High deficits not acceptable, Colchester council tells RECC officials

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TRURO – High, annual financial deficits at the Rath Eastlink (RECC) Community Centre are simply not acceptable, top management officials have been told.

Rath Eastlink Community Centre.

“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.”

 

hsullivan@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @tdnharry

 

Organizations: Colchester council, Human Resources

Geographic location: Colchester County, Truro, Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Nicole
    March 01, 2014 - 20:30

    I agree with Bob Roberts. New GM and New Board!!! They know nothing about running a facility like that or the departments in it!!!

  • JCR
    February 26, 2014 - 13:23

    Time to fire the manager and hire someone who knows what they are doing. Anyone who has a $750,000 deficit, first year or not, does not deserve a raise.

  • I.M. Confused
    February 21, 2014 - 16:26

    Operating a business is about being able to 'manage' the revenue vs. expenses. I would not reward Mr. Lambert, who let the facility get over $700,000 of debt within ONE YEAR, with a raise. Insane! The word 'raise' should not even be spoken until the deficit is lowered. Also, I believe his job performance should be under review before they let his contract renew. There are many smart people in this community who I'm sure could do his job more efficiently and they would not be needing $90,000 to do it! And as mentioned in another comment here, this facility does not lend itself to the community as much as some people might believe it does. The majority of families in Colchester are not able to afford the membership fees. So what kind of positive impact could it really have on those in critical need of a healthier lifestyle?...

  • Clair Peers
    February 20, 2014 - 18:00

    OK I have watched all of the previous media about this facility, I mean from the beginning and I had misgivings then. Yes a sports centre is good for every community. I felt at the time when plans were underway that it was too big.. too exorbitant. They said we can bring big events to Truro. And like the article Quote from Mr. Jackson.. says centres like this simply do not generate profits. My question is simple.. Why not?. Well you know why not, because the users are not paying the right price. If I operate a business and I know what my expenses are projected to be, then I have to know that I will have enough revenue to keep it viable and make some profit. In the case of this centre all we have to do is balance the books. There is no reason why the taxpayers should have to suck up the deficit of this facility. Many of the taxpaying public will never darken the doors of RECC. A fair portion of the taxpayers live too far away to even get any benefit from it. Some just don't participate. That is their choice. So for those who do use and attend on a frequent basis, there is a big benefit. This is absolutely and totally unfair to those who choose not to use this facility. There is one and one only very simple solution to this $$$ dilemma.. INCREASE ALL USER FEES TO A POINT WHERE THE BOOKS BALANCE. THE END THANKS for the opportunity to comment. Clair Peers.. Taxpayer Colchester County and Town of Truro

    • IdiotHater
      February 21, 2014 - 09:57

      So you want them to double what they charge now ? How would that help things at all.

  • bob roberts
    February 20, 2014 - 17:54

    The facility is not the issue. It is the operations board and general manager running the facility. For an HR company to suggest looking to raise the wage for the general manager, that is not acceptable. I am disappointed that these narrowed minded people expect the tax payers to pay the bills. The general manager needs to be accountable. The facility needs a person that understands not just the facility, but the area we live in. He is not a local communty minded business/marketing person that has the passion coupled with the business mind to make it work. He has not brought any special events or business to this facility, it has been local people. Mr. Lambert does not deserve a raise, nor does he deserve a renewal to his contract. Look within your own community, as you missing are many people who can do this job. BR

  • Shara
    February 20, 2014 - 12:28

    Lower the prices so the average family can afford to use the facilities. If you lower the cost it will actually take in more money. Have it so you can pay for just skating or just swimming and for 10ish a family. Then people will use it way more. I have never been. Way out of my budget.

  • L
    February 20, 2014 - 11:59

    Charging less for member fees and ice and pool rentals can improve the amount of money made. I know a lot of people who have wanted to do parties there but the cost is outrageous. It's not just the $220 for the one hr of ice/pool/rockwall & 1hr In a glass room with no privacy for party goers it's the ridiculous cost for the food you make us buy from your facility. 1.8 L of pop or juice is $6.90 for approx 6-8glasses. Or I could go buy a 2L for .88cents/$1.25 across the rd. when already forking out money for rental cake presents treat bags the last thing someone wants to have to pay is a couple hundred more for food. Also last year the ice was unusable for a bday party I had booked 4 1/2 months earlier and I was told we would be able to work out a deal for ice time later and never heard back! Having to park at the hospital in the freezing cold and walk with my children to the bearcat games isnt exactly awesome either. They want ideas how to save ask the community because obviously what they're doing isn't working!

  • chief wiggam
    February 20, 2014 - 10:55

    why won't you put my comments up? all i'm saying is this could have all been avoided if it was placed in the power centre. would have got a lot more building for less than what is being paid now.

  • Krista bates
    February 20, 2014 - 09:59

    Knowing that electricity was going to be the highest cost item in the burget year after year, why wasn't this place designed and equiped with solor panals? If my tax dollars are going to have to fund this thing, then membership fees should be free. Why should I have to pay twice?

  • Krista bates
    February 20, 2014 - 09:57

    Knowing that electricity was going to be the highest cost item in the burget year after year, why wasn't this place designed and equiped with solor panals? If my tax dollars are going to have to fund this thing, then membership fees should be free. Why should I have to pay twice?

  • carolyn
    February 20, 2014 - 09:56

    maybe time to consider using the facility for other things like concerts. They hosted one not sure how it faired but there is always ways to make extra money.

  • CAPTAIN FITNESS
    February 20, 2014 - 09:49

    Did anyone ever think that this white elephant was being built for any other reason than to be a fancy facility for families who were in a good financial position to use it?This facility serves no purpose for at risk or "needy" or overweight kids etc who need a venue to provide athletic opportunities.Can you just imagine the deficit they would be facing if the place held a mortgage?Does anyone realize the minimum monthly amount on 55 million dollars?Anyone with the least amount of common sense in charge would not be surprised at these costs,whoever projected that original power bill figure surely never ran a compressor on 3 phase power before...although i have noticed as of late they are keeping the lights off over the pool when not in use....bless us all.

    • flogger
      February 24, 2014 - 23:33

      TOLD YA SO.

  • Melanie
    February 20, 2014 - 09:18

    Pleas make the recc centre more affordable for families and offer affordable programs. I can't tell you how many people I have heard say that they would LOVE to buy a membership but the price is too high. Having worked at the South Park YMCA, I feel that affordable programs need to be accessible if you are going to call this building a community centre. Otherwise, it is a "gym" and there is a significant difference here.

  • Julie
    February 20, 2014 - 08:40

    I hope that our county Councillors stay on top of this. I agree 100% with Mike Cooper. Since the opening of this facility we have other area rinks in jeopardy now more than they were before. So will it come down to loosing other rinks in the county just to try and save this building that probably never should of been built without a vote of all Colchester county residents?

  • Tracy in Truro
    February 20, 2014 - 07:47

    We knew there would a deficit going into this monstrosity! Why does this come as a surprise? Facilities like this don't make a profit! And when the prices are only for the "rich and famous" how do you expect to make money?! There are not that many rich and famous people in Truro!! I'm sorry but the RECC is not user friendly!

  • John Hingley
    February 20, 2014 - 07:39

    “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. Love that line. No sense setting the bar too high.

  • Dana
    February 20, 2014 - 05:52

    You must be kidding , a increase in pay for Mr. Lambert who will not even return phone calls to the members off the RECC when they have concerns. The money he makes now shows he over paid for what he does . It`s the members that will end up paying more to fund his pay hike. Try putting the 12.5 per cent or $10000.00 dollors some place else , like better air cond in the weight room . Who is your H.R. Dept anyway , to propose this type of pay hike , they should look at the power bills before trying to give my money.

  • chief wiggam
    February 19, 2014 - 20:40

    one thing i can say for sure is that this would not have been a problem had they put it up at the power centre.plus parking on a postage stamp wouldn't be a complaint either.

  • Bean Counter
    February 19, 2014 - 18:26

    With a deficit of $737,000, one of the reasons listed for the high deficit is a power bill for the year $200,000 higher than had been anticipated. 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. Snow removal costs are also higher than expected for this year......wow $487,000 extra wasn't spent in extra snow removal, thats unbelievable.....where or what was the remaining $487,000 deficit from?