After several years of providing tourism services for the municipality, Meaford's Chamber of Commerce will be given 90 days notice of the termination of their contract after a narrow vote of 4-3 in favour of a resolution put forward by Councillor Lynda Stephens at the December 9 meeting of council.
“Whereas the 2014 tax-supported operating budget includes $52,000 for the operation of a Visitor Information / Welcome Centre; Therefore be it resolved that Council of the Municipality of Meaford: 1. Give three months’ notice to the Meaford Chamber of Commerce for termination of the Visitor Information / Welcome Centre Agreement as per the cancellation clause; and 2. Request a staff report to find efficiencies in providing visitor services through our own facilities, such as Meaford Hall, museum, library, Memorial Park, harbour, arena, municipal office, etc.; and 3. Focus any savings realized on Meaford Economic Development Strategy refresh initiatives,” read the surprise resolution brought forward by Stephens.
Stephens told her fellow councillors that she had concerns about continuing to pay $52,000 per year to the Chamber when, according to the councillor, most visitors to the community seek information not from the Chamber office, but rather from municipal facilities such as Meaford Hall and the library.
While some members of council were surprised by the resolution (Stephens had not offered a notice of motion at a previous meeting as is commonly done by councillors in advance of bringing a motion to council), Councillor Deborah Young, who seconded the introduction of the resolution, agreed with Stephens and expressed a lack of trust in how the Chamber was spending funds provided by the municipality.
“I've never voted in favour of the Chamber having this contract in the first place. Some of the problems that I had in the past was that the money (paid to the Chamber by the municipality) was never quantified, never accounted for. I've looked into it, and we've given the Chamber over a million dollars since amalgamation, and I think that it hasn't been accounted for, and I think it's time that this whole situation stops,” Young told council.
Mayor Francis Richardson – who ultimately voted against the resolution to cancel the tourism contract with the Chamber – questioned Young's facts.
“You have said several things that are incorrect, and I would like to correct those,” responded Richardson. There has been a reconciliation prior to this council, not during this council, but a previous council. And that information has been given out but the bottom line is that the Chamber provided twice as much in value as it actually cost us to provide that service.”
The resolution divided council, and Councillor Barb Clumpus – a former president of Meaford's Chamber of Commerce – defended the Chamber and the tourism contract.
“To speak to the delivery of services that have been provided, to my understanding, the three months’ notice for termination of the contract should be based on specific concerns or non-conformance of duties, and to my understanding there has been no indication from (municipal) staff that this service deliverer is not meeting expectations,” offered Clumpus.
Councillor James McIntosh was among the four councillors who supported the cancellation of the contract saying that the Chamber needs to focus on business issues, as tourism issues were becoming “muddled” with increased regional tourism initiatives.
The Independent contacted Chamber President Shirley Keaveney for comment on Tuesday, and after meeting with the Chamber board to discuss the issue, she said that for now it will be business as usual for the Chamber.
“The day to day business of the Chamber will continue as usual for the next three months. Council has voted 4-3 to terminate a contract for Welcome Centre services that was to run until Dec. 31st 2014 with the Meaford Chamber of Commerce without cause. The Meaford Chamber has led the trend for providing local and regional tourist information in this area over the past 12 years. The Chamber board sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause the residents of Meaford and our visitors. This change of direction allows the Chamber to focus entirely on business related issues for our members and to strengthen our advocacy role in this Municipality. We are looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead and are approaching future opportunities with positivity and optimism,” wrote Keaveney.
Wednesday night Keaveney expanded on her initial comment saying that if a Chamber operated visitor information centre is “no longer to be, then are are pleased to know that the funds saved from out contract will be put towards and update of Meaford's economic development strategy. We are looking forward with great anticipation to the plan that will arise from this substantial investment.