Let me start by saying that the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts is a wonderful facility. With the exception of City Hall and the library, I probably go there more often than I go to any other city facility. I've been to plays, dance recitals, concerts, comedy performances, at least one conference, and both Vinyl Cafe events, and had a great time.
And let me also say that I appreciate the invaluable support that the volunteers who help run the events there provide. Like most volunteers, they give their own time because they support having this facility in their community.
But these two facts - the quality of the facility and the efforts of the volunteers - do not allow me to ignore my responsibilities to the citizens of Prince Albert. The value of the facility and the volunteers does not give those who run the place the option of not providing the information that is required before getting a share of tax payers' dollars, nor does it mean that questions about those same operations shouldn't be allowed.
Council has, for too many years, approved budget increases for the EAR, through the Arts Board, without requiring that they submit the financial reports and budget that other facilities, such as the SPCA, the library, and the Tourism Board, routinely provide, without complaining, before the budget is provided to council and the public. And the increases have not been insignificant - in 2007, the grant provided by the city was $97,000. This year, 2012, the grant is $287,270. And council has approved these increases without receiving any financial reports on how the money is spent, without a budget showing how the money is planned to be spent, and without any written communication from the Arts Board as to why such increases are necessary.
I've been asking for financial reports for years, and my requests have been dismissed, with other members of council often citing what a wonderful facility the EAR is, or suggesting that, by asking for financial reports, I'm insulting the volunteers. Despite these red herrings, we've finally received, in June, the audited financial statements for the years 2008, 2009, and 2010. I'm not sure why the delay - the reports indicate that the 2008 report was prepared July 29, 2009, the 2009 report was prepared January 20, 2011, and the 2010 report was prepared October 18, 2011. The documents were ready, but for some reason, no one could find the time to walk them over to City Hall.
Now that we have the long-awaited financials, questions are bound to arise (even though some members of council equate asking questions to attacking the facility). One of mine has to do with the two transfers of money that occurred in 2009 and 2010. This money was in the Capital Reserve Fund, a fund that is made up of a fee that is charged on each ticket sold. This is a good thing - a user fee being set aside for future needs, rather than going to the tax payer when the inevitable problems happen. The Capital Reserve Fund is intended to be kept in reserve for future capital expenditures - when the building needs major repair or renovation. It is not intended to be used for operating expenses, and to prevent this from happening, city council is required to approve any expenditures from this fund.
However, in 2009, $123,468 was transferred from this fund to the Operating Fund. In 2010, a similar transfer was made, this time the amount was $140,725. Council approval was not requested in either case. Since this isn't allowed, the financial report has presented these transfers as a loan.
I would love to hear an explanation - how did this happen? when were you going to tell us? - from the members of council who sit on the EAR Governance Committee, but I didn't get one when I asked the question at last Monday's council meeting. I also made a motion asking that we see this year's budget on a quarterly basis, and have it reviewed by Financial Services, to ensure that such unpleasant surprises won't happen again. After all, we see the budgets for other facilities before we do up the city budget, and since we haven't seen the EAR budget yet, this seems logical. Not only that, but there is now the "loan" from the Capital Reserves to be repaid - I'd like to see the repayment plan. Much to my surprise, because I thought that keeping tighter tabs on an organization that hasn't been able to meet end of year deadlines, and whose budget keeps leaping upwards, was a no-brainer, only Councillors Miller and Whitehead agreed with me. The rest still find it easier to go along with the majority, perhaps for fear of upsetting some people. Me, I'm more concerned about the reactions of the people who elected me - they're the ones I feel responsible to.
You can view the financial reports for yourself, by going to the City of PA website, then go to City Council, then Meetings and Agendas. Click on the City Council Meeting Agenda for 2012-06-25, and scroll down to page 40. If, like me, you've long had questions about how much money it costs to run that place, you should find it quite interesting reading.
"In my life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing." - Deirdre Sullivan