Massive cuts for cultural centre in MH budget
By Chad Ingram
The Minden Hills Cultural Centre will get hit with a big funding cut in 2016 and likely one next year as well.
During a Jan. 28 meeting, Minden Hills council ordered community services director Mark Coleman to cut $50,000 from the cultural centre's $340,000 draft budget and Reeve Brent Devolin said he wants to see an additional $50,000 cut from the centre's budget in 2017.
“A year ago, the most striking number I saw on the budget was the cultural centre cost,” Devolin said, adding that he'd hoped the layoff of one of the centre's two curators early last year would've made a difference. “Part of my expectation was that we would see savings.”
The 2015 cultural centre budget was approximately $335,000.
The centre – which includes the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum and Nature's Place interpretive centre - now has one curator for the entire facility and also employs support staff.
Devolin noted the cost for the centre had grown from $147,000 in 2005 to $340,000 a decade later.
While Coleman said attendance for events at the cultural centre has been good, overall walk-in traffic, as well as volunteerism and associated fundraising, has flatlined in recent years.
“This has gone on long enough,” Devolin said. “I can't justify this to the ratepayers anymore.”
The cultural centre represents $340,000 of the $1.2-million community services draft budget, which also entails parks and recreation, including the operation of the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena.
Council is aiming to keep the property tax increase for Minden Hills residents under 10 per cent in 2016.
“We have challenging times in the municipality,” Devolin said.
Without reductions to the draft budget, as well as dipping into reserves, it would represent a 15 per cent increase over last year's tax levy.
The township will use about $440,000 of some $5 million in reserves to help mitigate the impact to taxpayers.
The second year of the five-year-phase-in of the provincially mandated new OPP billing formula will see police costs for Minden Hills rise by $391,000 in 2016. That's the equivalent of a 6.23 increase in the overall tax levy, which will be passed directly to residents.
While most department heads, including Coleman, delivered increases of zero or better, there will be an increase in the roads department of more than $600,000, mostly due to construction and equipment costs. The roads budget totals approximately $3.2 million.
There will also be an increase in the fire department of $64,000, for a digital radio upgrade and emergency plan update, bringing its total to just more than $500,000.
Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch praised the cultural centre for its uniqueness, but said the facility has a problem attracting visitors, which is causing a problem for the township.
“That is a very unique corner in probably all of Ontario,” Murdoch said. “Where the whole thing falls apart, we have hardly any people coming there. We need to somehow get the word out there, come and have a look at it. I would never want to see it shut down. Get it under control for costs? Yes.”
Devolin admitted that he'd thought about all the other places the township could use $340,000.
“I thought about that for half a second and put it away,” he said.
In a bid to increase revenues at the cultural centre, council voted Thursday to return to admission by donation at the centre. A system of admission fees for each particular attraction, or an overall rate for the entire centre, that has been in place the past few years has not proven effective in increasing revenues.
Council will have a second round of budget discussions in coming weeks.