

Option 3 Demolish the old hospital, replace the building and renovate the Nursing Home side. Cost to the Taxpayer $7-8 million or $1,109,702 per year for ten years.

Option 4 Replace both buildings. Cost to the taxpayer $10-14 million or $1,941,972 per year for ten years.

Where will all the present Tenants go?

We have numerous facilities that have space available, the MDM, the Elks Hall, Blairmore Seniors building, Blairmore Curling Rink. The taxpayer is required to pay for those facilities anyway why not fill them up.

Tenants having to move will leave the Pass.

As one tenant come forth yet and said that, they will leave the Pass if they are forced to move. Many tenants have stated that they do not have the money to relocate. In true hardship cases there may be a one-time requirement for the taxpayers to assist with relocation. That would not be an unreasonable request and expense to the taxpayers would be minimal.

The Centre will eventually pay for itself.

Past experience has shown that the Centre cannot pay for itself. There was the Nokomis Report of June 1989, which said it would be self-sufficient within three years. The Crowsnest Centre Learning Centre Corporation Marketing Strategy of 1991 that said it would be self-sufficient by 1993. The three-year business plan of 1997-1999 that showed a net income of $144,580 in 1999. The Marketing Plan of 2002, the Marketing Plan of 2003, the New Beginning plan for 1999-2004 that all showed a potential net income. Finally the latest Business Plan that shows the Centre not requiring any tax dollars by 2010.

Instead of showing any profits, the Centre received a loan for $131,000 from the Municipality in 1990. This was written off in 1996. In 1996 a Line of Credit of $150,000 was authorized. This had to be written off by the municipality in 1999, (the same year the Centre was expected to have net income of $144,580). In 2006 the municipality authorized a Line of Credit of $35,000. The Municipality was forced to pay this in 2008.

The municipality is in great shape financially

Not true in 2001 we had almost $3,000,000 in the bank and zero debt. At the end of 2007, we had debt of $2,700,000, if we maintain our 2008 budget commitments by the end of this year our reserves will be down to less than $360,000 at the end of the year. Taxes went up this year 12% on average with little relief in sight.

Why would the Municipality take over the Administration and operation of the Centre?
Check out the financial report for 2007 that we just received on August 19, below is a quote from the report.

“For a significant portion of the year, the accounting records of the Society were not adequate to support the recorded revenues and expenditures. In addition, our examination indicated deficiencies in internal controls over certain revenues and expenditures. Therefore, we were unable to satisfy ourselves that all revenues and expenditures of the Society had been recorded nor were we able to satisfy ourselves that the recorded transactions were proper. As a result, we were unable to determine whether adjustments were required in respect of recorded or unrecorded assets, revenue, net assets and cash flows”.

The words above are very clear, it’s important to read the rest of the letter that goes with the audit. (Page 3, 8)

The issue of accountability to your elected municipal council there have been numerous times when various members of council have requested information on Centre operations and finances. These requests have been ignored or council was told that we can not receive them for privacy reasons. Other municipal facilities provide this type of information on request.

At the time of authorizing the latest $35,000 Line of credit, concerns were raised about giving the centre the money. Conditions were placed in the bylaw that the Centre would provide council with monthly financial information. In fourteen month’s council never received that information.

The municipality set rental rates at the MDM facility of $4 per month per square foot for non-profit groups. Despite numerous requests we have never received the Centre’s rates. We recently calculated that the Chinook Education Consortium is paying 49 cents per square foot per month.

In past years Council requested information on the agreement between the Centre and the Westcastle Ski Hill, this we were never provided. New information recently received shows that we as the taxpayers are providing very cheap accommodation for the employees of a company that does not even pay taxes in the Pass. Rooms are rented to this group at $12.50 per person per night.

The Plebiscite

Was not an initiative of council. The majority of council was of the position that the old hospital was to be no longer used, the petitioners came forth and forced a plebiscite on the entire property.

Issues with the Plebiscite

If the Plebiscite is passed, council will be forced to maintain the Crowsnest Centre site for ten years. Passage of the plebiscite bylaw will require Council to commit funds to the detriment of all other municipal facilities. (Complex, Pool, Ski Hill etc) In essence your elected officials hands will be tied for the next ten years.

Why the changes to the Bylaw

What the petitioners brought forth has not been changed it constitutes the first part of the bylaw. The second part of the bylaw was added by the majority of council in an effort to:
(1) fix the problems with the above concerns, and make the Centre accountable to your elected officials and the tax paying public
(2) to show the public exactly what keeping the Centre open will cost them. This will allow the public to make a clear informed decision.
Why would anybody be afraid of providing the public with that information?

On Sept 22th vote “NO” to Bylaw #766

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Never ending quest for Financial Stability (Crowsnest Centre, Crowsnest Pass)

Talking to people that have been around for a long time that take an interest in local politics, some interesting comments have been made to me. When the initial concept of the Crowsnest Centre was first tossed around, one of the big selling features was that it would be self sufficient in a few years. Then it became a few more years, and a few more, then boom here we are 17 years later and its still not. Its time for all the politicians to stand up and say this is not and will not be the case, it's great to have dreams, and to put together business plans. But they are just numbers, they mean nothing unless they prove to be true. Discussing this with a local banker the first thing they do when they see a business plan, is determine if the assumptions used make sense, then they look at the history of the business to determine if the business as a credible track record. So why don't we do that with the Crowsnest Centre.
There was the Nokomis Report of June 1989, which said it would be self-sufficient within three years. The Crowsnest Centre Learning Centre Corporation Marketing Strategy of 1991 that said it would be self-sufficient by 1993. The three-year business plan of 1997-1999 that showed a net income of $144,580 in 1999. The Marketing Plan of 2002, the Marketing Plan of 2003, the New Beginning plan for 1999-2004. Finally the latest Business Plan that shows the Centre not requiring any tax dollars by 2010.
In addition to the above, the Centre received a loan for $131,000 from the Municipality in 1990 that was written off in 1996. The Line of Credit that was given to the Centre in 1996 of $150,000 that was paid off by the Municipality in 1999, (the same year the Centre was projected to have net income of $144,580). The $35,000 Line of Credit given to the Centre in 2006 that was paid off by the municipality in 2008.
Now as a councilor the above makes me very skeptical that any business plan would make sense, I argued prior to the last Line of Credit being granted that the taxpayers would be paying that off to. I was told, that was nonsense that the place was turning around and heading down the right track.
Can anybody show me why I shouldn't be skeptical every time this place provides a new set of numbers?
Once again its time for the Politicians to stand up and tell the Taxpayers that they are going to have to put money into this building every year, and chances are as it gets older the dollars are going to have to increase. It's the taxpayers choice lets not hide behind a petition that's worded so vaguely, its great to say that we are going to have a facility for the next ten years. But we have a duty to tell the taxpayers how we are going to run the facility, how we are going to make it accountable, and how we are going to pay for it.