Is there a “bigger picture” to the 2013 budget? What did council get done? They brought BPAC to heal.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 1, 2013  What does the budget Burlington’s city council, sitting in committee, tell us?

Well, it looks as if we are now in show business and that transit is getting a boost. Those are the immediate impacts.  Longer term we have at least done something to bring a new focus and hopefully some hustle to the economic development side of the way this city is going to grow.

The show business part of the spend the city did, relates to the amount of money being put into the Performing Arts Centre and the Burlington Art Centre.  Neither of these in themselves are going to produce any revenue – both will be a constant draw on the public purse.

What the city has to do is ensure that both are vibrant enough to draw the audiences they need and that the spin-off from each provides the economic activity that will result in a more robust downtown.

While that might seem obvious on the surface – it hasn’t been clear to the Performing Arts management team, who, knowing they were going hat in hand to city council weren’t able to get useful data into their hands until Monday morning of this week.  The Performing Arts Board made its pitch on the Tuesday – which gave council members and the public less than 48 hours to pour over the 16 pages of very useful data.

Transit Director Mike Spicer, in the yellow shirt, shows Mayor Goldring what he wants in the way of new buses. The Mayor and council obliged and gave Spicer the go ahead to buy smaller buses.

When Mike Spicer, Director of Transit appeared before a Community Development Committee on Wednesday evening to delegate on the acquisition of new buses he was asked if he could merge two documents and get them to council members for the budget meeting the next morning.  Spicer went home and started work, his key staff members went home and started work and advised General Manager Scott Stewart what they were doing and where they were going.

They all gathered early Thursday morning, went over their numbers and passed along the document council needed.  Dedicated professionals doing what they do well.  They have the confidence of senior management and council – and as a result they got their funding and then some.

It’s hard to fathom why it took so long for the PAC people to get their data into the hands of the people who have to pay the bills that the PAC racks up. Time for an attitude adjustment over there.

The data isn’t bad but some of the rationale in the report they produced sounded like a bunch of people feeling sorry for themselves and sounding like they felt they were being put upon.

The document starts with:

We have been required to deliver higher numbers:

Increase our revenues

Increase attendance

Increase opportunities for local NFP clients (NFP is not for profit)

This industry demands a high commitment and dedication of staff resources to operate a 6-7 days per week operation where days can start at 7:00 am and end after midnight.

Every word of that is true – except that the PAC operation hasn’t been anywhere near 6-7 days a week.  In 2012 they were operational 209 days.

The PAC management argued for and were given the funding to hire a sales associate.  It was put in place for two years.

While several council members didn’t really buy the argument that an additional technical person was needed they went along with that funding request as well.

In asking for the sales associates funding PAC management explained the sales associate would:
Engage the community to generate new business which will increase attendance  and revenues.

Develop and nurture relationships with new and existing rental partners

Promote group ticket sales

Implement initiatives by working directly with the community to break down barriers to access and make sure we’ve made them aware of our services and available opportunities.

BPAC Executive director Brenda Heatherington talks up her operation with a supporter.

There isn’t a person in this city who doesn’t know all about the Performing Arts Centre – the problem is with what they know – management over there hasn’t gotten it’s message out.  In a fondly remembered movie Paul Newman said to a sheriff who was standing there with a shot-gun in his hands as Newman called out:  “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  That kind of sums up where things stand with the PAC and the city. They need a more effective spokesperson.

In their report they trotted out a couple of equations.  Try these on for size:

ROI = Gain from investment – Cost of Investment

Cost of investment.

They later put this one out:

ROI = ($368,675 – $275,813) + ($320,810 – $273,783) – $63,600 = $76,289 – 120%

   $63,600                                                $63,600

I suspect that both Councillors Dennison and Sharman sputtered a bit when they saw those equations.

What PAC management was trying to say was that projected revenue for 2013 is $368,675,  with ancillary revenue projected at $320,810

Actual revenue for 2012 was $275,813 and actual ancillary revenue came in at $273,783

Cost of the sales associate was set at $63,600.

PAC management seems to see a 120% return as acceptable.  All they are bringing in is 20% more than their cost.  There isn’t a sales manager in this city that would accept a sales representative bringing in just 20% more than the cost of hiring the person.

Councillor Taylor got it right when he said the funding approved in the budget was conditional on the review of a new business plan from the PAC – “and I don’t mean a 10 minute delegation” added Taylor.  This one is going to be a getting into the mud with management and cleaning this mess up.


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