Teachers' work-to-rule job action and lackluster activity on the special events front mean an anticipated $60,380 shortfall in the 2016-2017 operating budget of the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC).
New board chair Wayne Foster, who replaced Andrew Tanner, made the announcement to the audit and finance committee of the Municipality of Lunenburg (MODL) on March 7.
The memorandum of understanding between the Lunenburg County Multi-Purpose Centre Corporation, the Town of Bridgewater and MODL requires that the board notify its partners of anticipated deficits.
The 2017-2018 operating budget indicates revenues of $1.159 million against expenses of $1.96 million, and factors in total contributions from the two municipalities of $801,552. The actual 2016-2017 deficit will not be finalized until the accounts are audited.
The committee decided to recommend that council cover its share of the projected deficit - $30,190 - as well as the $400,776 required to fulfill its municipal contribution of running the facility next year. Councillor Michael Ernst was the only vote in the negative.
Foster said utilization of the recreation facility and financial performance in general is increasing year after year.
"What we're presenting you today is an extraordinary situation," said Foster.
The LCLC board became fully aware of "a sudden shift in our financial situation" for 2016 at a March 2 meeting.
"Generally speaking, that deficit is largely the result of the work-to-rule of the teachers," said Foster. He pointed to a "significant loss" in revenues because of reduced arena and aquatic centre bookings, and "a less than anticipated revenue from exterior events, special events and so forth."
When Ernst asked why the board hadn't prepared itself for the situation, Foster replied that the board was aware the centre would be impacted somewhat by the labour action, but was expecting it to end quicker than it did.
"I think three contracts went to a vote. So our situation got progressively worse and became irremediable after a certain period of time. I think that is basically out of our control and it hit the LCLC board with surprise as well."
"The issue of the special events, probably there you have cause for criticism. It was a lot slower than what we had hoped for this year. The board recognizes that we need to do something to turn that around," he added.
Foster said the board has considered hiring a marketing professional to help boost special events and increase memberships. However, the board is "very mindful of keeping to the budget," he said.
"We're a little hesitant to hire someone or ask permission to hire someone. And we're going to go and put some more emphasis on it this year and hopefully try and resolve that to everyone's satisfaction," said Foster. "If we find that it is not working, then I think MODL and the Town of Bridgewater should be prepared to enter into some discussions on a marketing development person to get us out of that situation."
MODL mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, who sits on the LCLC board, agreed the deficit was a surprise.
"As the chair has indicated, [the deficit is] a direct result of the work-to-rule where high school hockey and extra-curricular busloads of kids to the swimming pool and public skate days were all cancelled because no extra-curricular activity was allowed to take part. It may not seem like a lot, but at the end of the day it definitely adds up."
Bolivar-Getson also noted that the $400,776 the LCLC is looking to get from each of its municipal partners was not up dramatically from the $398,688 required last year.
"It's not even the cost of living," she said of the difference.
Ernst asked whether any contingency accounting plan was being put in place to prepare for unexpected shortfalls.
Foster said the LCLC is not in a position to create a budget surplus in order to guard against overages.
"It is certainly not the plan of the LCLC to continually ask for backstop to the budget deficits. You'll see that we are forecasting correct budgets as we go through over the next three years."
The LCLC's general manager Kevin Benjamin also gave a presentation outlining an increase of 128 memberships "of all types" from March 2016 to March 2017, in addition to the ongoing, first-time and repeat events the centre has hosted. The events included regional school heritage and science fairs, a dance recital, the Mark Chesnutt concert, the Park View Education Centre Grade 12 graduation ceremony, the Michelin bike rodeo, a dog fly ball event, a hockey game between St. Mary's and Acadia universities, the Jill Saulnier hockey camp for girls, and, its "marquee event," the World Sledge Hockey Championship.