Questions about the viability of the town-sponsored pond hockey tournament were raised by several councillors when they reviewed a report covering the past five years.
Councillor Dale Plante requested information about the tournament at a previous council meeting and had questions when Ron Lebsack, director of community services, presented a report at the July 22 council meeting.
“I enjoyed going down and watching, it’s not an issue whether there’s value in the event,” he said.
But he asked, “are we good stewards of town money, is it a viable event? Is it at the point it can be handed off to another group?”
Plante noted the tournament only lost $3,100 last year, but there was over $15,000 in wages for town employees not calculated into that number.
Lebsack’s report estimated conservatively that the three day tournament has a “direct economic impact on the local economy of over $32,000”.
“If you took away the town support would it survive?” asked Plante before answering the question himself. “The answer is no, 80 per cent of the work done is by town staff.” Figures presented didn’t include any of the town equipment used in preparing the ice.
“I think this one has to have some review,” he said. “I don’t think it’s carrying itself. I think we’re not getting a good bang for our buck. We’re putting more out than I think residents would support.”
Lebsack’s report indicated there were 36 teams entered the first year and that climbed to 54 the second year. In the following years that number has fallen to 48, 30 and 26 teams respectively.
The cost to the town the first year was estimated at $18,000 while the event made a profit of $6,400 in the second year and $1,000 in each of the third and fourth years before losing $3,100 in 2013. These figures didn’t include what the town put in through manpower or equipment usage.
A separate chart was provided to councillors the night of their meeting, detailing costs of staff time as well as hours volunteered by both Lebsack and John Eastwood, the town’s recreation and parks manager. The total was $14,253.
Despite the deficit, Lebsack noted local groups were utilized with Sylvan Lake Admirals and Lighthouse Christian School receiving approximately $2,500 for services they provided. The Admirals looked after the beer garden. High school phys. ed. students were also involved as part of a practicum.
The committee which organizes the event includes five town staff members and four members of the community — Darren Field and Michelle Becker with Hockey Central, Terry Somerville with Terry’s Lease Maintenance and Jason Golden who helps with sponsorships.
“Attending the function it seemed like a lot of town employees were involved. I’m wondering why there’s not more support,” said Councillor Laverne Asselstine. “It raised questions in my mind.”
Stating he supports festivals and events which bring a level of economic impact to the town, Councillor Sean McIntyre said the town also has to “provide a level of accountability. I was hoping for more detail in the report. I think it would be good to assess the true cost of this event and other events.”
He continued, “It’s clear in my mind these types of events do add, they’re not always going to add up on paper, but you can’t measure social impact, civic pride, on paper. Because we’re spending tax dollars in a visible way, we need to account for that.”
Asselstine stated he’d like to see someone other than the town take over the lead role. “I think it’s appropriate that we’re involved, but I think this is a bit excessive.”
“Winter events, whether they’re pond hockey or speed skating, are critical to the economy in Sylvan Lake,” said Mayor Susan Samson. “I don’t think anyone is saying they should disappear … For the comfort level of council, we need greater accountability. But when I look at the magnitude of that task, we don’t have the ability to analyze every event where the town is the lead.” She proposed a year lead time before asking staff for that level of detail.
Betty Osmond, the town’s chief administrative officer added, the analysis is not in work plans nor has it been identified by councillors during strategic planning so hasn’t been put on the priority list. “If it’s a priority of council we will arrange the work,” she said alluding to the fact other priorities would need to be shuffled.
Samson suggested councillors revisit the issue during through the strategic planning process in the fall and set a direction then. “It’s clear what we want today is not available without action steps.”
Plante said part of the tourism strategy is to attract events to Sylvan Lake and agreed it’s not unreasonable to set up a template for reviewing events. “I’d like to see these types of expenditures broken out, not rolled into a general category. I’m not here to crucify pond hockey, but how do we make it better?”
“I think accountability and transparency are one of our strategic priorities,” pressed McIntyre. “Accountability is already expected of is. The expectation is there, if not being communicated for council, it is being communicated by the public.”
“To have staff expend time required is not on my priority list,” said Samson. “Until we start knocking things off, I am not prepared to look at pond hockey in isolation.”
She said the town runs many other events and they should all be examined in the same way.
McIntyre made a motion that administration provide a financial report and review of each town event at the end of each quarter in which the event took place, effective the beginning of 2014.
Councillor Graham Parsons reminded councillors that when they looked at quarterly work plans in a previous meeting they were “concerned with things not getting done in what we think is a timely fashion. I think we have to put it off, bring in a plan at a later date and do it right. We just don’t have enough staff to do it now.”
The motion passed with McIntyre, Plante, Asselstine and Rick Grimson in favour and Samson and Parsons against.