Pitt Meadows council’s line-by-line budget scrutiny sparked debate about whether the city should pay $2,500 in costs to have the CPR Holiday Train stop by again this year.
The Holiday Train brought a free concert, with headliner Jim Cuddy, the Blue Rodeo frontman, at the Harris Road railway crossing last year, helping mark the city’s centennial. It was the first time the train has stopped in Pitt Meadows.
But as council reviewed expenses for community events on Tuesday, Coun. Janis Elkerton asked who will pay for the CPR Holiday Train’s return on Dec. 18.
“I’m excited for that, but the food bank has requested the city cover the cost of traffic management, first aid and security for any future events,” she said. “Who paid for it last year?”
Last year, the RCMP, Friends in Need Food Bank and the city bore the costs, answered Lorna Jones, director of human resources and communications. But she said the city is now being asked to cover roughly $2,500 in costs for this year.
Mayor John Becker noted the city is being asked to foot the bill for an event that benefits the food bank.
“A wonderful project, but we struggle with the costs of these,” said Becker.
“I struggle with, frankly, the rationale why we would pay $2,500, and there’s staff time involved, perhaps volunteered, to present a cheque to … no matter how good an organization.”
He said council will decide which are “signature events,” ones the city will own, and which should be run by community organizations.
Coun. Bill Dingwall argued that the city should buck up.
“For me, special events for our community, it’s an important fabric of what we’re about. It’s called livability,” said Dingwall. “And this is an event that is in close proximity to an important festival and season for us, Christmas.
“Our citizens expect to go to different festivals and events that represent a whole variety of interests in our community.”
And he said “$2,500 on a $23 million budget is pretty small.”
Friends in Need Food Bank executive director Mary Robson said the Holiday Train stops are significant for food banks across the country, and offer good community events.
“They had two stops in our two lovely communities, and it was such a huge success that they wanted to do it again,” said Robson.
The train is scheduled to arrive in Maple Ridge at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, then be in Pitt Meadows by 8:45 p.m.
In addition to a free Christmas concert, which drew about 2,000 people in Pitt Meadows last year, CPR donated $7,000 to the food bank for each stop.
The event is free to the public, but community donations included 2,954 pounds of food from Pitt Meadows and 2,538 from Maple Ridge for Friends in Need.
There were also cash donations of $2,726 from Maple Ridge, and $3,044 from Pitt Meadows – including $750 from the city.
“It provides such a wonderful event for families,” said Robson.
Volunteer involvement and donations should be able to minimize the amount of funding asked of Pitt Meadows, she added.
The debate came as council reviewed a staff report on the cost of special events.
“These events reflect the growth of the city and demand for celebrations of civic pride and community engagement. Some of the city’s larger events, such as Pitt Meadows Day, attract not only local residents but also visitors from other communities. To sustain continued success and a healthy community, individual volunteers, businesses and the municipality all have a role to play,” said the report, which was prepared by Jones.
In 2015, an estimated 40 special events are to have been held, attracting 43,500 people.
The largest is Pitt Meadows Day, on the first Saturday in June. It attracts 20,000 people. The volunteer festival committee fundraises $50,000 to produce the festival, parade and fireworks display, using seed money of $7,500 in a fee-for-service grant from the city.
Other signature events include Canada Day, Remembrance Day, A Pitt Meadows Christmas and Katzie Culture Day, the latter held for the first time in September and funded for $3,000.