Coun. Robert Parker made the suggestion Monday during a finance meeting for county council in light of the centre’s ongoing deficit problems.
“I would suggest we look for a few good business people. A new board of directors that can make hard decisions,” he said. “It is no fault of the mayors and warden, and they have many hats to wear, but we need someone there getting the place running with a reduced deficit.”
The governing body of the Pictou County Wellness Centre is currently a board of directors made up of elected representatives from Pictou, Trenton, New Glasgow, Stellarton and the county. Parker said the this year’s $800,000 deficit – which has increased each year since it opened in 2012 – is a far cry from the predicted $200,000 deficit.
“The current board of directors could become a board of governors,” he said. “We need to get a good board of directors in there that will look at as a business and run it like a business.”
In addition to a new board, Parker also suggested the authority look at paid parking, eliminating one ice surface in the building to cut down on electricity costs and not putting ice in the centre during the summer months.
“These things always run a deficit, but how big of a deficit?” he asked. “We give the Hector and Thorburn money to help out but here there appears to be no top to it. It could be a million next year. If we were a business, they’d have locks on the door or a receiver would have said come up with a new business plan that works.”
Warden Ron Baillie, a member of the board authority, reminded Parker there is always a cost to health and wellness and the board is always looking for ideas to improve the deficit situation.
However, he was quick to add that there is other new infrastructure in the county costing taxpayers money and no one is pointing the finger at it.
For the county, he said, this year’s deficit overrun is equal to about $11 per taxpayer in comparison to the new jail in Priestville that required the county to hire two additional RCMP officers with few other perks for the area since “everything is coming out of Halifax.”
“If you hire a new board and nothing happens, then what?” he asked. “The deficit is out of control but things can be done.”
Baillie said closing one rink in the centre to boost ice in another will make the centre lose business. He said the difference in electrical costs between making ice on one surface compared to two is minimal.
The warden pointed out the people who use the Wellness Centre have nothing but praise for it, while those who never set foot inside it are quick to criticize. He said more councillors could start helping the cause by showing more support for the centre rather than just showing up for events that are free.
He said an electrical study is still in the works that could show management how to reduce its costs by 10 per cent or $80,000 a year. It also looked into natural gas as an alternative source of energy, but the cost of the changeover from electricity would be too much.
“There are some things to do and some things that are tough to do, but I don’t think the board is shying away,” Baillie said.
Cover photo by Sueann Musick: Sueann Musick/The News
Grady Cohen, Ryley Woolley and Avery Cohen, all novice advance hockey players, enter the Pictou County Wellness Centre for a practice Tuesday night. The Wellness Centre’s deficit was a topic of discussion by county council during a recent meeting.
What others are saying:
“Rinks don’t make money. Recreation facilities don’t make money, but some of the suggestions my brother made are worth looking at, like having some hard-nosed business people on the board.” – Coun. David Parker.
“It is an asset and we need to treat it like that,” – Deputy Warden Andy Thompson.
“I applaud Robert Parker for bringing this up this evening. It has been a question around Pictou County for some time now. I have to commend the warden on doing a great job, but they are working with a building that doesn’t have the clientele to cover the cost of it.” – Coun. Jim Turple.
“Unless a miracle happens, it’s not going to matter who operates the board. They need to look at the problems and learn from their mistakes.” – Coun. Leonard Fraser.