Damascus Hall board wants to keep costs accessible for small groups

For some it may seem like only a few dollars, but for the Damascus Hall board, it is an important issue for the local community.

A sizeable contingent of that board, and its supporters were at Wellington North council April 4, to introduce themselves to the new council and to ask about rate increases proposed for their hall.

Speaking on behalf of the group was Rita Cudney.

She explained the committee started in 1978 and consisted of members from the Damascus Women’s Institute, Damascus Euchre Club, community members, and one councillor.

Today, there are two euchre club members and five community members, she said.

“With the help of the local community, we host two winter dinners and a summer beef barbecue.”

This summer marks the 25th barbecue.

Over the past few years, the group has realized about $5,000 profit annually from those functions.

“These funds plus the rental dollars enable the hall to be primarily self-supporting.”

She said all utilities, caretaking, garbage pick-up, and day to day supplies are paid with funds raised by volunteers.

Capital projects through the years have included a new kitchen, drilled well, new windows, new soffit and facia, and most recently, a new 30- x 50-foot pavilion. It was built in 2009-10 for $10,100, paid with funds raised by volunteers and a personal donation. Estimates to have the same pavilion, without volunteer effort was about $19,000. She noted that there was assistance from the municipality.

Cudney said hall bookings, grass cutting, snow blowing are  covered for free by residents.

“The only municipal dollars directed to this building are water testing, insurance, and major capital maintenance such as stone repointing.”

She said that after being notified of a rental rate increase for 2011 and another proposed for next year, the group wants to speak with council. It hopes rents remain at $80 (plus HST).

“We were told the rate increase to $83 plus HST would be in effect.”

Cudney stated, “Our thought  is that we put all the volunteer hours into the hall to keep the rent low for the small reunions and birthday parties. But if the increases continue it will not be long before (the cost of) this venue is out of reach for small functions.”

She believes rental costs should be in reach of small groups.

“We’re also here to inquire whether you, as council, have any long term plans for the hall.”

She realizes it is a municipal building, and must meet regulations, “But I hope you understand that we are proud of this facility and that as representatives of the community, we would hate to see the closure of the hall.”

Mayor Ray Tout said he told to councillor Andy Lennox when the group came in “I did not see one single Damascus pie come in.”

He was told April 30 is the next Damascus supper.

The mayor said, “Certainly on behalf of myself and council, I want to thank you for what you do for our community. You put a lot of dedicated volunteer hours out there, and from experience I know that volunteers are the lifeblood of any community.”

He applauded the group and its work maintaining the building. “You virtually take the stress off of us.”

Councillor Sherry Burke said as chairman of recreation she thanks members for everything they do.

“Mayor Ray Tout tells me the pie is very good.”

Lennox said, “I just think it’s wonderful to have such a group in the community that is willing to take the ownership of the facility like this and make it work.”

He added recreation facilities are a challenge to keep operating in a financially responsible way.

“Really, I commend you and wish we could use you as a model to extend to other facilities across the township.”

He said, “We need to get this kind of community spirit going elsewhere in the municipality.”

Tout asked about the rate increases.

Burke said rates were discussed at recreation committee.

“This year, we felt the rates should stay in place at the $83 and will potentially look at other increases at a future date. But right now we thought it should remain at $83.”

When asked why the rate was increased, Burke said “My understanding is that this happened before the current council took over; there were rate increases for all facilities across the municipality.”

Lennox said, “I think we really ought to revist that. Here we have a group of committed people who are making this facility work, and it’s costing the township virtually nothing to operate this facility. I really think that they put the effort in, they should have a say in what those rates ought to be.”

After all, Lennox said, “they are making this work financially, so I would strongly urge that we revisit this.”

Tout asked if the recreation committee could revisit the matter.

Burke said it would have to wait until at least May for it to get onto the agenda.

Tout promised that it would be considered once more at the committee level.