Financials for the Prince Albert Arts Board have long drawn the ire of certain city councillors — a small group whose most vocal member is Lee Atkinson.
During this year’s budget process, Atkinson and fellow councillors Charlene Miller and Cheryl Ring voted against bylaws related to the budget, citing arts board-related concerns as contributing factors.
A key concern has been the alleged lack of financial transparency — an accusation that arts board chair Mitchell Holash doesn’t quite understand.
“It’s the most transparent facility in the whole city,” he said. “It’s frustrating for us to have our efforts besmirched.”
Things are going great this year, which calls to question why they’d hide their finances from the public, he said.
“There’d be no reason not to report them.”
“It’s the best year ever,” E. A. Rawlinson Centre general manager Darren McCaffery said, noting that they’re currently posting a surplus as a result of their most successful professional concert series yet.
The Prince Albert Arts Board operates the E. A. Rawlinson Centre. Although a separate entity, the Mann Art Gallery is a tenant of the building and benefits from Prince Albert Arts Board grant money from the city.
Transparency with Prince Albert Arts Board financials is better than it has been in past years and is only getting better, the city’s director of Community Services Greg Zeeben said.
Zeeben serves as a liaison between the centre and the city’s elected officials.
This appointment, initiated this year, is a throwback to previous years, when the Community Services director would serve in this spot — a position eliminated until recently.
“For some reason, administration was taken off and two councillors were put in, so the councillors that were there would have done the reporting back to council,” he explained.
“We assumed, they’re council — there’s no reporting necessary — they’re at the table,” McCaffery said.
According to the city’s website, Coun. Cheryl Ring is currently a Prince Albert Arts Board committee member, although Zeeben noted that she hasn’t been to the last few meetings.
“They really have put it back on me, so in fairness to Cheryl, I am the one doing the reporting back to public council,” he explained.
In its current configuration, Zeeben meets with McCaffery on a weekly basis, during which time he receives financial updates.
As such, he’s very much up to date on the arts board finances and is willing to provide updates, as liaison, at council’s wish.
“Administratively, I work for them,” he explained. “What they ask me to do, I do … That’s just typical politics.”
Last month, after Zeeben delivered his first quarterly arts board statement, Atkinson brought forth a motion that in part requested the quarterly reports include financial statements. He also requested this year’s operational budget, which he insisted he had not seen.
Though it wasn’t a recorded vote, Atkinson notes that only Miller and L. Darren Whitehead backed his motion.
“I don’t get it,” Atkinson said after the fact, adding that council’s wish to turn down information didn’t make any sense.
Zeeben shared a similar sentiment.
“I was prepared to bring forth the financials and attach them to the report, because it’s just for information as per the agreement, and they voted that down,” he said. “I don’t understand.”
Although council voted against Atkinson’s motion, Zeeben plans on bringing forth the financials during his next quarterly arts board report anyway, to be presented during August’s cycle of council meetings.
“In the next quarterly report you’ll see that there will be financials attached to that, just to bring that forward,” he said, adding that the half-year finances will be put against the year’s operational budget.
“They come through my office — I can do that. But for some reason they voted it down.”
The next quarterly report will reveal a facility comfortably in the financial black, McCaffery said.
Taxpayers are paying more
This year will see the Prince Albert Arts Board receive a total budgeted subsidy of $469,710 from the city.
Of this sum, $172,440 is earmarked for maintenance costs, including repairs, heating, electricity, insurance and water. An additional $10,000 will go into a reserve.
It’s the most transparent facility in the whole city. It’s frustrating for us to have our efforts besmirched. - Prince Albert Arts Board chair Mitchell Holash
The remainder of the budgeted subsidy — $287,270 — came in the form of a grant.
This city-issued grant has seen steady growth in recent years, with this year’s grant a $100,000 jump from the $187,279 issued in 2011. In 2007, the grant was $97,000.
The grant, which council passes during every year’s budgetary process, is in part to help cover the cost of community event days, providing community groups with affordable access to the centre.
“Every time we do a community event we don’t really charge the amount it costs to use the facility,” McCaffery said, adding that 128 volunteers donated 12,000 hours last year to help keep costs to the centre down.
“That’s where there’s always been a question of debate,” Zeeben said, noting that elected officials have opted to increase this year’s grant in order to meet the demands of the public.
“The arts board organization has to absorb all those costs, and that’s where the grant money comes into play.”
For Atkinson, who has voted against increases to arts board funding in the past, this argument doesn’t fly.
“Most schools have gymnasiums,” he noted. “So, is that what should be (at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre), or should we hold more events that generate revenue?”
A segment of the annual arts board grant also goes to the Mann Art Gallery, with last year seeing the gallery receive almost $50,000 from the city through the arts board grant.
A specific point of contention for Atkinson is the use of capital reserve dollars in recent years. Atkinson claims that during last year’s budgetary process, city financial services denied sharing information on how much was in the reserve.
“Now, I can see why — because they were taking it,” he said.
In 2009, $123,468 was transferred out of the capital reserve fund to finance a cash deficiency in the E. A. Rawlinson Centre’s operating fund. The following year saw another $140,725 withdrawn.
Such withdrawals cannot be made without council approval, Atkinson said, and no such processes took place.
The explanation given in the 2010 audited financial statement is that “Requests since 2005 made by the governance committee for such capital expenditures to be paid out of the capital reserve fund have not yet been considered by city council.
“In the absence of such approval, the transfer of $140,725 is presented in the statement as a loan from the capital reserve fund to the E. A. Rawlinson operating fund, pending a decision by city council.”
Atkinson said that he can’t foresee these funds being returned, and questions how, without or with little capital reserve funding remaining, future capital expenses will be paid for.
Looking to the future
The quarterly report being brought to council in August should answer more questions, Zeeben said, reiterating that it will include financials set against the 2012 budget.
“They do their budget,” he explained of the arts board. “All I’m doing is assisting them in a reporting structure back to city council.
“Now, comfortably, I can say that administratively it doesn’t give me any concern at all. It’s wonderful — it’s successful!”
“There’s a budget there and it’s available, and if anyone claims otherwise it’s not true,” Holash said.
In addition, Holash expects the 2011 audited financial statements, which are currently with auditors, to be audited and prepared by July 20.
McCaffery noted that the 2011 statements will reveal a small deficit, though 2012 is setting itself up to remain in the black.
The E.A. Rawlinson Centre sees more than 120,000 people come through its doors every year.
“That’s part of community investment,” Zeeben said.
“That’s part of doing what we have chosen to do as a community to give ourselves a presence in this world … You really have to have assets to sell your community.”