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Increased fees, few services for Vernon facility rentals

Chamber calls out city on cost and complexities of using arenas, parks
The City of Vernon is charging the local Farmers Market more to rent out the Kal Tire Place parking lot for the Monday and Thursday markets. (Morning Star file photo)

Pressure is mounting on the City of Vernon to ease the cost and complexities around renting arenas, parks, sports fields and parking lots.

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is calling on city council to bolster economic development by overhauling the process to rent public facilities.

Between May 29 and June 16, the Chamber surveyed members and non-members about their experiences using a city facility.

“It was clear through the responses that significant issues exist not only around the cost of renting taxpayer-owned facilities but also the level of service regarding communications, contract timelines and the condition of facilities,” said Robin Cardew, Chamber president.

“These facilities are community assets, but they are not efficiently used for tournaments, trade shows, concerts or other events because of the booking process, cost and lack of maintenance in certain venues. This is a missed revenue opportunity for local non-profits and businesses while events not held results in lost revenues for restaurants, hotels and retail. The City of Vernon is reviewing user fees but that is just one aspect of the issue. Improvements are also needed to customer service, processes, and maintenance.”

The Chamber is urging council to establish a task force to review booking fees and customer service levels.

The Chamber recommends council take the following steps:

· Immediately establish a task force to review booking fees and customer service levels. The task force should include representation from council and a diverse selection of user groups that plan and host events.

· Create a term of reference for the task force that includes, but not limited to, comparable data from other communities, economic development strategies involving events, and whether the booking process should remain within the recreation department or shift to another department.

· Establish a budget for the task force and ensure access to City of Vernon staff and consultants for administrative and technical support.

· Establish a timeline in which the task force presents a report and recommendations to council for consideration, and that the report be presented in an open council meeting.

Among the organizations that completed the survey is the Vernon Farmers Market (VFM), which was recently handed a threefold fee increase by the city for use of the Kal Tire Place parking lot.

“Why have fees increased for a vacant parking lot that does not receive any services or support from City of Vernon staff when the VFM is underway. Escalating user fees will negatively impact the non-profit’s ability to operate as vendors depart because higher user costs are passed on to them,” said Cardew.

“Not only will that harm small-scale entrepreneurs in the community, but it will also reduce food security at a time when it is increasingly important. The Vernon Farmers Market is also popular with visitors.”

In April, the Greater Vernon Chamber was preparing for Community Expo at Kal Tire Place North when it was discovered the night before that another event was using the entire north parking lot for the weekend.

“The matter was ultimately resolved, but at no point had we received communication that the parking lot was unavailable for our vendors, or the thousands of residents expected to attend Expo,” said Cardew.

“A lack of parking could have been disastrous and had we not become aware of the double-booking the evening before our event, it likely would have resulted in refunding over $30,000 in vendor fees and sponsorship. This situation also created hardship for the organization that had booked the parking lot.”

Non-profit organizations provide meaningful social contributions to our community and often hold events that are economically significant and create employment. As an example, Funtastic pumps more than $4 million into the local economy annually and donates to local community initiatives.

“Rather than the City of Vernon charging a fair market rate, it is charging a surplus of fees to these organizations to subsidize the city’s budget shortfalls in other areas,” said Cardew.

“A fundamental shift needs to occur, with the city viewing non-profit events as a benefit to the community and not just its budget. Lower fees and increased service levels will result in more events that benefit everyone, including the City’s budget, through additional bookings and concession and beverage sales.”

The Chamber has written to Vernon city council and requested that its letter be part of the July 17, 2023 council agenda.

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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

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