"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Financial Statements Should be Public

At Tuesday;s Council-in-Committee meeting, I aske dfor the Culture Centre's   2011 Financial Statement to be published on the town's web site.

Provincial  regulations require municipal  annual audited financial statements to be published in a local newspaper.

Council were informed by e-mail a couple of weeks ago,  the  audited 2011 statement and reports had been received. Copies were attached. They would be scrutinized  and reported by the treasurer at an early opportunity.

I tried to reproduce them here but it was a task beyond my skills.

The web site is not the best means of communication. Not all citizens  have it available .

Anyway ,when I asked on Tuesday  for them to be posted ,it wasn't clear that would happen.

I pointed out  the operating funds come from  the town

The facility keeps being compared to the library.

The library budget which includes previous years spending and revenues is a public document. Library funds for operation are provided when needed.

The Culture Centre Board is incorporated  and separate from  the town.

Therein lies the problem.  The reason I do not  favour of a new contract with the Culture Centre Board. 

The purpose  of creating a arm's length body is to free that body from political interference.There's a tendency for politicians to give preferential treatment in the hopes of winning friends and influencing people.

That cannot be part of operating a facility  with a view to breaking even or  ending a year in the black.

The problem arises from  shoveling truck loads of money  at  the so-called arm's length body. charged with operating on a self-sufficient or even, dare we say it, on a profitable basis.

Itis a contradiction in terms.

It cannot be independent and self-sufficient while depending upon public funding which increases year by year, in  a rent-free building with  maintenance provided  at town expense.

The municipality cannot transfer  accountability for spending public dollars.

The library is different.  It is governed by a Library Board Act. It was originally established as part of the education system. It is long accepted  as a municipal service .

I do not agree the problem will be resolved with Council representation on the board.

 As board members, Councillors will act separately and independently from Council.

They will not report to Council. They will not be directed by Council.

The problem of absence of accountability will not be resolved.

Whatever it costs to operate the facility, Council must be accountable, Council must be responsible.

Ergo,,, as long as public financial support  is necessary to support the program at the school, public governance is required.   

The contract cannot be improved upon. It must be scrapped  and written off as a failed experiment.

Them's ma thoughts. As far as I know, I am solitary in this matter.

I believe my colleagues are hoping to come up with a solution that will please everybody.

I don't believe that's possible. I think it's time  to bite the bullet.

But  that's not going to happen  either so far as I can determine.

Not unless  people who are paying the bills have influence on  people who are making the decisions.


Paul Sesto said...

As you know Councilor Buck I support your efforts in making this information public as I had emailed you directly as a Councilor on this topic over the previous weeks.

It is not that I am for or against the Cultural Centre, just that it has to be handled as any other Town business.

As I had written you directly on April 23rd:

“I feel that an informed decision can only be made with all of the proper information at hand. So I hope the other councilors carefully read over the reports. I think too much has been hear-say and projections.
Yes, the ACC claims to have 20,000 visitors last year (which would I assume include paid & free and those visiting the indoor farmers market). But if you the take the $500,000 ($350K + $150K in utilities etc) that the Town puts into it on an annual basis then the Town “subsidizes” it at a rate of $25 per visit. Every time someone steps through the door it costs the Town $25. So does it cost the Town $25 per person every time someone goes to the indoor farmer’s market? This may be fine if other services in Town are done at the same rate but in my opinion it has to be fair all around. I know the Library budget is about $3M but they have I believe 40,000 registered users (library cards) and 300,000 visitors per year. So the library “cost” is $10 per visitor.” (end of email quote)

Without this information the general public, including myself, are free to make their own assumptions as to how the money is spent and what value the Centre represents to them. Is all the money spent on an annual basis? Is some of the money “banked” for the future”? This then changes the subsidy rate. If they can clearly show the value then great, perhaps they should have even more support. But without the numbers and a plan what are people to think.

Everyone can be a critic and the worst kind if they are operating in the dark without the facts or if they refuse to believe the facts.

Perhaps one of the Centre’s goals has to be “How do we turn our critics into believers?”, “How do we turn the tide so that the general public who funds us, sees the same value as our patrons who use us?” If they can not do that, then…

Anonymous said...

"...the general public who funds us, sees the same value as our patrons who use us?"

Mr Sesto, the "patrons" are members of "the general public" - there are not two distinct groups, but a contingent of the whole.

Paul Sesto said...

To Anonymous 11:31pm

Yes, I agree the "patrons" are members of "the general public". One is a subgroup of the other. It wasn't my intent to make that distinction. If I offended you with this statement I apologize.

In fact, I made the mistake in saying that it is the general public that does the funding when in fact it is the Aurora taxpayer funding the $500K. Now the patrons may also be are part of that group as well I am sure that there are patrons who are not Aurora taxpayers.
I wouldn't think the Centre would exist solely and exclusively for the Aurora taxpayers with only taxpayer patrons, instructors, musicians, artists, etc. The Centre brings the outside world into Aurora as well as for Aurora to have a place to showcase and develop local talent & creativity. You don’t do with in closed box.

My point remains though is how do you show the value and perhaps the difficult part is that it can't always be with straight numbers and $'s. But you somehow have to show the value in such a way so that others say "yea, that's a good thing!"

And yes, I can now consider myself a patron. The other week after visiting the library on a Saturday morning I stopped in and toured the exhibits and I was very impressed by the art work from our local high school students.