Security costs deemed worth it to curb vandalism at sports centre

Despite the fact the town has committed itself to keeping any non-budgeted expenditures to a bare minimum given its current financial woes, the outgoing council agreed at a special meeting Monday night to hire security to stop recent vandalism at the Memorial Sports Centre.
And according to those who voted in favour of doing so, the decision was simply a matter of a need for immediate, preventive action outweighing prudent budgeting.
“The vandalism costs us money. If you stop the vandalism, that amount doesn’t go up any more,” reasoned Coun. Roy Avis, who, as a re-elected incumbent, has to live with any new expenditures in the 2003 budget.
“And vandalism is costing us more money than security ever would,” he added.
“If you spend $7 million on a facility, it becomes a very attractive part of your community, and it sets a standard for your community,” continued Coun. Avis. “As far as infrastructure goes, it shows you’re moving forward. And to see it destroyed, it’s just not proper.”
Coun. Struchan Gilson, who first brought the issue of vandalism at the Memorial Sports Centre before council at its Nov. 17 meeting, said the urgency of the situation demanded swift action.
“I think we had to do something,” he stressed. “We couldn’t do anything long-term because of our finances, but we wanted something in place.”
“The cost is negligible because we’re paying it out in vandalism anyway,” he reasoned. “We just had the pegs smashed in dressing room #1 in the ’52 Canadians Arena.
“It might cost $20-50 a shot to fix, and when you think of the time it takes to do the repairs, it all adds up,” he remarked.
Some newly-elected councillors echoed those sentiments.
“Spending money at this point, given the status of the operating budget, is going to be a concern,” said incoming councillor Tannis Drysdale, who will be sworn in with the rest of the new council Monday night (Dec. 1).
“But one of the things we need to do better as a community is to maintain the facilities we have,” she said. “It’s all good to spend money on something new, but what about maintaining what we have?
“You have to think beyond the next step,” she stressed.
“From what I understand about the vandalism, there’s lots of costs stemming from it. If we don’t hire someone, and have $100,000 in damage over the next few years, we’ve obviously made a wrong move,” Drysdale added.
“It’s obvious the outgoing council had to deal with an issue that’s been going on for some time, and had to be addressed right now,” said mayor-elect Dan Onichuk. “And until Dec. 1, that’s their right.
“I can’t see that hiring security will be a gross expenditure,” he added. “For the short-term, it’s probably the right thing to do. Once the new council comes in, this along with other issues will have to be addressed, as I said during my campaign.
“The arena is a beautiful building that took a lot of hard work and commitment from the community to build,” Onichuk said. “We need to maintain it a little better.”
Acting Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said there was much discussion about what to do about the vandalism behind closed doors before the resolution was passed Monday night.
“There was great concern from council from a fiduciary standpoint, concern with the outbreak of acts of vandalism,” he noted.
At Monday night’s special meeting, council (consisting of Couns. Avis, Gilson, Deane Cunningham, Neil Kabel, Dave Bourgeault, and Mayor Glenn Witherspoon) unanimously passed a motion to “retain the services of an outside entity to provide security under the direction of the manager of Community Services.”
The security personnel will work mainly during high-traffic hours (weekends and evenings), noted McCaig, adding the guard will have the power to remove offenders form the premises and even suspend culprits.
The cost of retaining security remains a matter for Community Services manager George Bell to now investigate.
McCaig added there’s an education element, too, as council also vowed to clearly communicate sports centre policies to the relevant user groups (such as minor hockey, “liniment league,” figure skating, etc.) at a special meeting and to the public at large via local media.
The policies also will be posted at the entrance of the facility.
McCaig said this education process would include explaining issues of liability for the town (such as unauthorized liquor consumption by adult users), as well as reiterating the responsibilities of hockey players and coaches when it comes to respecting town property.
“The sports centre is a source of civic pride. It’s well-known in Northwestern Ontario as a premiere facility,” said McCaig. “And they [council] want to get people back in line with the vision of that facility.
“Council is looking after a community investment.”
He added the security will be hired as soon as possible, and that the special meeting with user groups will be scheduled promptly. “They [council] feel it’s crucial to set a tone now,” stressed McCaig.
The item was discussed in-camera by the committee of the whole due to the fact it may have involved talking about specific town personnel and their responsibilities.
The motion to hire security and communicate facility policy then was voted on during a very brief special meeting of council.
(Fort Frances Times)