Arena closure suggested at meeting
GORE BAY – With an anticipated huge loss in revenues that would normally be derived by operating its marina this summer, and having to make significant cuts to its discretionary cost items in this year’s budget just to get down to a three percent increase in taxes this year to local taxpayers; council was even asked if it should consider closing the arena for this winter to make up some of these costs at a special council meeting last week.
Council was told that with a potential decrease in revenues, $169,000 if the marina is not open this year (due to the provincial decree that marinas not open during the COVID-19 outbreak) and the substantial cuts made, “we have a bare bones budget,” said CAO Annette Clarke. Councillor Kevin Woestenenk said council needs to make up some of the costs being lost (in marina revenues, and suggested, “by having the arena closed it would save us $100,000.”
It was pointed out if COVID-19 remains that long, or if there is a second wave of the outbreak, the arena may not open this winter regardless.
“I understand your concern that we need to cut costs, but if we close our arena, then the school and businesses would close, and next thing you know we won’t have a town,” stated Mayor Dan Osborne. “We would end up with nothing left in town. Arenas are among the things that entice people to move to a community. You can’t say we need to do things like this.”
“I’m not saying we should do this, but we could look at it being a one-off (closed this winter and open the next winter),” said Councillor Woestenenk.
“If we looked at a one-off it would be forever,” said Mayor Osborne.
“If we are losing more than $100,000 in revenues with the marina not being opened, we need to lessen costs or find another $100,000 in revenues,” stated Councillor Woestenenk. “Nobody can run their household like that, how can we run a town like that?” He again noted he was not saying the arena should be closed this winter, but that council should at least consider it.
The town, “would be crucified if the arena was closed (this winter),” Ms. Clarke said.
“All of this should have been brought up at least a month ago, when we were discussing the budget,” said Mayor Osborne. “There was plenty of time to bring up these types of questions previously.”
With absolutely no cuts made to the budget, discretionary cost items left in, and not using (government) grants the town has received for projects, the town would be looking at a 42.86 percent tax increase.
“I didn’t put in any revenue from the marina in this year’s draft budget, as we don’t know what will happen there,” said Ms. Clarke.
“I was thinking that if we were able to stick to about a three or four percent increase that would be good this year,” said Mayor Osborne.
“We know we can’t keep a lot on our discretionary costs list.”
One item that was left in the budget was an amount the town will kick in to recruit a new physician with the impending retirement of Gore Bay Medical Centre doctors Robert Hamilton and Shelagh McRae. Ms. Clarke noted Billings Township council voted in favour of providing “$4,000 for two years for the physician recruitment.”
Mayor Osborne said the town has already indicated it would provide such incentives as free rent, and a bonus for a new physician relocating to Gore Bay. “When we discussed all of this with the other (Western Manitoulin municipalities and First Nations), we came up with a total figure of $30,000 to be shared based on population. Billings’ share would actually work out to be $7,000 but they have pledged more than that. Our (Gore Bay) number was around $9,000.”
“So, $4,000 would probably be lots for this year,” said Ms. Clarke. She pointed out $25,000 is included in the budget for work at the Gore Bay Medical Centre for window replacement.
Council crossed off close to all of the projected $295,954 in discretionary cost items from its budget for this year, including replacement of the town office furnace at a cost of $38,200, street work, much of the items on the table for the arena and community hall, garage renovations, town equipment purchases, culverts and many other items.
“The office furnace has been on the list to be repaired for the last three or four years,” said Ms. Clarke. The furnace has been inspected and has proven to be inefficient, and parts for it are almost obsolete, she told council.
However, “if it goes down … it’s up to council if it is a risk they want to take,” said Ms. Clarke. “If it broke down in the winter, the office would have to be shut down and everyone would have to work from home and we would have to take funds out of grant money to pay for it.”
“I hate to say it, but it looks like we will have to put it off for one more year,” said Mayor Osborne.
Portable toilets were deleted from the list at a cost of $6,925. “With all our parks currently being closed; but if they are opened in the next couple of months then you will need them,” said Ms. Clarke.
Arena ice resurfacer repairs of $8,200 were also cut from the budget, but will need to be considered next year, said Ms. Clarke.
With nearly all discretionary cost items taken out of the budget, but with unconditional grants used in different areas, this year’s tax increase will be three percent and 3.87 on the mil rate. Ms. Clarke pointed out this would work out to be $49 per $100,000 of assessment value, plus another $153 for education cost increases.
All of council voted in favour of the budget with a three percent increase.