A review of Town-funded organizations – good groups, and good grief !!

March 28, 2023 – Qualicum Beach taxpayers support a variety of recreational, cultural and business development organizations that serve not only our community but also thousands of annual visitors. Six of these organizations provided an update of their activities and plans to Town Council and the public on March 1, 2023.

A review of the efforts of six of these organizations, as they appeared at the Committee of the Whole meeting, reveals some notable contrasts when it comes to accountability, transparency, and sound management.

All said and done, a number of the groups displayed very good models of transparency, cooperation and governance practices, but others fell noticeably short. Do you agree? Check it out for yourself here.

QB Memorial Golf Course

Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Course.

First up on the Agenda, this not-for-profit society operates the Golf Course on land long-term leased from the Town. Board President Lynn Cindric gave a verbal report, accompanied by multiple other Board members including Paul McPhie who netted out their strong cashflow picture.

The golf course was able to survive a $300,000 cost overrun on their new workshop, a major capital project completed in 2022, thanks to some capital reserves and stronger than expected green fee revenues in 2021 and 2022 (a Covid anomaly).

The golf course is a significant and dependable source of lease revenue for the Town, in the order of $200,000 annually (18% of the Golf Course’s annual $1.1 million operating budget).

Putting this contribution in perspective, Mayor Westbroek noted, “You have contributed more to the Town in lease payments than the other two golf courses [Pheasant Glen, Eaglecrest] combined in taxes. So, well done, and thank you for all this work.”

Qualicum & District Curling Club

QDCC, also a not-for-profit society, operates the purpose-built Qualicum Curling Centre in the east end of the QB Community Hall facility on Memorial Avenue. The Curling Club’s 335 members are served by a Board of 11 busy volunteers and staff.

The facility is leased from the Town for $1 per year. The five-year renewable lease spells out cost sharing arrangements for major leasehold improvements, and requires that the Club present annually an updated Five-Year Capital Projects cost forecast.

Board member Stu Shaw walked Council through each item in their recommended Capital Projects Plan for 2023 through 2027. Their detailed slides, particularly the spreadsheet of clearly identified projects, estimated costs, and proposed share for each party, were provided to Council in advance and are available to the public with the meeting Agenda.

Another good governance practice noted is that the Town and the Curling Club have set up a jointly managed capital Reserve specifically for the inevitable future ice plant replacement. The Town and the Club each add $3,750 each year to keep this Reserve growing.

Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association

PQBTA Executive Director Blain Sepos reviewed recent visitor volumes, noting that while year-over-year visits dropped by 23% in 2020, there was a 46% increase in 2021, a remarkable post-Covid rebound.

Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association

In addition to a 55-page report of dense text (on the Agenda for any insomniacs out there), Sepos later provided his informative slide set. One of the slides that best shows the impact of Tourism as an economic driver for the area was this summary of visitor spending in 2021, totalling an estimated $233 million for the year.

The remainder of his presentation focussed on PQBTA’s current work, with consulting help, on a long-awaited Tourism Master Plan, now referred to as creating a Destination Development Strategy. Sepos said “We’re hoping to have this project done by June.”

Sepos did note a need for further discussion with Town Council “about short-term vacation rentals in our region and the growth they’ve had here, as well as the impact we perceive they have on affordable housing in our region.”

It appears that nothing has been done by the Town since Sepos presented to the previous Council in August 2019 where, according to meeting Minutes “Regarding short term rentals, Mr. Sepos recommended the Town consider regulation and enforcement instead of banning them altogether.”

QB Historical and Museum Society

Qualicum Beach Museum.

Our Museum is a bee-hive of activities for all ages, a well-planned and well-managed showcase of our Town’s heritage. This Society has a strong network of core and occasional volunteers, an ambitious program of activities and exhibits, and is in a healthy financial state.

In support of their request for renewal of their Fee-for-Service Agreement with the Town, Museum Manager Lorraine Bell provided an informative recap of the past year. It is available on the Town’s website, appended to the COW Meeting Agenda.

In addition to a comprehensive summary of their impressive activities and exhibits, Bell also provided Council (and the public – see Agenda attachments) with a complete set of audited financial statements. Another great example of full transparency and accountability to the community.

Board VP David Ireland graciously commended Bell and Assistant Manager Kisselle Reid for their achievements, and was excited to share the news of yet another successful grant application, this time $20,000 from the B.C. Arts Council.

The Old School House Arts Centre

According to their website, TOSH “is a non-profit arts centre that promotes and encourages multi-dimensional artists and musicians,” located in the refurbished Town-owned former school house on Fern Road West.

The Old School House Arts Centre, Qualicum Beach, B.C.

Surprisingly, there were no handouts from TOSH accompanying the Agenda, no presentation slides, and no financial reports of any kind, including on the TOSH website.

Instead, TOSH Executive Director Illana Hester gave a brief, brisk report to Council, starting with contractual requests of their landlord (the Town).

Hester’s request for a five-year lease renewal was accompanied by a request for the Town to do maintenance to the exterior of the building, fix the back garage door, and to add language to the lease to spell out Town maintenance obligations such as lawn and flower beds, as well as provide explicit permission for the (existing) retail gift shop.

No information was provided to the Town or QB taxpayers about the value of the Town’s subsidization of this enterprise during their presentation, leaving the impression that it is essentially a private business operation leasing a Town-owned facility.

Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce

The final presentation of the day was by Kim Burden, Executive Director for both the QB and Parksville Chambers of Commerce for the past five years, who announced that henceforth Mike Garland will be the QB Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. Apparently, Mr. Burden still remains the executive director of Parksville’s Chamber of Commerce.

Garland did attend but said not a word. No QB Chamber of Commerce Board members attended.

Burden’s main topic was his view that the QB Visitor Information Centre, currently located in a Town-owned building on the waterfront, be replaced. “A poor, tired old building” according to Burden, infested by otters, “and we would like to be able to replace the building over the next two to four years.” The QB Chamber has long had a monopoly (sole source, no tender contract) to operate the QB Visitor Info Centre, and uses that Town-owned building as the Chamber’s business office.

Qualicum Beach Visitor Info Centre.

That is a strange request from a tenant to a landlord, unless of course the QB Chamber of Commerce was planning to pay for the replacement building. Stranger still, given that Burden is no longer the QB Chamber Executive Director.

Mayor Westbroek asked about the proposed location for a new Visitor Information Centre. Burden stated that “we would like to keep it on the beach,” and to include washrooms in the new building and space for another (Chamber) revenue stream, such as a coffee shop.

Burden’s next request was for the Town to also provide a spot uptown, on Town-owned land, supplied with electrical power, to park the Chamber’s almost-finished mobile trailer-mounted kiosk (paid for by the Town and the PQBTA.)

At the conclusion of Burden’s presentation, Councillor Vander Valk noted that Burden’s 2023 Work Plan document included with the meeting Agenda contained no financial information, and asked Burden “Do you have some financial statements or budgeting [to explain] where you’re spending your money, or how you plan to spend your money.”

Burden: “I didn’t bring it. I can provide that to you. We have a budgeting process; the (Chamber) Board has approved the budget for 2023. I’m happy to provide that to you.”

Well, actually, that’s now Mike Garland’s job. It is to be hoped that the new Executive Director can put an end to the woeful opacity of the Chamber under Burden’s tenure.

There was no mention by Burden of audited financial statements. None on the QB Chamber website either. Hmmm. According to the Town’s latest (2021) audited statements, the Town paid $64,575 to the QB Chamber of Commerce.

The Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce, at least in recent years, appears to operate like a private, secretive business with weak oversight, primarily in service only to its paid members. But it does not seem shy about asking for taxpayer funded handouts — support that the businesses and residents of Qualicum Beach might willingly provide, if the Chamber’s abysmal performance dramatically improves.

See our previous story Chamber of Commerce Erasing QB from the Tourism Map

Qualicum Beach Legion

Speaking of private businesses operating in secret, last month we expressed surprise at an in-camera QB Town Council decision to enter into a non-tendered five-year $95,000 fee-for-services contract with the local QB Legion to “coordinate, market and implement” an unspecified set of “special events for the community benefit.” At that time, no additional details had been made available to the public.

For some reason, the QB Legion was given a pass from presenting at the open-to-the-public March 1st COW meeting where the six other funded organizations presented. It would have been an excellent opportunity for the Legion to explain how they spend our taxpayer money.

Finance Director Raj Hayre and Town staff have since promptly and fully replied to our request for details about the events and the Legion’s specific services and obligations. Here’s what we now know.

The Services During the term of the contract, the Legion’s responsibilities are to assist the Town in the planning, development, marketing, coordination, and implementation of special events including, but not limited to: the New Year’s Levee to be held on January 1st of each year; the July 1st Canada Day Parade, including entertainment; and, the Nov 11th Remembrance Day Procession, Parade, and Ceremony.

The Legion is also responsible for arranging and providing traffic control services using qualified traffic control personnel to manage and attend to temporary road closures required for the two parades on July 1st and November 11th.

Contractual Accountability Within 90 days of the end of each of the five years, the Legion is obliged to provide the Town with the completed annual financial statements for the Legion, including both the details on how the payments provided by the Town were allocated and spent during the previous year, and also a budget and work plan with details of the Services for the coming year.

In the interests of transparency and respect to QB taxpayers, we hope the Town and the Legion will share this accounting with the public without being asked.