By Scott Costen
The community room at Queens Place Emera Centre (QPEC) is getting plenty of use, but most bookings are unpaid and some may violate the spirit of municipal policy.
“We’ve gone beyond the original intent of the policy,” recreation director Meaghan Roberts said last night during the monthly QPEC Advisory Committee meeting. “Its original intention was to help volunteer groups who don’t have anywhere else to go.”
In fiscal year 2016/17, the community room had 384.5 hours in unpaid bookings, compared to 218 hours in paid bookings. Unpaid use is even higher this fiscal year at 398.5 hours in the first 10 months of 2017/18. Meanwhile, paid use is down at 160.5 hours.
According to Roberts, up to half of the free bookings are made by political associations, unions and other groups who were likely not intended to receive complimentary meeting space. This practice is depriving QPEC and community halls of much-needed rental revenue, she said.
The policy governing free use of the community room was approved by council in October 2012. It offers up to four hours of unpaid bookings a month to “not for profit” community groups that are “based in Queens County or have an affiliation group based in Queens County with over 50% of Queens County membership.”
The policy does not provide a definition of “not for profit”, nor does it give examples of the types of groups intended to fall under it.
Free bookings are for half of the community room and are subject to some incidental charges, such as a $20 fee to use the kitchen. Standard half-room rental rates are $25.88 per hour; full-room rates are $51.75.
The applicable municipal policy states that “each group shall be responsible to set up and take down any chairs or tables that are required.” According to Roberts, however, “there are staffing costs associated with cleaning up” following many unpaid bookings.
The Queens-Shelburne Progressive Conservative Association is the most active political group in terms of free use of the QPEC community room. It held its annual general meeting there rent-free last week. MLA Kim Masland endorsed colleague Tim Houston for the Nova Scotia PC leadership during the meeting.
The association, which is separate from Masland’s duties and activities as an MLA, was simply availing itself of something provided by the municipality, she said.
“My understanding is the Region of Queens policy is that they do not charge non-profits for the rental of the room,” she said. “And political associations are not-for-profit.”
Any potential changes to the policy would be a municipal decision, she said. “If they come back and tell us that we have to pay to use that room, then absolutely, we’ll pay.”
Amending the policy would indeed be a municipal decision. In fact, a majority vote at council would be required to tighten the policy.
Mayor David Dagley declined an interview request for this story.