TRURO – High, annual financial deficits at the Rath Eastlink (RECC) Community Centre are simply not acceptable, top management officials have been told.
“We all hear positive things (about the facility) but I’m concerned about the bottom line,” Colchester County Coun. Christine Blair said, during a recent budget presentation by RECC general manager Jim Lambert and finance officer Brad Lawrence.
“And the bottom line here is a $737,000 deficit this year and a $721,000 deficit next year. And that’s coming out of taxpayers’ dollars.”
The County of Colchester and the Town of Truro are equally responsible for making up any deficits the facility incurs.
And given those numbers, Blair also questioned a proposed salary hike for Lambert that, if approved, would see his pay rise from $79,618 per year to $90,000, an increase of $10,400 (or 12.5 per cent) after just more than one year of service.
The arena at the facility opened on March 2 last year but Lambert had been in place as general manager prior to that.
“With a deficit of $737,000, would you explain to me how that is justified?” Blair asked.
Council heard that the $90,000 had been proposed by Human Resources officials at the RECC and had not officially been presented to Lambert, who is in the midst of contract negotiations.
“I don’t know if that is going to be $10,000 or not. And I haven’t been presented with that contract yet,” Lambert said.
One of the reasons listed for the high deficit is a power bill for the year of more than $500,000 that is about $200,000 higher than had been anticipated.
Snow removal costs are also higher than expected for this year and a projected revenue of $50,000 for the walking track was not realized after the RECC’s operating board opted to drop user fees for that amenity.
“I don’t think we’re doing any worse I suppose than any other facility in Atlantic Canada,” Lambert said, in defending the operation costs.
Recent events held at the RECC, including a provincial swim meet and a women’s convention, resulted in every hotel room in the area being sold out, he said, in addition to other spinoff benefits to area restaurants and retailers.
“When they left, they came back and said we want to look at two more provincial tournaments next year because they were so pleased with the facility,” he said, of the swim meet officials.
“That’s a lot of money coming back into Colchester County.”
Mayor Bob Taylor and board chairman Nevin Jackson also defended the cost of the facility because of the health and wellness benefits it offers, the draw to future residents and the economic spinoffs the RECC creates.
But a number of other councillors shared Blair’s assessment that “belt tightening” efforts must remain top of mind.
“How are we going to improve on that number?” Coun. Wade Parker, asked, regarding next year’s projected deficit. “The bottom line is we have to be responsible for the taxpayers’ money.”
And Coun. Mike Cooper said he will vote against future budget proposals if the centre continues to run such high deficits.
“I just want to put it on notice that I’m not going to support $725,000 deficits … I will say no to the budget,” he said. “So at some point in time, it’s got to get better.”
Jackson, however, told council the reality of the situation is that such large community centres simply do not generate profits and that the community at large must weigh the benefits the facility offers against its operating costs.
“Will we ever be (revenue) neutral some day? Not in my lifetime and I am younger than most people here,” he said.
“When you ask around, what are we willing to pay to have a resource like that benefit our community?
“The only thing I can say to everybody around this table is think big. Don’t think small.”