Ponoka Youth Centre Executive Director Beth Reitz addresses council Oct. 22. Photo by Emily Jaycox

Ponoka Youth Centre warns they can’t continue to exist without help from town

Community groups come to Ponoka town council with budget asks

With town council going into budget deliberations in November, two community organizations are hoping for a piece of the proverbial pie, though one is accustomed to a larger slice.

The Ponoka Jubilee Library (PJL) and the Ponoka Youth Centre both made presentations to council during its regular meeting on Oct. 22, asking for funding from the town for their operating needs.

According to information provided by town communications manager Sandra Smith, in 2019, the town contributed $96,660 in funds to PJL and another $269,430 in the form of in-kind contributions for the sublease of the library space and maintenance costs.

The youth centre received in-kind donations of swimming fees in the amount of $1,000 and a utility credit for $2,200 in 2019.

PJL asked council for $96, 660 for its 2020 budget and the Ponoka Youth Centre asked for $15,000 for 2020, as well as the continued in-kind donations of pool fees and utilities.

Ponoka Youth Centre

The youth centre showed a digital presentation, two youths from the Keystone Club and a parent spoke to council, and staff, parents and youth filled the gallery.

The centre has been in operation for 17 years and have seen tremendous growth in that time, from 356 total visits in 2002 to 21,453 in 2018.

It now operates 16 programs and has 15 staff members and serves up to 100 children per day.

The youth centre lost substantial funding in the last year from other sources, amounting to $115,000, or 18 per cent of its income, while increasing services by four per cent. It will be taking into reserves in 2020.

The town has supported the youth centre in past years with in-kind donations of swimming fees and utilities, and Executive Director Beth Reitz says while they’re grateful “it’s not enough anymore.”

“The fact of the matter is, we are carrying a large weight in this community,” said Reitz.

“We are recreational, we are social service, but we are preventative and without us, you guys are in trouble.”

The youth centre is the only licensed child care program in Ponoka for school-aged children apart from day homes.

“We are your best investment.”

Chris Spence, a Ponoka resident whose children attend the youth centre, says his family has stayed in Ponoka despite his commute to work in Edmonton because of the quality of programs and affordability of care the youth centre offers.

“The youth centre is critical to our success as a community,” said Spence, adding without it, the town will have a hard time getting families to stay with the current economic situation.

The presentation included a supporting letter from Ponoka detachment commander Sgt. Chris Smiley, stating the youth centre is a “vital investment” and a “piece of the puzzle for crime reduction.”

From 3 to 6 p.m. is the prime time for juvenile crime and victimization, and with the after school program, with supervised care, the youth centre is preventative and reduces the risk for youth.

Their presentation also outlined five provable ways the centre benefits the community at large.

Reitz acknowledged that with the provincial budget, asking for an annual donation right now is tough, but “we need money for this year and we need to get on your budget.”

Ponoka County has been funding youth centre programs for a number of years, so the town has declined to also provide direct funding to the centre.

According to Smith, the town contributed $40,109 to FCSS in 2019, and FCSS in turn funds a number of programs including the youth centre.

“Often times in the past the excuse from the town is, ‘well, we give money to FCSS,’ and while we acknowledge that and we know that, the money that you give to FCSS, is less than what FCSS gives to us,” Reitz told council.

“However, the county also gives FCSS money, and they also give us money too and the county is only 25 per cent of our youth served, while the town is 75 per cent.”

READ MORE: Town council briefs, funding request denied

The PJL received a $60,000 operations grant from Ponoka County in 2019, according to budget information in the agenda package.

Reitz went on to explain, that currently, the county provides five per cent of the centre’s budget, while they are asking the town for $15,000 which only represents 2.5 per cent of their budget.

“So while we are serving twice as many of your kids, we’re asking you for half as much money — to start.”

Reitz also stated that without funding, the youth centre may have no choice but to go somewhere else if they don’t get help.

The town’s 2018 budget was $20 million, and at $15,000 the centre is asking for just 0.08 per cent of that budget, says Reitz.

“If we disappear and you now take over recreational costs, it’s going to cost you 3 per cent, so we’re asking you to help us now, to save yourselves money later.”

“That’s quite an interesting way to put it but we have quite a large deficit of our own already,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett in response.

“On a note though, we do recognize what you guys do in the community and you are a big part of the community, and with the youth, definitely help, and with our budgets, you can see how tight it’s going to get. Council is well-aware that you guys do a good job.”

Bonnett says budget deliberations will be “quite interesting, I can tell you that.”

“While we know you have budget deliberations, and we really hope we’ll make it past the first day this time, we need you to know that we can’t exist and continue to do what we’re doing without your help,” said Reitz.

Coun. Teri Underhill requested the youth centre to send its 2018 financial statement and its projected budget for next year to the town for comparison, which Reitz said she would supply.

Ponoka Jubilee Library’s presentation

The library provided a presentation package and library manager Dan Galway spoke to council.

“The Ponoka Jubilee Library provides an extremely valuable service to citizens of the Town of Ponoka and Ponoka County,” said Galway.

“Through the provision of relevant collection materials we seek to satisfy the informational, recreational and cultural needs of our patrons.”

Since the move to the new location, PJL reports a 29 per cent increase in visitors and a program attendance increase of 36 per cent.

So far in 2019, there have been 87,668 individual visits to the library and 29,088 visits to the teen section (according to data collected by motion sensor cameras), compared to 55,000 in 2018.

PBL has also circulated 48,123 items and quoted saving the average patron about $250 in materials in 2019.

Other services the library provides are computer access, wifi and e-library usage.

The library provides an outreach program to the Centennial Centre and services to senior centres twice a month, and in 2020, will be introducing service delivery to shut-ins, through partnering with FCSS.

There are 14 public access computers, and a recorded 28,997 individual computer sessions and 3,842 log ins from individuals using their own devices recorded to-date in 2019.

“From resume creation to printing documents, to checking social media to playing video games, patrons use our public access computers to suit their individual needs and although it may seem as if the digital divide is narrow, the frequency of usage of these units is clear evidence that this is an aspect of service delivery that is still necessary and important.”

PJL had a reported $261,600 expenses in its 2019 budget, which was provided in the council agenda.

“The citizens of Ponoka value their library,” said Galway, adding PJL believes programs should remain free to allow for participation.

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