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Rec. spending continues to skew Woolwich budget in 2016

Large increases in recreation costs in effect swallow up Woolwich’s proposed 2.1 per cent tax hike for 2016, part of a “disturbing” trend in the department’s spending, argues Coun. Mark Bauman.

Net costs – expenses after revenues – for 2016 are currently forecasted at $2,447,665, up nine per cent from the 2015 budget of $2,238,837.

“Essentially, recreation is eating up more than our budget increase of 2.1 per cent. So the trend is disturbing to me,” said Bauman as councillors met for a special budget session Jan. 21.

The Ward 2 councillor suggested a line-by-line analysis to find out where the increases are coming from in order to get a handle on spending.

“We can’t have another nine per cent increase next year in rec., or some other departments are going to suffer.”

Overall rec. department expenditures have been on a higher-than-inflation arc for years, with cost overruns and missed revenue targets. Budget documents councillors are looking at right now show overall expenditures are up 12.1 per cent since 2013 alone, to $4,971,317 in the 2016 budget from actual spending of $4,435,852.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan noted the cost increases reflect council’s failure to get a handle on staffing costs.

“We can’t forget that council approved more staffing positions, so that cost was already pre-approved. We made that decision already, so we shouldn’t be too surprised,” he said, arguing in favour of reining in unchecked spending.

On the staffing front, the department is looking to add hours at the Breslau Community Centre, where a full-time programming position was added last year. Currently, a part-time staff person works the desk during weekday evenings and part of the weekends – coverage is 4-9 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, though the facility is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. This year’s budget calls for an additional 25 hours a week of coverage at $18 per hour, with another 25 envisioned for 2017, director of recreation and facilities Karen Makela told councillors.

There are also plans to increase programming at the centre, with resultant cost increases and potentially higher revenues to offset them.

The department’s single-largest expenditure is the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira, home to 89 full- and part-time staff members.

The facility has a history of budget overruns after opening in 2009. The financial concerns continue in 2016, with Bauman pointing out the much larger operating deficit, to $977,361 budgeted for 2016 versus $795,179 in 2015, a $182,000 jump in one year.

Makela said a number of issues, including a forecasted 10 per cent increase in hydro costs, are to blame.

“It’s a massive draw on energy,” she explained.

When Merlihan raised the issue of a budget line showing the township planned to lose money at its concession stand at the WMC, Makela noted the figures in the budget were wrong.

The operation does, however, have some problems with staffing due to young workers not always being reliable – “we are working with teenagers” – so sometimes the WMC concession booth isn’t open because there’s no one to staff it, she added.

While the department’s budget was discussed, councillors have yet to make a decision on the proposed figures. The public budget meetings continue Thursday night in council chambers.

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