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Monday, August 19, 2019

Woolwich council still looking to trim costs from growing rec. and facilities budget

Woolwich should probably be setting aside more money to maintain its buildings, suggests the recreation and facilities director Ann McArthur.

The facilities, particularly the Woolwich Memorial Centre, continue to be a big drain on township finances, both in terms of operating costs and repairs.

Each new facility added to the roster, from the likes of a splash pad that opened in Elmira last year to the new community centre in Heidelberg, brings with it operating costs, repairs and the prospect of eventually replacing it, she told councillors at a special budget meeting January 24.

The WMC continues to be the most pressing concern, as the township spent $100,000 last year in unbudgeted repairs to the facility, which has been a sore spot since it opened a decade ago. From day-one, the $23-million building been plagued with problems, including costly repairs, soaring utility bills and runaway staffing costs.

Operating the facility makes up almost half of the department’s $5.3-million budget. Overall, the facility is expected to cost $2.53 million to operate in 2019, generating $1.5 million in revenue, for a shortfall of just over $1 million.

This year, the township is facing large costs to replace the frigeration plant that serves both arenas in the building. The unit has been a problem from the beginning, said McArthur, noting the manufacturer of the equipment is no longer in business. Not only are parts unavailable, making matters worse is the fact that any changes to the current system, such a replacing the condenser unit, would require approval from the federal Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA).

While the township is looking at heat-and-energy cogeneration system in the building, along with a geothermal system for cooling and heating, the refrigeration issues are more pressing than the timing of that project, said McArthur. The system will eventually help reduce the soaring energy costs at the facility, however.

It’s not all grim news at the WMC, she stressed, pointing to the more than 400,000 visits to the facility last year. On an average day, there some 1,100 visitors, jumping to about 2,000 during ice season and double that on a day when the Sugar Kings are playing.

The department is also looking to increase concession sales and boost fitness club memberships this year.

Both the latter issues are a longstanding concern for Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who has monitored concession losses at both Elmira and the St. Jacobs arena, along with fluctuating revenues at the fitness centre, which had a money-losing history.

“I find it weird that you have a business opportunity that you lose money on,” he said as council reviewed the St. Jacobs arena budget.

Councillors also flagged cost-versus-revenue concerns at other facilities, including community centres in Breslau, Conestogo and Heidelberg.

In Breslau, the township is looking to reduce programming hours and costs due to lack of demand, following a similar move last year, said McArthur. Budgeted expenditures are $227,826, with revenues of $122,000.

At Conestogo, the gap between expenses ($17,312) and forecasted revenues ($16,000) is much smaller than in past years, but the township has to make some upgrades to the building to accommodate the lone tenant’s application for a daycare license, with rental fees rising accordingly.

Newly built and originally proposed to be run by the Heidelberg Recreation Association, the facility in the village is expected to cost almost $24,000 more to operate than it will take in through revenues such as ball diamond rentals (expenses of $44,387, revenues of $20,500).

The low rental income coupled with a facility being run by costly staff instead of community volunteers, as is the case in Bloomingdale and Maryhill, for instance, is something of a warning sign, suggested Merlihan.

“Those are indicators that people aren’t using it,” he said of the facility where costs are well above revenues.

“That seems not good to me – it just seems like a lot of effort for very little benefit.”

That sentiment was shared by Coun. Larry Shantz.

“It feels like it’s not money well spent.”

Following last week’s tweaks to the budget, the proposed tax increase for 2019 stands at 3.6 per cent, which includes a 1.5 per cent levy for infrastructure projects and 0.5 per cent for a township greening initiative. Woolwich plans one more special council session tonight (Thursday) before moving to finalize the budget. On tap this evening is the capital projects budget.

Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

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