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Town waives water utility bill for arts and crafts society

Posted on May 25, 2023 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch

Taber Times

With the Taber Arts and Crafts Society struggling to make ends meet, the Town of Taber has agreed to waive the organization’s water utility costs for one year.

At the March meeting of the Arts and Heritage Committee, a motion was passed supporting the Taber Arts and Crafts Society attending a future Town Council meeting as a delegation to present their requests. 

According to figures provided in a profit and loss statement, in the year ending Dec. 31, 2022 the Taber Arts and Crafts Society’s expenses exceeded their revenue by $5,287.57.

“Taber Arts has been in a negative $5,000 pretty much since I’ve been a member,” said society treasurer Nancy Kerr as part of a delegation at town council’s May 8 meeting. “We have 17 members and we’ve raised our prices to help with our losses.”

Kerr reported the society has received some funds from the estate of a former club member. In 2022, the society’s Town of Taber water bills were $1,103.25. Council also provided the organization with a $3,000 grant for operations in 2021.

“We were doing some calculations, and with our increase in our membership, and some of the money… that has been given us, we’ve invested that into a GIC, so that will give us some revenue,” said Kerr. “If the town could waive their water bill which is $92 per month, we would just be in the negative of $261.13. I think if we dig in our heels we should be able to cover that at least.”

“We’re trying to think of some new ideas to bring in some money.”

The society currently charges $150 for an annual basic membership, while those involved with pottery are asked to chip in an additional $50.

Coun. Carly Firth inquired if the society has investigated any other facilities in the community.

“We kind of went for a tour of the STAR (on 54th) to see if that was a possibility,” said Kerr. “It seemed like it was kind of on the small side for what we needed for room, especially for painting. The painters weren’t too thrilled about painting in a dark basement. But if it came down to that, it might be something we have to do.”

The Town has a long-term lease with the Taber Arts and Crafts Society (expires Dec. 31, 2030) for the building the organization has been utilizing for numerous years. Currently, their lease amount is $1, with the society being tasked to cover their utilities and water. The largest expense the group has is their various utility costs. Administration has previously reviewed their usage and rates (they are currently included in the municipal rate with AMSC for power and gas) and reviewed the building footprint to determine if there were any types of efficiencies that could be undertaken, with no overly effective remedies noted. Administration recently installed smart thermostats in the facility, so the society should see a reduction in their natural gas consumption over the next year. 

“I think water isn’t your problem, it’s using the kiln and the electricity,” said Coun. Joanne Sorensen. “And unfortunately the users of that kiln should probably compensate a bit more for using that. The more people use it, the higher your utility rates are going to be. So I can’t see this evening out until you make sure the membership pays the right cost of using the facility.”

Section 3 of the Municipal Government Act, Existing Lease S.3.3 Utilities states, “The Lessee covenants that they will pay all water, sewer, stormwater, garbage and recycling, and other utilities or rates levied either by the Town or through separate agreement, which may be charged to the Lessee for and during the term of or during the continuance of the term hereby created.”

“What’s hardest on us is keeping the power on demand,” said Kerr. “We’re not using the kiln that much, but because that power sits there waiting for us to use, it has to be ready at all times. One thing that I’ve done is start the kiln early in the morning so it’s not at peak hour, so I’ve cut down the power bill by a couple of hundred dollars by doing that. But yes, that’s something we might need to increase if we figure out how much our kiln, that we might have to charge the pottery members more for usage of the kiln.”

Coun. Garth Bekkering was ready to provide the organization with some minor financial assistance.

“So your request is twofold actually; water for the building, but also perhaps looking into solar panels for the building to alleviate some of the power costs. I can tell you the Town of Taber did investigate that a couple of years ago, it did not make enough economic sense, so we did not proceed with that. Personally, I have no problem waiving the water fees at all. Council just approved a $250,000 grant for another society, so I think waiving the water makes sense to me.”

Sorensen argued the society needs to get their own financial house in order.

“I’m actually opposed to it. I don’t think taxpayer money should go towards a group that’s just using it for recreation or for their own good. And just waiving this water fee isn’t going to help the matter. I think user fees have to go up, I think you really have to look at the income, because next year you’re going to be back and might be in the same boat. Unfortunately I’m sorry I can’t support it.”

Firth was more amenable, stating the organization has been taking steps to improve revenue.

“I think that the Taber Arts and Crafts Society does provide – it’s the only organization in town that provides a place for artists to come and do physical art, and I know that’s something that is needed in the town, kind of a gap, I think, for arts. I wasn’t initially in favour… but to me it seems you’ve been trying to increase your income, and it’s a relatively small amount – can’t help you with your power – but I would be in favour of waiving your water bills.”

Following discussion, council voted 5-2 to provide a grant from the Council Discretionary Fund to cover anticipated water consumption charges for the society for 2023 (for all water, sewer, stormwater, garbage and recycling). Coun.(s) Sorensen and Monica McLean opposed the motion.

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