Ever since the recreation board has adopted a new policy of having various community groups make their presentation for waiver requests for rentals of town-owned properties instead of merely rubber stamping it, the board has heard roughly about 20 presentations.
While the board has had problems with granting only one of those requests in passing a motion onto town council, the process did spark philosophical discussion last week on the procedure and the long-term effects it has on a town trying to balance the books.
“All this money comes back to the town. Our list is getting longer and longer (with waiver requests) and the money coming back to the rec board is getting less and less with each one of these requests that are OK’d and sent back to council,” said Randy Sparks, town councillor and recreation board member, at the recreation board’s meeting on Sept. 5. “These are wonderful things and I’m glad they recognize the fact that the town is in charge of a facility that is large enough and nice enough to hold all these events.”
With the upcoming budget cycle discussions now just starting to heat up, Luke Wijna who chaired the September recreation board meeting admitted he was torn. You have to weigh helping out numerous community-minded organizations who are helping make Taber a better place by maximizing funds they are putting back into the community with the hard facts that running facilities costs money.
“But, the money has to come from somewhere,” said Wijna.
Recreation board member Danielle Hansen pointed out there are sometimes overlaps to the organizations the town eventually grants waivers to the services the town provides.
“You have an organization that’s giving $3,000 to Safe Haven to run free camps and we are putting on camps. They are kind of working against each other, yet we are supposed to waive a $1,000 fee. As long as it’s not going against what we are already trying to provide to the community,” said Hansen.
Recreation board member Garrett Simmons pointed out the board’s mantra has been to try and keep fees down so kids can participate in recreation and often the organizations the board is suggesting to council to grant waivers for, are donating money to sport organizations to do just that.
Don Johnson, councillor for the M.D. of Taber and M.D. representative on the board, admitted it is a concept his council struggles with also.
“Philosophically it becomes a tough decision. You are going to have an increasing number of worthwhile folks asking for waivers. How far do you want to go with it? It’s definitely a benefit to the community in supporting various causes, it’s hard to argue against that,” said Johnson. “I think it enhances the community, but you get into the philosophical debate. I tell ratepayers, we can give you anything you want, but how much do you want to pay at the end of the day? Recreation is a significant enhancement to our ratepayers both in the town and the M.D.”
Sparks compared the examples of waiver requests for fees from town-owned facilities to organizations asking for straight up cash donations where both can affect the bottom line of town budgeting and how hard it is to differentiate if one organization is more worthy than another.
“The time is coming in the very-near future that council and the recreation board will have to take a serious look at how these facility rental fee waivers are handled. The list is getting longer and the revenue shortfalls are getting greater. Revenue shortfalls always come back to taxation. Many, if not all these groups put on wonderful events that impact our community and others in southern Alberta,” said Sparks. “Some do so, so they can at least break even on their event, while others raise tens of thousands of dollars and are seeking the same waiver of 100 per cent. Some in the community and service groups do not think this is totally fair. I do not blame groups and organizations for wanting to have their event rental fee waived as the program is there so why not apply? But at the same time we as a rec board and council may have to look at every individual application and seriously consider if the waiver should be a partial waiver or 100 per cent.”