Jenn Pollner talks budget to chamber members during the group’s AGM. (Lexi Bainas/Gazette)

Stakeholders need to ante up more cash to run Lake Cowichan visitors centre: chamber

Increasing costs like wages must be there in black and white for negotiating process

As part of its campaign to provide more value for its members, the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce is trying to determine the “real cost” of running the Lake Cowichan tourist information centre.

Members of the executive explained at the chamber’s annual general meeting March 7 what they’ve been trying to do, as they prepare to start negotiations for a new contract with the Town of Lake Cowichan and other funding agencies.

Jenn Pollner said that in previous years, the chamber’s finances have not shown the visitors centre on its own. What the executive is trying to do is come up with the actual cost to run the visitors centre and then see separately what it costs to run the chamber itself.

“We want to show the costs more clearly [broken down],” she said. “Because what happens is that our chamber members are paying for all of the visitors centre expenses. That’s not really the agreement of a chamber and it’s not really the agreement of the visitors centre. We want to cost out every line item.

“In doing this, we actually came up with a negative number for the visitors centre this year. You may have noticed that the wages have increased. We’ve had a minimum wage increase across B.C. It’s quite a drastic wage increase, so it’s costing us a lot more money. What we have done is present this budget and we [now] have to go to the CVRD and the Town of Lake Cowichan. We’re in negotiations for our new contract for fee for service with the town of Lake Cowichan this year.

“We need to go to them and present them with the true cost of what it costs to run the visitors centre, and say: if we can’t get more money from you, or from First Nations, or from somewhere else to help us actually run the visitors centre cost effectively, we can’t do it,” Pollner said.

There are also other funding sources: the province with Destination BC, Tourism Cowichan, and more, and everyone will be approached to help out.

Asked if the Town of Lake Cowichan has increased what it pays, considering how much the visitors centre does for the town, Pollner said it had not but the chamber is now at the end of a five-year contract and is now going for a new five-year deal.

Fellow executive Brent Clancy then said that, with costs increasing over the past five years, particularly in wages, “the chamber has been subsidizing the visitors centre. Not to say the chamber hasn’t got value out of that, there’s been lots of exposure…but, we want to portray the real costs to everyone, to show people that the true cost of the visitors centre is higher than has been shown in the past.

“The chamber, as a business, is operating very effectively. Membership over a three-year period has almost doubled. And our management skills show in being able to increase revenue where there was no revenue before by selling items. We are able to provide a mobile visitors centre trailer and have advertising and sponsorship that will bring in income from that trailer and offset costs that are incurred from it.

“But on the visitors information centre side of it, the cost has gone up markedly but the revenue and the subsidization of those services have not. And that’s something that has to be addressed in our new fee for service.

“It’s likely this year that there’s going to be a subsidy from the chamber…to the visitors centre. This can happen in one year but it cannot happen in perpetuity without cuts.

“The first thing cut would be the student’s wages. Services that the centre provides would have to be cut. You can’t run professionally like that. The chamber would go out of business.

“This is something that’s going to be brought up with the town. It’s got to be addressed. The value that we bring to [the visitor information centre] is massive compared to what could be done by the town itself,” Clancy said.

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