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Utility bill a hefty one for arts council

Posted on October 28, 2015 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

While the Arts Council of Taber for the Performing Arts (ACTPA) is in the process of dissolving as a registered organization, lingering financial questions regarding $78,000 in outstanding utilities continues to remain a bone of contention.

At their Oct. 13 meeting, town council voted unanimously to accept information provided by the ACTPA, authorized administration to cancel the lease between the Town of Taber and ACTPA for the old library and police building, and to make alternative arrangements for The Taber Players and other groups to use the space, and asked administration to further investigate the implications of accepting a donation of money for a grand piano under conditions requested by ACTPA.

ACTPA president Ray Sheen recently provided the town with a summary of motions made by ACTPA at its Sept. 16 meeting. According to administration, ACTPA wants to dissolve as a registered society, which under legislation requires it to dispose of its assets in a regulated fashion, including a proposed donation of $29,000 to the town, provided the money is used to purchase a new piano.

For several years, ACTPA has been unable to afford utility payments as leaseholder of the building complex, and now owes approximately $29,000 for town utilities (including penalties) and roughly $49,000 for electricity and natural gas (the town pays those bills each month to avoid third-party penalties or termination of service).

“The obvious question is whether or not ACTPA should be paying down those utility amounts rather than providing a piano for a future facility,” said administration in the financial implications section of the Request for Decision. “The complicating factor is the money ACTPA holds was in part donated for capital improvements to the buildings ACTPA leases, with that money to be put towards the now-abandoned Centre Court for the Performing Arts proposal. It probably would not have been donated simply for utility payments. Going forward, the town will be paying for the utilities for the building anyway, and it would likely be a benefit to the recently proposed theatre complex (as per the Performing Arts Centre Committee) to have a piano.”

Coun. Joe Strojwas requested clarification of why these funds hadn’t been applied to outstanding utilities.

“So they have $29,000 worth of cash in their bank account, but they’re not paying their utilities.”

CAO Greg Birch explained the funds in question had been donated to the organization in anticipation of being a contribution towards the now-defunct Centre Court for the Arts project, not to be used to settle utility bills.

“I think that’s because of the position ACTPA found itself in, having collected the money from very good-natured people who were donating it towards a facility, and not expecting they were donating it to help pay utilities. There’s a little dilemma there.”

While acknowledging this relationship with regard to the proposed $29,000 donation, Mayor Henk DeVlieger reiterated that the taxpayers of the community have still been required to foot the bill for the organization’s utility arrears.

“These are things we inherited. You can look at it two ways. If that money was donated by people that were very excited about this project (Centre Court for the Performing Arts), and they’d like to see it go towards a piano, instead of paying utility bills that are owed. That’s basically the question — are we willing to accept this money for a piano, or do we say no, there’s still utilities owed, that money should go towards that? The money that’s in arrears is also the Town of Taber people’s tax money.”

Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux pushed for more investigation of the due process involving accepting such a donation considering the extenuating circumstances.

“I think we do need clarification exactly on the $29,000, if it’s earmarked for certain things. But they still owe us thousands of dollars, and that has to be a priority. Maybe they need to refund that money to the individuals.”

Accepting a donation with a caveat earmarking it toward a specific purchase is bordering on dictating to the Town of Taber how it chooses to spend its money, according to Coun. Randy Sparks.

“I find it interesting that someone can make the motion at a meeting telling the Town of Taber how they’re going to spend their bucks. I find that interesting. They say they’ll give us a third of what is owed to the Town of Taber, but you have to spend it on what we want you to spend it on. That would be just like Taber Minor Hockey saying we’re not paying our rent anymore, and after five or six years, they say we’ll pay you back what we owe you, but you need to build us a new arena. It’s no different, and unfortunately for this group, the facilities that the Town of Taber donated to them, that they signed a lease saying it would pay the utilities, hasn’t worked out.”

Sparks went on to suggest a number of alternatives, including returning the donated funds back to the parties who originally donated it.

“Regardless, they have $29,000 here, and I think it’s up to the Town of Taber to decide where that money’s going to go. Maybe they do need a piano in the future. Why can’t they just buy it and donate it? I don’t know. Maybe the individuals that donated this should get this money back. I don’t know. But I just find it interesting that someone who owes the town tens of thousands of dollars, and has for a long time, can say ‘Here you go, here’s $29,000, but we’re going to tell you how to spend that money’. It’s very unfortunate that this didn’t work out. I feel for these individuals, but there was leases signed.”

Additionally, dissolving the organization will mean that ACTPA will no longer be the leaseholder for the old police station and library complex.

The Taber Players and others are currently using that complex for rehearsals and storage space, as the facility does not meet the Alberta Building Code requirements for general public use, which will mean that a new arrangement will be necessary to accommodate those arts groups, if rehearsal and storage use is to continue without ACTPA being an intermediary.

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