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Study to break down costs at WMC

Facing criticism over rates at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, councillors want hard figures to support the fees and charges levied there. To that end, they’re prepared to drop $20,000 on a consultant to determine just how much it costs to offer services at the new facility.

The idea is to link increased fees to the cost of running the complex. The township began hikes to ice rental rates, for instance, even before construction began on the new building, preparing user groups for higher costs at the WMC. The move was controversial from the start, and reached a head over the winter when the latest increases were unveiled.

The township proposed to raise the cost of primetime ice in two of its arenas – St. Jacobs and the Jim McLeod pad at the WMC – to $181.41 an hour from $175.24, a jump of 3.5 per cent. More contentious was a plan to boost the cost of ice at the Dan Snyder Arena to $199.11 per hour, up 13.6 per cent.

At the time, staff pointed to higher-than-expected costs at the WMC, which opened last September, as the rationale for the price hike. But director of recreation and facilities Larry Devitt was unable to provide a breakdown of operating costs of each ice pad, the pool or other individual areas of the facility. At Tuesday night’s council meeting, he suggested a third-party study would be needed to provide that level of detail. Councillors agreed, despite not being clear on what they would do with the information.

“If you’re going to base your rates on cost, you’re going to need some solid numbers,” argued Coun. Ruby Weber in supporting the $20,000 expenditure.

But councillors did not indicate if they will pursue a cost-recovery model, rather than basing fees on a combination of costs, comparable market rates and the desire to promote recreation programs in the township.

Concurrently, the township is looking at the issue of subsidies, particularly to minor sports groups.

“We should be in a better position of knowing costs, and allowing council to make decisions about … what portion of the service should be covered by user fees and what should be covered by the general levy and subsidies,” Devitt said of the study in a later interview.

“The goal is to find out how we determine rates relative to costs.”

While “always reluctant to engage consultants,” Coun. Mark Bauman said at the June 22 meeting that the study would in essence lend authority to whatever rates council ultimately sets for its facilities.

And those fees are likely to rise, come what may. Utility bills have been costlier than estimated, staff costs are up dramatically and revenues have not kept pace with the much higher expenses. A debate over direct subsidies and the extent to which recreation will be funded from general coffers is already brewing, indicating that whatever the study shows, the ultimate decision will be a political one.

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