Of nickels, dimes and dollars
On Monday, council received a letter from the Uxbridge Creative Connections Support Program asking that the group be allowed to use the community hall at the arena and the schoolhouse at the museum grounds free of charge.
The letter pointed out that the not-for-profit UCC provides free programming for adults with intellectual disabilities. Among the programs offered is one dedicated to dancing. UCC says people of all disabilities have dropped in to discover their “inner dancer” and noted some of them had been included in the most recent edition of the ‘uxperience’ variety show. The schoolhouse, the letter said, would be used to give their clients art lessons. UCC said their programming would be at hours that would not interfere with other potential users of the two sites.
Council’s reaction? Mayor Dave Barton opined that if the request was granted, UCC would have to agree to being booted out if a paying customer was found for the locations. Councillor Bruce Garrod offered that it is time for council to come up with a set of rules governing such requests for free space. Hardly the enthusiastic response one would have expected for a group that serves the needs of our community’s most vulnerable. But perhaps Garrod was concerned because a little earlier in the session Sunrise Pregnancy and Family Support Centre had appeared before council to ask that they be allowed use the Barton Trails and the picnic shelter at Herrema Fields “at no charge” for a group walk in September. I’m forced to ask: We charge people to use the trails and picnic shelters?
And what was council actually discussing? In the grand scheme of things, the UCC and Sunrise requests amount to nickels and dimes.
But when it comes to dollars – tens of thousands of dollars – requested by a business to enhance its look, council’s attitude is vastly different. When York Durham Heritage Railway asked council to put up $70,000 for a paved parking lot, council had no trouble saying okay to $35,000 if YDHR paid the other half. When YDHR said they would repay the money at the end of the year by instituting a five-per-cent levy on all seat sales, council had no trouble with that. Indeed, they are even thinking about passing a by-law to bring the levy – (something YDHR grandly calls the Train Station Improvement Levy) – into effect. If it takes a municipal by-law to enact the levy, what it means in effect is that Uxbridge has okayed a tax to help a business. Why should the township do that? If YDHR wants to increase its ticket prices by five per cent, let it go ahead: don’t involve the township for it.
It all sounds wonderful. The levy will pay for a parking lot, a work building, lighting and any number of other things. And what is the purpose of all these projects? It’s to improve the bottom line of a business known as York Durham Heritage Railway.
In a report on the subject, treasurer Donna Condon noted a wide range of protocols that YDHR would have to follow when the various improvement projects are undertaken, but that doesn’t alter the fact that council is giving financial aid to a business that happens to operate out of municipally owned property.
I asked the mayor whether council would agree to help another business in town in a similar fashion if said business wanted to pave a parking lot to improve its customers’ experience. His argument was that YDHR is on publicly owned land. Period.
YDHR already operates with township help. For example, what other business in town would receive permission to close off municipal streets for two weeks in a row as YDHR does when Thomas comes to town? Condon said YDHR has also asked that it no longer be required to pay rent on the station, nor the utilities, nor provide the general upkeep of the property.
YDHR seems to have changed a lot since the days it first started offering rides to the public. From an amiable group of guys and gals who were pursuing their hobby and taking the public for pleasant leisurely train rides, it has morphed into a full-blown business searching for bigger and better events to bring in more customers and ultimately, increase its bottom line. Even as a non-business man, I can see how that may drive the operation – quite often it seems to be the only thing that drives business. But it seems to me that if a business can’t succeed without council’s help, maybe it’s time to close up shop.
Tell me, am I wrong?