Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Community Centre "Ban" Has Residents up in Arms

By Alex Roslin
Brome County News

May 11, 2010

Brome Lake Mayor Gilles Decelles and his town council heard an earful of concerns at a heated council meeting last week about their plan to ban residents of West Bolton from classes at the community centre.

The controversy drew a capacity crowd with most speakers opposing the decision.

Those opposed included Brome Lake grandmother Cynthia Wilkinson, a former TBL councillor. “It’s ridiculous. I think he [Decelles] is very wrong,” she said later in an interview.

West Bolton dad Eric Frendo, whose three kids take hip hop and soccer at the community centre in Knowlton, also criticized the decision.

“The last thing I want to do is have TBL taxpayers subsidize me,” he said later.

“The mayor needs to tell us what each program costs and let West Bolton residents decide whether they want to pay the unsubsidized rate.

Banning us from participating is mean-spirited and irrational.”

But Decelles said he doesn’t have specific numbers for specific classes. Instead, he presented a series of charts that he claimed prove that West Bolton residents use TBL’s community facilities without paying their fair share.

He said TBL subsidizes West Bolton residents to the tune of $91,000 a year—the amount he says West Bolton must pay for its residents to keep using the community centre.

But not everyone agreed with this figure. The $91,000 equals nearly 20 percent of the $500,000 that TBL spends on the community centre in Knowlton.

Meanwhile, West Bolton residents are much less likely to enrol at the community centre than TBL residents, according to Decelles’ presentation. They make up less than five percent of those taking classes.

The $91,000 amounts to over $2,800 for each of the 32 West Bolton residents taking classes in Knowlton.

Like other non-TBL residents, they already pay a 40-percent higher fee to take the classes.

Wilkinson expressed concern that some classes would be cancelled at the community centre with fewer participants due to the ban. The community centre has said 16 classes would have been cancelled last year without non-TBL residents.

Teachers are paid out of the entry fees, and some may not be able to offer classes if they don’t get enough sign-ups.

In an interview, Decelles said the town will maintain any classes “that are strategic and important to our citizens.”

Yet, Decelles said he wasn’t aware that teachers are paid from entry fees and may not be willing to offer classes without enough participants.

I know none of these details. I’ve not been able to look at what extent we subsidize what classes. We haven’t had a chance to look at all these details,” he said.

Decelles said West Bolton was singled out because it is unwilling to negotiate. He claimed other towns like Brome are open to his plan. He said Brome Mayor Thomas Selby “seemed to think it is sensible.”

Yet, in an interview, Decelles acknowledged that no formal negotiations have started with any of the other three towns whose residents use the Knowlton community centre the most aside from West Bolton.

A town official in Brome confirmed that TBL has not formally approached Brome for more money. He also said Brome is not likely pay substantial amounts to TBL.

TBL will ask Brome to pay $16,000 a year, minus a small amount because it has a skating rink and park that TBL residents can use, Decelles said.

That would amount to over $1,300 for each of Brome’s 12 residents who take classes at the community centre. As with West Bolton, the amount seems disproportionate to how much Brome residents actually use the community centre.

Brome accounts for only 1.8 percent of the people who take classes there. Meanwhile, $16,000 equals 3.2 percent of the $500,000 TBL spends on the community centre.

In an interview, Decelles acknowledged that a third town, Shefford, will probably get hit with the ban as well because he doesn’t think it will agree to the amounts demanded. Ten Shefford residents took classes at the community centre last year.

Decelles also acknowledges that 90 percent of the town’s costs for the community centre are fixed regardless of how many people take classes there.

That leaves West Bolton dad Eric Frendo scratching his head. “That leaves $50,000 in variable costs. If West Bolton residents account for 5 percent of that variable cost, then $2,500 from West Bolton would ensure that TBL taxpayers are not shouldering any of that load,” he said.

In fact, West Bolton offered TBL more than that in January—$3,000 a year. TBL never made a counter-offer before proceeding with its ban, said Carrol Kralik, director-general of West Bolton.

Kralik says it’s not true that West Bolton won’t negotiate. “That’s not fair. It’s pretty hard for us to negotiate if they don’t come back to us,” she said.

West Bolton’s offer of $3,000 was based on what the town currently pays Waterloo to access community facilities ($2,550) and figures that were thrown around in past negotiations with TBL under former mayor Richard Wisdom.

The $3,000 equals about $5 per West Bolton resident—which is the same rate per resident that TBL itself pays to Cowansville and Waterloo to access their community facilities.

In the end, the TBL council adopted an amended resolution proposed by councillor Marta Gubert Gomes to delay the ban until Aug. 1 to give more time for negotiations.

Decelles had wanted the ban to start in May so West Bolton children couldn’t enrol in summer camp. Decelles and councillor Patrick Ouvrard voted against the resolution as amended.