We couldn't help but be amused, and a little saddened watching our Meaford councillors discuss waiving fees for the upcoming 'Docs on Ice- Collingwood' event.
In a report presented to council by Director of Operations Stephen Vokes, the recommendation from staff was that the municipality support the event that will bring 800 doctors to Collingwood, Thornbury, and Meaford for a hockey tournament.
The support suggested by staff is that the fees for ice time, hydro costs, and staffing in the amount of $6,650 be waived. It was explained that the arena is actually scheduled to be closed for the season the week prior to the tournament, so the costs quoted include not only $2,350 in ice time fees, but an additional $3,500 in electricity costs, and $800 in staff wages that would be incurred by the municipality for having the arena open with ice on the floor for an additional week.
The literature from the event organizers that was put before council reads in part- “Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Foundation is pleased to be the recipient of funds raised through the 28th Annual DOCS on Ice Charity Hockey Tournament April 8th, 9th & 10th, 2010. Together with our very active Medical Staff, we are thrilled to invite you to participate in this amazing event through corporate sponsorship.”
The brochure goes on to suggest that with 800 physicians coming to the area for a weekend tournament that, “This will create not only an opportunity for philanthropy, but also physician recruitment for the communities served by our Hospital.” Our hospital meaning the Collingwood hospital.
Obviously an event such as this is a fabulous way for a municipality to host and interact with a very large number of doctors, and we all know that it is difficult to entice physicians to smaller towns, so any opportunity to market your area to these highly sought after care givers should be explored.
But for a town that has accumulated deficits of more than $3 million dollars over the last couple of years, and is asking their residents to pony up 5% in additional property taxes for each of the next five years in order to dig out of the hole that has been dug, $6,500 is a lot of money to waive without really any debate amongst councillors.
It was less than a year ago that the Meaford Farmers' Market Association had to rally the troops to phone and email all members of council because staff had recommended that council not waive fees for use of the harbour pavilion for 16 Friday afternoons throughout the summer in order that our local farmers could bring fresh, wholesome, healthy food to sell to residents.
The fees for those 16 weeks would have amounted to $1,600. Some members of council suggested that the MMFMA should pay the $100 per week fee because the farmers make a profit selling their meats and vegetables.
That is true. Agriculture is the biggest industry in Meaford, and our farmers do make a profit selling their crops. That is how they pay their mortgage and feed their families, just like everyone else.
But what some members of council forgot, or didn't understand is that the deal with the MMFMA has always been that they receive free use of the pavilion on those Friday afternoons unless the pavilion is booked for another purpose. If the pavilion is reserved for another event, the Farmers' Market is not held under the pavilion, as was the case for the Rotary Fish Fry, the Antique Show & Sale, and the Scarecrow Invasion.
So, the MMFMA was only really asking to have the fees for the pavilion waived for times when the pavilion was not booked for anything else, and would otherwise have sat empty and unused.
There was no real and actual cost to the municipality, yet the MMFMA had to fight to ensure that council would continue to support it's local farmers.
When 800 doctors are coming to Collingwood though to raise money for the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Foundation, staff and council jumped all over the idea of forgiving not just the fees that would normally be charged for renting the ice for a tournament, but an additional $4,300 in hard costs for electricity and staff wages.
It was agreed by staff and council that the money to provide this support would come out of the $30,000 subsidy account that is set aside to reduce fees for minor hockey and other organizations that use the arena throughout the season.
But $6,650 amounts to more than 22% of that subsidy account, so even with the minor fee increases that are going to be implemented for 2010, that subsidy account will either need to be increased, or some organizations that have previously benefited from reduced ice time fees will have to pay more.
The issue here isn't whether council should support one organization or another. The issue isn't even about the costs associated with supporting events like The Scarecrow Invasion, or the Farmers' Market, or Docs on Ice Collingwood.
The issue is that the municipality doesn't appear to have any policy established for dealing with requests for support. And if there is no policy, then decisions to support one event or organization over another are subjective, and will always be open to debate and criticism.
There is a municipal grant structure in place that has some loose guidelines. More than $20,000 was allocated to the municipal grant fund in the 2009 budget, but it wasn't until very recently that the municipality required applicants to submit a summary budget indicating how the funds would be used. Even still, there is no pre-determined policy to inform applicants and the public of what qualifies for funding, and what does not.
Just as businesses do, the municipality needs to develop a policy that outlines how organizations request funding, what the criteria is for receiving financial sponsorship, and what amount of money the municipality is willing to allocate in total each year for supporting such endeavours.
And if a request comes along, and there is no money in left in the pot, then unfortunately sometimes the municipality would have to say no.