As Mayor, I don’t ordinarily respond to comments made in the newspaper via a letter to the editor, but I thought this was the more appropriate forum to respond to Chamber of Commerce’s Past President, Dave Collins’s comments made in last week’s issue.
I’d like to begin by saying that Council, myself included, had nothing but praise for Joey at the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) for the outstanding work she is doing. She is charming, creative and energetic, and a bright light in the VIC. The improvement she has brought about to the VIC is wonderful.
The situation was, once a year the Chamber of Commerce, who has a contract with the District to manage the VIC, present their financial statements to Council. A considerable amount of taxpayer money, approximately $350,000, is being paid to the Chamber during the term of their contract. That breaks down to approximately $65,000 each year, plus a few separate contracts-for-service to hold special events, such as a past Christmas Light Up or Canada Day Concerts in the Park. They receive additional money for those.
According to their contract with the District, the Chamber is to provide an Annual Report within three months of the end of each fiscal year (being from March 1st to February 28th), which includes financial statements, balance sheet, and more, in such form as prepared by a professional accountant. It is at that meeting that Council is provided the opportunity to view those financials and ask questions. That is the time and place. In the interest of transparency and accountability, it should be a public meeting. It’s your money.
While they did attend the Committee of the Whole meeting with their financial statements, I had a couple of concerns. Firstly, the Chamber unilaterally changed the terms of the contract by changing their fiscal year to December 31st and then were, admittedly, late getting in their report and statements to us. Secondly, the financial documents were to be prepared by a professional accountant.
I’ll admit that I do have some concerns about the spending as well, and in the past I have asked for breakdowns and more detail.
I have said that I am not afraid to ask the tough questions, but the questions I asked were quite basic and straightforward. The salaries, wages and benefits for 2016 were $52,662, up from $42,212 the previous year. That’s quite a jump, so I asked how many paid employees did the VIC have, and was told one paid employee. I also asked why the administration fee of $7200 was jumping to $9000. That’s a 25% increase in one year.
It was suggested that I could go to the Chamber office at any time to look over their financial material, but that’s not my job, or the District’s. The onus falls to the grant recipient, and it is at these annual reporting times that Council is provided the opportunity to ask for more information.
I would urge the public to watch what actually transpired at that COTW on May 9th, on the Peachland website. That is Peachland.ca, and follow the links to the webcast of the COTW meeting of May 9th, and on a list you’ll find the archived video of that presentation by the VIC/Chamber.
The District of Peachland has been very supportive the Chamber. We enter into service contracts with them to produce special events, such as those I already mentioned, and others. I was even happy to recently be a guest speaker at the recent AGM.
But all that doesn’t give them a free pass when it comes to explaining how the taxpayer money we give them is dispensed.
Building relationships between the many organizations in your community is paramount. But it goes both ways. The Chamber is the only organization of all those who receive grants from the District that put up such opposition when asked specifics about their VIC-related financials.
As for the two Councillors, Thom and Condon, who walked out of the meeting…we were already short two Councillors that day, so by walking out they killed the quorum of four that is required for a meeting. Their actions effectively shut down the meeting. This meant that the rest of the meeting and discussion on other important District business ended. Using this tactic does not best serve the members of this community.
I hope that better explains the events that occurred on May 9th.
Mayor Cindy Fortin