MORRISBURG – South Dundas Chamber of Commerce (SDCOC) president Tom Morrow brought forward a flurry of changes, requests and old debts in a deputation to council Tues., May 7.
The more than 20-minute appearance by Morrow raised more questions than answers, including the state of the relationship with the municipality.
Shortly before the scheduled regular meeting, councillors were given a copy of Morrow’s letter, which outlined the future direction of the Chamber of Commerce.
The key revelation is that the organization is getting out of the tourism game and shifting its core mandate back to local businesses.
“We are going back to basics looking after and supporting the needs of all businesses in South Dundas, small and large,” said Morrow.
After years of providing tourism services, which mainly consisted of hosting an information hub at the Morrisburg Shopping Plaza location, the SDCOC would close its storefront location by the end of the year and cut ties with festivals, like Tubie Weekend.
“After this year, we’re going to be backing away from that because over and over again our members are telling us, ‘what does a Tubie Festival do for me and my business?’ So, when we say we’re going to get back to back business, we’re going to go back business,” said Morrow.
This wasn’t totally unexpected as council and the municipality had taken steps to take a larger role in local tourism, including the formation of an advisory committee.
The storefront will be closed because it makes “very poor financial sense,” according to Morrow. He went on to explain that the “loss” of the chamber information centre/ tourism booth added a monthly cost in excess of $1,000 that the chamber could only afford on the earnings generated from special events and festivals.
Mayor Steven Byvelds challenged Morrow pointing out “that’s 10 years ago.”
Morrow then explained the SDCOC quite simply couldn’t afford the lease, but when asked by Councillor Lloyd Wells, who is a member, when the member rate had last increased, Morrow admitted it was “quite some time.”
The SDCOC will continue to provide tourism services for the upcoming season, but also asked for financial assistance to fund the summer student wages and required federal training courses for the tourism “shoulder months” of May, September and October.
“We have a government grant for wages covering three tourism ambassadors for nine weeks at 30 hours per week in July and August, leaving the shoulder months un-serviced. Wages for this period, plus the training requirements alone in our estimate meet or exceed the $10,000 funding allotted,” explained Morrow.
He went on to explain that they would be happy to meet with a designated representative and work out an agreement based on “previous practices to oversee this portfolio.”
The numerous training programs required by the students include harassment and safety courses and an orientation on what South Dundas has to offer.
Deputy-Mayor Kirsten Gardner asked for further information to support the need for the funding.
“I’d like to see some numbers, some data, just to see what we’re talking about,” she said.
Council took issue with the lack of detail and the last minute approach undertaken by the SDCOC during an open discussion after the deputation.
Staff, who had suggested Morrow appear before council, was given an opportunity to speak to the revelations provided.
“Based on what’s in that letter and when I spoke to the staff, this is totally new. This stuff was never said in our original meeting. I’d like to have time to speak with [economic development officer Rob Hunter] and put together a report to come back to council if that’s fair,” offered CAO Shannon Geraghty.
Hunter was also surprised.
“I guess what I was anticipating, they indicated they got the grant funding, was a detailed breakdown of where dollars would be spent,” he said.
Hunter also outlined the characteristic of last year’s agreement with the SDCOC.
“The contract itself from last year talks about the peak season being July and August. So, they got funding for three students for a nine-week period,” he said.
Council and the mayor took issue with the timing.
“This was late. Once again it was late. Last minute information is hard to make a decision on,” said Byvelds.
Added Gardner: “If it’s this important, I’m not really understanding why we got this so late.”
The lack of information and detail on financial requests was a source of frustration as well.
“I have a major problem with these overhead costs and training, and stuff like that. I don’t understand why there’s no cost associated with each course, if there is a course. I don’t understand the orientation of ‘learning what South Dundas has to offer.’ Is there a course for that? I’m not trying to be flippant, but good partnerships come with good honesty and being forthright with information,” said Gardner. “On first impression it’s not portraying the level of seriousness that we’re told that it is because you don’t come forward with this. You just don’t.”
Councillor Don Lewis agreed.
“You get information that’s this last minute, we had five minutes to look it over, it’s not professional as far as I’m concerned. I’d like staff to get more information so we know exactly where we’re going,” he said.
Councillor Archie Mellan added: “There’s nothing in here. They don’t give us any numbers.”
Wells concurred there was a lack of information, but hoped this was just a hiccup in the organization’s transition.
“The bottom line is we do have to work somewhat as a team. To what degree, I’m not 100 per cent sure,” he said.
Council directed staff to prepare a report on potential partnership and funding options as the SDCOC moves away from tourism.