SD20 hikes user fees, axes waiver program

With tighter a budget, waiver fees for facilities rental for community groups is no longer an option.

School District 20 is getting a failing grade from local non-profit groups after doubling its fees for its facilities rentals and doing away with the “community use of facilities waiver.”

Balancing its budget is always a tightrope walk for the SD20 Trustees, and the fees waiver for community groups was one of this year’s casualties, while at the same time the board upped the price tag for facilities rental from $20 to $40 per hour.

“Anytime we rent out a facility, there is a cost to the board, and when we give it free of charge, the school board covers that cost, so we can no longer afford people using our facility for no charge,”  SD20 School Board chair Darrell Ganzert explained. “The charge that we levied against these rentals is to simply cover our costs.”

Prior to the decision, organizations such as BC Special Olympics-Trail (BCSOT), Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, Kiwanis and other charitable organizations, as well as groups directly connected with local education, all employee groups, PAC’s and DPAC’s were eligible for a 100 per cent waiver. Others that included youth participation, such as the long-time weekly floor-hockey game at the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre (KCLC), received a 50 per cent reduction in fees.

Raising fees while cancelling the waiver is doubly troubling to many, and may put some programs, like the Special Olympians, on the sidelines.

“Because we don’t budget for an increase of $1,500 in one program, it potentially puts the floor hockey program in jeopardy,” says BCSOT organizer Ben Postmus. “We can’t start charging these guys. Our athletes, for the most part, the last thing they’re spending money on is exercise and recreation.”

Postmus says his group was also surprised by the short notice, first hearing of the increase just over two weeks ago.

“We’re in our planning stages for this year, we’re ready to go, and to be hit with a $60 per session bill all of a sudden is not a good thing . . . If they were going to make a cut like this, how about let us know in May or June when budgets are being done.”

Although, Ganzert hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss the matter with fellow trustees, he understands the concerns of organizations like the BCSOT and says the school board will likely address it at the upcoming meeting, but any decision will take time.

“Because of the concerns that we received, we will be reviewing this policy, I would assume,” said Ganzert. “It was part of our last budget, and it is only coming into effect this September, and that’s why there is the interest from the public, because it was not in place until just recently.”

When a facility is booked, the  board pays an employee to stay after hours to supervise and occasionally clean and put away recreation equipment, in addition, the board must pay the utility costs (electricity, heat etc).

“What I’m concerned about is, are we charging something that is reasonable, that is just cost recovery, and again we’re not out to make money on this because it is a public facility,” said Ganzert.

Postmus, a coach for Canada’s Special Olympic golf team, sent a letter to trustees and the board, hoping to remedy the situation, but will have to wait for the next school board meeting on Sept. 28.

“When we first started it was pointed out to me by people that worked at the school district, that we could apply for a waiver to keep your costs down, and that becomes the norm . . . Was there any debate when it first come up, did they look at who the user-groups were, we don’t need to deal with this stress.”

Asked if there was any chance that non-profit groups would see a reduction in fees or a new waiver in place, Ganzert, a longtime trustee and teacher was optimistic, at least for the short term.

“I think, the point that this has come out of the blue was missed by us as a board, and I think it’s something we need to give some more thought to. We’re not talking about a lot of money here in total, so I think we as a board have some flexibility at least for the next few months anyway.”