The Town of Huntsville’s policy on community groups is full of contradictions and I’m not even talking about the flip flopping Councillors or the budget that passed with stern warnings about spending and was then followed quietly by new staff hires.
This time they’re out to make Huntsville’s arts groups pay for space that the town couldn’t give away last year. If you thought the University of Waterloo building was a white elephant, then you haven’t looked at the CN Train Station or as it is now known, the “Culture Station.”
Realistically, what kind of business would want to relocate to the former train station? None. You can’t even see the station from the road and other than a waiting room, there isn’t much there to attract anyone. This is further evidenced by the fact that when the Northlander was shut down, the town couldn’t find a tenant to take over the space.
In the last term of council, the town tried to rent out the space and they failed. To deal with this, the council of the day did what they have done in the past with real estate they don’t want: they sold or leased the space out for a buck, thereby ensuring that the town wasn’t responsible for the expense.
That set of rules went out the window last month when the town tried to jack the rent up by 9600 per cent to a group of people who don’t have the same political clout as minor hockey or the Lions Club… or even Club 55 for that matter. All of these aforementioned organizations benefited from the town’s benevolent care in the way of a great deal to exercise their particular interest, but for some reason, the arts group didn’t receive the same favour as the others.
Just two days after the council meeting where the town tried to get the Culture Station to increase their rent from $1 per year to nearly $9,600, the town renewed the lease for Club 55 for just $2 a year. In reality, the end cost will be more like $2,200 a year after maintenance and utilities but at least it’s not $9,600.
The way some of the Councilors are behaving when it comes to public comments about money is just plain mean-spirited. Sometimes you have to spend money and sometimes you have to pay the piper. It seems that there will be more budget deviations to be revealed in the future on spending that is quietly done in the backrooms of town hall. So please, stop with sky is falling scenario every five minutes. The amount is so piddly, it’s ridiculous. There are much bigger fish to fry if you are serious about controlling costs.
It’s time to treat all community groups equally: rent out the Culture Station for $2 a year plus a fee for utilities and maintenance and cut the rent for their neighbours who you’ve been soaking for $9,600 a year.
It’s time to put all community groups on the same playing field and have a consistent and fair policy on what you charge groups to use the property they own.