Powassan council approved the formation of a 10-member committee Tuesday to examine the overall costs of the municipality's three arenas.
Its objective will be to find ways to save money and increase revenue, as well as develop a business plan with marketing strategies.
The committee will be made up of nine voting members, including five members of the community, the three chairs of the Trout Creek Community Centre board, municipal recreation committee and Trout Creek Agricultural Society board, and an overall chairperson. A municipal employee will serve as a resource person with no voting rights.
Coun. Randy Hall, who suggested the formation of the special committee, wanted to make clear from the outset that “it's not intended to figure out what arena to close.”
Hall further said if the committee can identify where the arenas can save money, the savings will not be used to reduce the overall taxes people pay.
Rather, the money will be applied to other areas of the municipality.
The facilities that will fall under the microscope include the Powassan Sportsplex, Powassan Curling Club and Trout Creek Community Centre.
Hall said the annual costs to operate each building continue to rise at a greater rate, adding the municipality needs to examine this.
“I don't think the municipality can continue to keep carrying these types of expenses,” Hall said. Coun. Debbie Piekarski agreed with Hall, saying the arena costs need to be investigated.
“This may be a hard conversation to have, but I think it will be a healthy conversation,” Piekarski said, who later added “it's a conversation that's long overdue.”
The original proposal was for the committee to be as large as 17 members, among them two councillors and the mayor.
However, Piekarski and Coun. Markus Wand both felt that was too big and could make it hard for committee members to reach a consensus.
Wand also didn't want any members of council to sit on the committee. He said committee members should feel like they can speak freely about the arenas.
“Council should not be involved if we want this to be an eyeopener for council and the community,” Wand said.
He added if council wanted to have a presence on the committee, it should be limited to one elected official, without any voting abilities, who would only be there to keep the other members focused with the job at hand.
This became moot when council decided not to have any member of council on the committee.
Mayor Peter McIsaac voiced a couple of concerns with the committee's structure.
Although he believed the committee as first proposed, with up to to 17 members, was too big, he preferred some kind of council presence on the committee.
“Council should be involved,” McIsaac said. “People look to councils for their decisions.”
McIsaac also wanted to ensure council members fully understood the purpose of the committee and what it could come back with.
The mayor said while he supports saving money and finding efficiencies, council must be prepared for whatever the committee provides.
“That might ultimately be something people don't want to hear in the community,” McIsaac said. Staff has been directed to begin advertising for the five community member positions.
Hall said the advertisement would include a position for a sixth member of the public to serve as the overall chair. That person would be required to have expertise in finance, business and marketing.
He said he believes a person with a good background in finance would be a big help to the committee as it navigates through the numbers.
Additionally, Hall said once the municipality has a new treasurer, that employee could work alongside the committee chair.
Although the committee would only include one municipal employee, Hall said there are provisions to engage other municipal staff as required to help the group learn more about the arenas.
Once formed, the committee members will begin meeting over a six- to eight-month period to develop potential recommendations.
If possible, the recommendations could be used in next year's municipal budget.
Before all this happens, the committee will contact user groups to see how they can help with the arenas, as well as other municipalities to examine how they apply user fees.
One of the first things the committee will do after being formed is send out a survey to local taxpayers to gauge where the public stands on the issue.
There also will be at least two public forums where the people will have a chance to voice their opinions. Lastly, before any committee recommendations are voted on and finalized, council will hold its own public forum.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget