I've spent a fair amount of time over the past few years asking for financial information about the various facilities that the city taxpayer supports. To use an old expression - it's been like pulling teeth. However, some of those teeth appear to be getting loose. At last week's council meeting, we were given some information about two of the larger facilities - the Art Hauser Centre and the EA Rawlinson Centre. It's a start, and I'm sure it was an eye-opener for many city residents.
But it's not enough. We need to have complete financial information for all city facilities. By complete, I mean that we need to see operating budgets for each facility, including projected deficits. We need to see the total costs for each facility, so that the true user cost can be determined. We need to see an audited financial statement at the end of each operating year, before the budget for the next year is approved.
Right now, even with the limited information that we've been given, any comparisons are of the apples to oranges variety, since not all facilities are treated the same. For example, some pay for water and sanitation (the library, the Girl Guide hall are two examples), while some don't (the golf course, the Rawlinson Centre, another two examples).
We should also be told about the revenue generated by each facility, for those that do. Again, there are some inequities here - the Rawlinson has something called "community event days", where the cost charged for the event is much less than the actual cost of using the facility. I don't believe that other facilities have this option, but until we see the actual information for all facilities, I can't be sure. It would also be useful to see where the revenues, if any, are directed, and what restrictions there may be on their use. I'm a firm believer in facilities setting aside a portion of their revenues for infrastructure maintenance; I'm not a believer in facilities dipping into such reserves to top up operating shortfalls, then expecting the taxpayer to pay for maintenance that was supposed to be covered by reserves.
What I'd like to see is a template showing all operating costs (including those currently paid for by the city) and revenues for each city-owned facility. Such a template should also include some measure of usage, for figuring out a cost per use for comparitive purposes. Once we're able to see the complete information for all facilities, side by side, we could then develop some policies on funding that would be more transparent and equitable than the current situation.
I've said before that Prince Albert has great facilities, and I realize that having such facilities provides intangible benefits to a community. But there are also very real and tangible costs associated with these facilities, and we owe it to the taxpayer to ensure that their share of these costs is reasonable, fair, and open to regular, public scrutiny.
"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth." - Henry David Thoreau