Tuesday, December 15, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 50 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“There’s not a piece of land in this Pass that’s not worth $500.”
- Councillor Ian MacLeod  
- on implementing a   
minimum property tax   

 

50-person survey crew denied stay at Centre, then leave town
 
"Council has stated we're not in the accommodation business," says Chief Administrative Officer Gordon Lundy. "We're not going to use those rooms (at the Crowsnest Centre) in competition with our taxpaying accommodation businesses. That's the position of council."
Council's official position on the use of the Crowsnest Centre as an accommodation facility thus made clear, the municipality last week denied a 50-person pine beetle survey crew the opportunity to stay at the Centre until the end of January. In the process, they dropped the metaphorical straw that broke a local caterer's metaphorical back, and cost the local business community the potential extra revenues.
Dawn Rigby, owner of local catering company Country Encounters, was approached in early December by a group that had received a government contract to survey pine beetle numbers north of the municipality. The survey contractor, who does not wish to be identified with the controversy raised, requested rooms for approximately 50 people from mid-December until the end of January, along with a small office space and a meeting room.
Rigby was recently released from her position as manager of the Crowsnest Centre, along with all other employees of that facility, though she continues to cater previously booked functions there. She approached the municipality with the contractor's request to use the facility.
The municipality, says Rigby, attempted to find rooms elsewhere in the community, and came up with 17 rooms in various places. Rooms at most hotels were booked because of other crews in the area, including the film crew working on a movie project in Coleman.
Rigby says that the contractor required approximately 25 rooms, and that the crews needed to be fed or at least have a kitchenette because of the hours they worked and the realities of operating in the bush for six weeks. The rooms found by the municipality, says Rigby, would not work for the contractor.
At an impasse, Rigby proposed to the municipality that Country Encounters would rent the newer wing of the Crowsnest Centre so that she herself could handle the food and the accommodation end of it and no municipal employees need be involved. She also offered to rent equipment from the Crowsnest Centre Society, her former employers, and was granted permission.
 
However, the municipality turned down her proposal, which included an offer of $16,500 to the municipality for the rental of the facility until the end of January. CAO Lundy solicited council's opinion via email.
"They turned me down," says Rigby.
Without the Centre option, there were not enough rooms in the Pass for the contractor. The contractor then started looking at splitting their crew between Sparwood, Pincher Creek, Okotoks, and High River, or some combination thereof, taking their business out of the community.
According to an email from the contractor to Rigby, passed on to the Pass Herald, the contractor had anticipated spending a significant amount of money in the community.
The contractor indicated that they buy $900 in gas every day, along with tires, tire changes, oil changes, mechanical work, coffee, and snacks. Every fifth day is a day off, the contractor wrote, where the crew buys groceries, goes to restaurants and bars, uses facilities, rents movies, and buys clothes, boots, equipment, tools, and office supplies.
The contractor estimated that they typically spend $20 to $25 per person per day in the community on top of what they spend on room and board, which comes to $1000 to $1250 per day for the 50-person crew.
Rigby expressed astonishment that council would turn away economic activity when the community is going through hard times. For her own business, she says, this could be the straw that broke the camel's back.
"I believe that this will be the end of me catering," she says. "Council claims they're pro-business. All they've done is drive me away."
Rigby says she will finish off her current catering obligations, and at that point she intends to stop catering in the community.
The municipality is still attempting to work out a plan and a budget for operating the Crowsnest Centre in 2010. They are currently in talks with the Centre Society about the equipment in the facility.
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