General News · 29th May 2010
PART 1 PROCESS
Cortes Islanders are faced with complex and challenging issues surrounding ways to fund our Community Center. For the record, I am writing to the community to offer clarity to the discussion, and not as an advocate. My position is undecided.
At the SCCA AGM on Monday May 31, SCCA Members will be asked to approve a Motion requesting a referendum, and if it is passed, a second Motion to determine the structure of a proposed tax will be debated, ie a parcel tax, property tax, or combination of both..
We are now at the stage of “Public Consultation”, where everyone is invited to attend meetings, listen to the proposals, and vote accordingly.
Please note that IF the vote by SCCA Members is in favor, it does not mean that a Bylaw is passed.
On the issue of how other Halls and community Centers are funded, here is how it works:
-“Program and Service-based Rural Halls, are funded through taxation (generally property taxes) if they are located within a Regional District. Quadra Island's hall/center is an example, it has been supported by property taxes for over 20 years.
-Community Centers located within a city ( eg. Campbell River) or Municipal Districts-for example the Capital Regional District (Victoria), are funded through Property and Municipal Taxation.
PART 2 THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OUR HALL, AND A MALL.
Over the years, Mansons Hall has accommodated a wide variety of services and businesses, that has included the Medical Center, Credit Union, and even an organic food store. Our Hall, and the community has benefited from the rental income, as it has been essential to support the costs of operating the Hall. There is no other rental space available on the island that would be suitable for the Credit Union, Library, or College, until, for example, the Credit Union built their own building. The community is about to be faced with the issue of possibly losing the Library, which needs a new home.
Recent allegations in the press that our Hall has become a mall are misinformed.
First of all, our Hall is a Community Center. It is “owned” by the Members of a not-for-profit Society, and membership is open to everyone within the community.
A mall, on the other hand, is owned by an individual or a corporation, with the express intent of earning profit. A mall rents space primarily to businesses, for profit.
Our Hall offers a wide range of programs for all ages, especially children and young people, as well as services for the benefit and education of the community, hosts numerous events on an annual basis, and houses one for-profit business.
The Constitution of the Society that manages our Hall states that its purpose (amongst several others) is to “foster a spirit of cooperation in the community, to promote activities of a recreational nature, to assist all charitable work, and to operate a playschool”
Our Hall is also used by the Seniors, about 30 hours per month, and they have permanent storage for materials to support their ongoing programs. The CISS makes a generous annual rental contribution for using the space.
Lets take a look at proposals to “raise the rents” to reduce the SCCA operating deficit:
-The Playschool is operated, under licence, by the SCCA, and a “rental fee” charged to parents has been initiated for the first time this April.. This represents an additional financial burden on young families.
-The College (NIC), and the Library (VIRL), both educational and/ or service organizations funded through tax dollars, are leased space, based on a per-square-foot cost, plus a pro-rata share of common area maintenance (CAM) costs. NIC and VIRL pay an amount that has been negotiated to the Society's best interest, at rates comparable to what is paid elsewhere by VIRL and NIC for comparable space.
-The Thrift Store is operated by the SCCA and the proceeds generally cover the property taxes every year.
-The Post Office is a service, leased to the operator. Canada Post designates an amount for rent. Canada Post has refused to negotiate any increases with the SCCA, and there is a letter on file confirming their position..Keep in mind that the amount isn't large, the PO occupies less space than a small bedroom.
-The Radio Society is a non-profit, operates our community radio station, and directs half of its fundraising activities to raising enough money to pay the rent., which includes CAM charges and a share of property taxes. The space the Radio Society occupies is shared, as it also “belongs” (by historical precedent) to the Theatre Group for use as a Green Room during productions.
-The Main Hall has recently raised rates to users, and the Friday Market rates have been raised.
-Teen Szene is a drop-in centre for island teens, and operates under the auspices of the CCHA (Medical Centre), is supported by a CCHA Grant for rent, by parents, and as part of the SCCA's Constitutional purposes, providing a service that benefits the Community.
-Reel Youth, another program and service for island youth, is supported through a Grant from Tides Foundation.
-FOCI rents a small exterior footprint for their own building, pays their own utilities, and is not provided with any amenities by the SCCA. They pay rent accordingly. FOCI is a non-profit Society.
-The only for-profit, privately owned business in Mansons Hall is the Cortes Café. The lease negotiated with the operator/owner includes a share of CAM costs and taxes, as well as basic rent, plus utilities. The Pioneer Room is also a shared space, used extensively by the community for meetings and functions when the coffee shop is closed.
-Leases that have come up for renewal this year have already had their rents increased by 10%.
It is easy to say “raise the rent”, a simple solution that looks good in print, however,
it is important to keep the following facts in mind:
1) Renters in the Hall are covered by a Lease, a formal legal document that is only renegotiated when expired. The R&L Committee negotiates the best possible leases for the benefit of all parties.
2) The services, business and educational facilities within the Hall are bound by the policy of being open
3) mon/wed/fri, although nowadays the PO and the Café are open Tuesday mornings as well. For example, the Café is open approx. 24 hours per week. Comparable businesses in the neighborhood are open whenever they choose, in the case of the Takeout, 7 days a week, and the Sunset is open 6 days in the summer. How can the Community Association expect lessees to pay equal rent, for such limited hours?
4) There is a limit on what the local market can afford to pay.
PART 3 FINANCIAL OPERATING DEFICIT
There are actually 2 separate and distinct financial issues being faced at our Hall, the first is an operating deficit, the second is the capital improvement budget.
Much has been written lately, criticizing the SCCA Board for a perceived lack of what is known as “Fiduciary Responsibility” It is easy to choose isolated numbers, taken out of context, then misinterpreted to support a particular viewpoint
-One recent example of numbers taken out of context is $2000.00 in the budget for “Fundraising Activities”, which has been misinterpreted by an anon. editorial writer to mean “the spirit of volunteerism has been removed from Mansons Hall”. (?) The $2000.00 is budgeted to cover expenses of fundraising, and the operating costs for the Friday Market. There is, of course, a return on the money, in the form of revenue. This is recorded separately, as income.
-The community has been fortunate that the Society has been able to access a variety of grants, including Gaming, GIA's, Foundation Grants, as well as personal contributions, rental income etc. to support both the Hall, and programs. Especially of note is the Summer Youth Program, which has been cancelled this year and will be missed by the children of Cortes. It is indeed a fact that there has been over $300,000.00 raised in the past 4 years, but it is a relatively meaningless number until the comparative expenses are studied. Members attending the AGM will be able to see for themselves the costs of insurance, fuel, hydro, taxes, and all of the expenses, showing where the money was spent on a yearly basis.
-Another example of misinformed editorial opinion by anon. writer (s) is that the “Hall Manager, program manager, accountant, bookeeeper , and cleaning were historically done on a volunteer basis”, is not accurate:
1) The cleaning and maint. Contracts have always been a paid position, at least since the early 80's, when Emilia and Gunnar took care of the Hall.
2) There is no separate hall manager, and program managers, they are the same position. “Hall Manager” is a paid position created in the late 90's. The position has always been paid for by the Gaming Grant, to the benefit of everyone who uses the Hall.
3)The preparation of the Society's year end statements has historically been paid for, although there was, on occasion, resident Accountant who contributed as a volunteer. This year there will be no year end review, as there is no money to pay for it, and the Society's Accountant is not in a position to do charitable work.
-The SCCA does not receive a Grant to fund the skatepark. The skatepark is leased by the Regional District as part of the Parks system, and the SCCA has a Maint. Contract with the RD to manage the Park, providing a part-time job on island.
-The issue of SCCA Accounting Practice, and the requirement for Audits, has been raised by an anon. editorial writer in the press. The last time a partial audit was conducted, 4 years ago, the cost was $5,260, paid for by the Regional District from the Parks Fund.The cost of a full audit by an Accountant is upwards of $8000.00 per year. Historically, the Board has passed a Motion to waive the audit, for obvious financial reasons. The Gaming Commission, and the Registrar of Societies, does NOT require an audit, only that a Society keep its financial records in accordance with Standard Accounting Practices, and submit year-end Financial Statements. Most years, it has been the Board's practice to have its year-end statements compiled and reviewed by our (paid) Accountant.
-Why the Gaming Grant was rejected this year: Funds for new playground equipment, and new Hall doors, have been kept aside until work could be completed on these two improvements. There are several factors, including decision-making delays due to the annual turnover of the Playschool parents committee, finding suitable playground equipment, and having the doors constructed and installed, that eventually resulted in the monies not being spent within the Gaming Grant Fiscal Year. The Gaming Grant application is complex, and based on a fiscal year ending in December, whereas the SCCA fiscal year ends in March. The combination of delays, and confusion over the year-end disparity, resulted in the unfortunate loss of the Grant to the Society. This was because the money hadn't been spent in time. Please note that the money can only be spent for the purpose it was applied for in the Grant.
There have been many helpful and positive ideas for ways to balance the books through fundraising activities, and some have commented that this “traditional way of raising money” has declined.
It is easy to say that “they”, presumably the Board, should fundraise more, but there is only so much time that volunteers can be expected to give. In addition to Board meetings, and administering the Society, the SCCA Board already organizes Cortes Day, as well as the January Community Dinner, maintains our Cemetery, and gives many hours to help in ways both big and small. Dedicating time to fundraising reduces the time and energy available to support programs and activities in our Hall.
The Board has struggled for many years to keep up to the ever-growing costs of managing the Hall, while at the same time increasing the level of services and programs to meet the needs of the community. Often, it has been a matter of “crisis management”, like finding 10,000.00 to buy new furnaces, or upgrade the water system, or a new well, or to pay for escalating insurance and maint. costs. There has not been much room to cut costs, as many expenses are fixed. Programs have been cut. Rents have been raised.
Every year a report goes to the community, stressing the shortage of funds, and the increasing needs, as well as the deteriorating condition of the building. The community has been asked, many times, for help, and people have responded generously, as best they can afford
Finally, on the subject of Foundation support, we are fortunate to have benefited from this source of funding. As a community we need to find ways to fund our Halls, without relying on the kindness and generosity of summer residents and non-Canadians to support our day-to-day activities at the Hall. We must stand on our own feet, so that when we have a major contribution, it can be applied to Capital improvements, or a new Library. In addition, many Foundations do not make contributions towards operating expenses, the Grants are specifically targeted, for “bricks and mortar” projects, for childrens programs, or for educational purposes only.
PART 4 CAPITAL BUDGET
In 2008 a “Building Condition Report” was delivered at the AGM,, outlining approximately $100,000.00 in upgrades and repairs needed for our Hall. The report was prepared by Sten Christensen, at no cost to the Society. The meeting was well attended, with over 60 members present.
How we are going to raise $100,000.00 to save the Hall from deteriorating further, and improve the building for future generations?
One writer recently asked “what legacy of taxation will we leave to our children.?” A larger question is “What legacy of public spaces and community buildings will we leave to our children?”, and, “What programs and activities will we be able to offer to our children as they grow up on our island?”
It is apparent that if we work hard, cut expenses where possible, raise Hall user fees, raise rents, fundraise extensively, reduce programs, and source funds through Grants, there is the potential to balance the operating budget.. However, as a community, do we want to reduce what the hall offers in terms of services and programs? How much can volunteers do without burning out?
Where do we then go to find the necessary funds to repair and upgrade the Hall? Do we care if the Hall falls apart? How do we budget for the future without a steady and reliable source of funding? Where will the money for a new Library come from? As a community, we must face these critical issues and find a solution that is fair and equitable to everyone.
The economic bottom line concerning both the Operating Budgetary Deficit,, and the Capital Budget for Mansons Hall, is that an old saying rings true:
“You cant get something for nothing”
PART 5 VOLUNTEERS AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT
The collective efforts of community volunteers continues to provide many benefits to our island. The long list of local Societies sponsoring worthwhile causes demonstrates the positive intention we share to make this a great place to call “home”.
Thanks to volunteers, we have a Medical Centre, Museum, 2 Halls, a Radio Station, Seniors Centre, and 2 Firehalls, to name a few.
Allegations that the accepted practice of a Society's hiring of paid staff somehow diminishes the need for volunteers, or discourages others from volunteering because “why volunteer when someone else is getting paid to do a job” are misinformed.
For example, Seniors have paid staff, the Medical Assn has paid staff, (from the Dr., to receptionists, nurses etc)., the Harbor Authority has wharfingers, the Fire Dept. has a Chief, the Hall has a manager, and most charitable groups, Foundations, Societies and NGO's (non-government organizations) have paid staff ranging from accountants to Executive Directors. Volunteer Boards dedicate untold hours to decision-making, as well as managing the affairs of non-profits,and charities. Volunteers cant do it all.
Every community organization is dependant on volunteers, and it is important that we support everyone's efforts, in whatever way we can. This includes gratitude, financial support through donations, individual time and effort to pitch in and help with projects, and, importantly, through moral support for one other.
Positive good intention within the community encourages the ongoing effort, and provides incentive for individuals to step forward and dedicate themselves to making the world, and our island home, a better place to live.
In closing this letter to the community, I would like to remind everyone that the SCCA is holding it's Annual General Meeting next Monday, May 31st, at Manson's Hall. In addition to the business usually conducted at an AGM, the proposal for taxation-based funding for Mansons Hall, will be discussed and a vote will take place. Please show your support for the Community Association, by attending the meeting and buying an annual membership; your presence will be appreciated by the many volunteers who contribute their time, and energy, to help make Mansons Hall a vibrant centre of community life on Cortes Island.
Your support in holding the space with respect for the diversity of opinions that will be presented is important to help keep the energy positive. I invite you to attend, no matter what your position or opinion on the proposed taxation by-law, to have the opportunity to listen, to share your opinion if you are moved to do so, and to participate in democratic process by voting on the issues affecting the long-term financial structure of community programs, public services, and the future of our Hall.
Julian Ayers (meeting facilitator)