Wedged into this week’s budget discussion at Woolwich council were comments defending the township’s recreation operations, particularly staffing decisions at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. Both chief administrative officer David Brenneman and director of recreation and facilities Larry Devitt took pains to counter some of the arguments made by those speaking at last week’s meeting.
Essentially, both argued the public is making assumptions based on incomplete information. Specifically to the WMC, they suggested patience is necessary – let the place go through a full year of operations before passing judgment on the facility and its staff.
But there are frustrations, which boiled over last week in response to the latest in a long line of significant arena rental fee increases.
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While representatives of the user groups weren’t on hand Tuesday night to hear his presentation, Devitt responded to a long list of points raised the previous week. Much of the explanation had to do with the need for increased revenues and the rationale for massive cost increases related to staff numbers. Essentially, he argued, with a larger facility and more programs, the township has to spend more to do more and to generate more revenue in the future.
Long-time users, however, feel that the increased revenue is being generated at their expense, perhaps simply to cover increased staff costs. As Coun. Ruby Weber pointed out, they’re not sure they’re getting good value for their money, with those who rent ice bearing much of the burden.
In that light, it’s now up to the township to prove the new way of doing things – including higher rates and two-tiered pricing – is justified, especially in comparison to the way things were done previously at the old arena and pool.
That the WMC’s largest customers are also longstanding ones adds an extra layer of complexity: they know the process and were comfortable with the operation. The changes at the new facility, some of them inevitable, have led to some grumbling. It’s a situation the township would be wise to nip in the bud.
Brenneman recognized that fact in acknowledging that users’ perceptions of the operation become the de facto reality.
“For instance, there’s a perception that there’s a lot of staff standing around doing nothing. That’s just a perception, not necessarily based on fact,” he said, adding the township will have to work harder to educate the public about the reality of operating the new facility.
Having been occupied with getting a whole slate of new buildings constructed, staff is now turning its attention to making sure they’re running smoothly, he said, asking the public to put in perspective the large amount of work tackled by a relatively small staff.
Again, fair enough. We’re halfway through the WMC’s first year. The real assessment will come in the fall. Just in time for the municipal election.