Town puts out report stating operating costs of Libro Centre

 

Libro CentreBy Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg has issued a report trying to clear the air for what it believes are misconceptions over the operating costs of the Libro Centre.

A report from CAO Mike Phipps was on Monday night’s council agenda as a way, he said, to put the information out to the public including those running for council in the Oct. 27 election.

“When the Libro Centre was first being considered by the town, the consultant projected that the facility would not only break even, but actually projected a ‘profit.’ The choice of this term ‘profit’ was unfortunate and clearly does not reflect the nature of any municipal business. Municipal governments are not in business to make ‘profits’, but to provide services required by town residents at a fair and reasonable cost,” Phipps stated in his report. “The suggestion that any arena would ‘break even’ is simply not practical, as most any municipality in Ontario will attest. As some have stated repeatedly, the best thing council decided at the time was to not include a swimming pool because any shortfall would have been unbearable.”

Phipps added they are looking at a goal of operating the Libro Centre at a net cost of $300,000 to $400,000 annually.

“Right now, there’s been a lot of different numbers that are being stated by a lot of different people in the community,” said Libro Centre manager of operations Mike Henry. “I’ve heard $1 million to $1.2 million in operating costs for the Libro Centre. It really couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Henry said operating costs were roughly $862,000 in 2011 with those costs being reduced to $589,000 in 2012 due to a surplus from the solar panels installed on the roof and a $70,000 sponsorship. Costs were $758,000 in 2013 with Henry adding that 2014 operating costs are being projected at $503,000 for 2014.

“When I got here, there were a lot of changes necessary,” said Henry. “We’ve corrected a lot of mechanical concerns.”
Henry added staff has been “realigned” in an effort to make things more efficient.

When he first arrived, Henry said there were 26 staff members at the Libro Centre split between full-time, part-time and guest services. That number is now at 16 with three full-time, nine part-time and four guest services staff. Some staff were laid off, he said, with others accepting different  positions within the town.

Henry estimated that 95 per cent of arenas in Ontario operate at a cost of $350,000 to $400,000 with many of those being single pad arenas.

“Arenas and sports fields are services. Services come with a cost,” he said. “Operating an arena venue is a service.”

Eighty-eight per cent of the prime time ice hours have been sold, he added, with staff hoping to find a permanent tenant for the outdoor football field.

Henry said he could not speak to any financing or construction costs left to be paid but was pleased with the direction operating costs were headed. He vowed that “we’re not done” and gave a lot of credit to the staff at the Libro Centre.

“The staff need to be credited. That’s what it comes down to,” he said.

Phipps added the operating costs for the old Amherstburg Arena was over $438,000 in 2007, $358,000 in 2008, $344,000 in 2009 and $385,000 in its final year of 2010. He compared Libro Centre operations to police and fire, stating all three are services, with police having a $5.1 million budget while the fire department has a net cost of $1.2 million projected for 2014.

Councillor Bob Pillon noted the original cost budgeted for 2014 was $810,000 and was pleased the final cost is projected to be under that.

“I’m proud to see our staff actually brought costs down,” said Pillon.

Councillor John Sutton told Henry he was doing “yeoman’s work” at the Libro Centre and believed that bringing costs there close to the former arena “is absolutely marvelous.” Sutton added it is a recreation complex for people of all ages.

Councillor Diane Pouget did not agree with the comparison of the Libro Centre to that of the police and fire departments. She said police and fire are necessary and didn’t believe the same held true for the Libro Centre.

“The Libro Centre is based on recreation. It’s not a necessity,” she said.

Pouget wondered if any savings are as a result of the moving of the planning and building departments to the building, but Henry said that was not a factor.

“Arenas do not make money,” said Mayor Wayne Hurst. “It’s a level of service you are giving to the community and the residents there in.”

Hurst said recreation helps the health and well-being of a community, that users are “very pleased” with the facility and that kids in sports make better students.

Councillor Carolyn Davies said recreational facilities help create healthier and safer communities.

“It’s not a frill,” she said. “It’s part and parcel of the whole picture of what a healthy community looks like.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland was impressed with the numbers, particularly when he learned the Lions Pool was part of the budget. He commended Henry and the Libro Centre staff.

“It’s absolutely great,” said Sutherland.

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