MODL blocks Lumberjacks funding request

by Gayle Wilson

The South Shore Lumberjacks Junior A hockey team has experienced a shutout in its attempt to get funding from the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) for the second year running.

At its meeting on September 4, MODL's finance committee voted overwhelmingly against recommending to council that it approve the Lumberjack's request for a $15,000 sponsorship agreement this year, which the Town of Bridgewater has agreed to.

Nor would it support a staff recommendation that MODL purchase advertising from the team amounting $5,000, to be drawn equally from the budgets of the economic and recreation departments.

The decision follows one made in June, 2017, when MODL's council rejected the former audit and finance committee's recommendation to give $7,500 in sponsorship funding after the Lumberjacks had first requested $15,000.

"My thing is, what are you going to do when the next private business comes along and has trouble with their operating expenses? So I cannot support this," Councillor Cathy Moore told the finance committee members on September 4.

Her sentiment was echoed throughout the council chamber where the meeting was held.

In recommending the $5,000 advertising spend, recreation director Trudy Payne had noted that, although the Municipal Government Act does not give municipalities authority to sponsor a private business, MODL legally could consider purchasing advertising from the team.

The chief administrative officer (CAO) Kevin Malloy agreed, noting the municipality advertises in the "local newspaper,"which is privately owned.

Among the advertising opportunities that was offered was rink board advertising and on ice advertising at the team's home, the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC).

However, as they did last year, one by one the councillors proceeded to express concern about any spend of taxpayers' money on a private company.

Deputy mayor Martin Bell read a number of comments he received on the issue via social media, the majority of which were against the funding.

One suggested that while there is money "kicking around" to help the team, "perhaps we taxpayers could get a tax break on our property taxes instead."

Another insisted: "I don't think MODL should be funding private enterprises, regardless of their potential spin-offs." However, not all the comments he received were negative.

One resident asked, "If the day comes that the Lumberjacks pull out of Bridgewater, who will pay for the loss at the LCLC as its debt increases?"

Councillor Claudette Garland said none of the several people who contacted her were in favour of sponsorship of any kind.

"They all had said that private business should not come to the taxpayer's purse for financial assistance because there were a lot of struggling businesses out there. And where do you draw the line as to what's fair and what's not fair?" she commented.

Councillor Lee Nauss was adamant in his position, insisting he has never been in support of giving funds to a private business.

"If they can't survive, they've got to go under," he said.

In the Lumberjacks income statement for 2016-2017 provided to the municipality, the team was showing a loss of $72,212.13 against total revenue of $256,466.34.

However, in its request for funding for the 2018-2019 season, Kyle McAllister, the head coach and general manager, reported the Lumberjacks have seen an increase in fan support this year with average attendance increasing the last two seasons.

He indicated playoff games were averaging nearly 1,300 fans.

And in the request information package, the team indicated it was able to attract corporate sponsorship amounting to just over $100,000 for the 2017-2018 season, mainly due to its advertisement agreement it has with the LCLC.

And it suggested it is creating a better and bigger presence by participating in a number of community events, such as the local radio-thon's mental health awareness day and by partnering with Tim Horton's and the LCLC to host multiple "Skate with the Jacks" in which funds raised have been donated.

Initially, MODL's mayor, Carolyn Bolivar-Getson appeared in favour of the spend.

She advised that the team is registered as a private business, "to be able to do certain things with player development and so on.

"I also understand the economics that goes along with having 800 to 1,000 people out on a Friday night in our communities. Every Friday night," she said.

Describing the Lumberjacks as a community "asset," she commented, "I would like to be able to support the organization somehow."

Moreover, the mayor pointed out the Lumberjacks have all the advertising rights within the LCLC's hockey arena so the only way the municipality could get a board advertisement, should it wish to promote its interests such as the region's business potential, tick awareness, and the PRO Kids organization, "is by going through them."

And not only would the advertising be visible during hockey games, but during skates, graduation ceremonies, concerts and other activities, she added.

However, later on she told the committee members she wanted to be "on the record" saying she had been contacted by residents "in our area, throughout many of your districts.

"Some in favour, but there definitely were more opposed," said the mayor. And in the end she supported the request denial.

Councillor Eric Hustvedt, is chair of the finance committee and the only one who voted against the denial.

While he said he understood the concerns that have been raised, he agreed with the CAO's perspective that advertising is done in a newspaper, which is a private company.

"So I'm narrowly supportive of this" he advised.

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