As one of several councillors who try hard to control tax hikes, I resent the fact that a $1-million loss has been sprung on Kitchener taxpayers by the Centre in the Square (CITS).
I particularly don’t like being sideswiped by this surprise 2013 deficit when council has Mayor Carl Zehr and Councillors John Gazzola, Zyg Janecki and Bil Ioannidis sitting as CITS directors.
This debt at a facility that is a regional entertainment venue paid for by Kitchener residents was debated at council this week and I was not happy with answers received when I asked why council didn’t know earlier about the debt.
I understand the loss of income associated with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra justifiably occupying premium weekend dates at the Centre. I also understand the fact that CITS suffered a financial hammering after several shows flopped.
What I don’t understand is the accumulated cost of years of neglected building maintenance and improvements that contribute to the deficit. I would assume CITS directors would, on at least a yearly basis, have made council aware of outstanding work.
On that note, it’s interesting that the consultant examining the issue says the presence of council members on the board “has not ensured that capital planning for this major city asset is current and complete….their presence has not ensured effective communication between CITS and other city departments.”
The consultant, paid $67,000 for the report, is now recommending what everyone already knew — that CITS and symphony officials squabbling about performance dates have to kiss, make up and solve their differences.
The consultant also recommended council should reduce the number and role of councillors who sit as directors on the CITS board despite the fact they are the people accountable to taxpayers who pay the bills. While supporting a reduction of representatives from four to two (the mayor and one councillor) I don’t want to see us unrepresented at the board.
Consultants also listed but did not recommend other solutions to these problems including a complete CITS takeover by the city, formation of a private non-profit to operate the facility or contracting with a private company to run the building.
Recommendations accepted by council:
• Revisit CITS mission, identify parameters for our funding relationship with the Centre, review physical improvements required and estimate costs of work.
* Have staff coordinate selection of a facilitator to lead sessions between the city, CITS and the symphony.
I agree the symphony and CITS must solve their dispute. I also agree a facilitator and task force should be formed and taxpayers should finally be told what it will cost to upgrade their Centre. I would add that grass-roots representatives of our arts and culture community as well as the public should be represented on that task force and involved in determining the healthy future of CITS, the symphony and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery.
Members should also ensure we have effective governance at the Centre — governance where directors receive regular, transparent accounting data from CITS staff and then report that information to council.
And, once the task force completes its work, taxpayers should brace themselves for what is likely to be $2 million worth of financial pain.