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Council should review how much taxpayers subsidize Mosaic Place, acting mayor says

Reviewing Mosaic Place's subsidy was part of a larger council discussion about providing the venue with more operational money.
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With Mosaic Place facing recurring financial problems, Acting Mayor Dawn Luhning believes council needs to review the areas of the building that taxpayers are responsible for subsidizing. 

“I realize these last two years (during the pandemic) have been difficult,” Luhning said on Oct. 12 during a discussion about providing the event venue with $275,000

However, she pointed out that the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre has faced similar issues during the pandemic — it’s publicly funded — and has not come asking for more money. 

Based on this comparison — and the fact Mosaic Place has regularly asked for money during the last 20 months — Luhning thought council needed to review the subsidy and develop a “worst-case scenario” budget for the venue. This included looking at hockey games, curling activities, live events and meetings, and determining which areas residents should support financially. 

“We need to have some more in-depth discussion about the facilities, the issues (Mosaic Place is) running into … and what’s appropriate for the subsidy, so you’re not coming back here for more money all the time,” she said to general manager Ryan MacIvor. 

Mosaic Place received nearly $1 million in subsidies in 2020 and received more than $830,000 this year, while the venue received $150,000 for food and beverage services in August and was asking for another $275,000 now — all because of the pandemic, Luhning pointed out. 

That $275,000 “isn’t pennies to taxpayers” since it’s a tax increase of more than one per cent, she added. 

“The (events) industry has been absolutely devastated by the pandemic. You can’t really compare Mosaic Place to a cultural centre,” said Coun. Crystal Froese. “It’s like apples and oranges. Having been on the board there, there’s a lot of moving pieces over there.” 

Mosaic Place is a multi-use building that hasn’t operated fully for nearly two years and has still had to keep the lights on, she continued. Meanwhile, keeping the ice in is expensive, while the lack of hockey meant no fans in the seats. 

The City of Moose Jaw raised $11 million to construct the building, so there is plenty of money invested in this venue’s success, Froese said. She agreed with nailing down a proper subsidy but thought that could only happen by comparing Mosaic Place’s budget to a regular year.

Since council was providing another $275,000 to Mosaic Place, Froese wondered from which account the money would come. 

In response, city manager Jim Puffalt said the money would likely come from the accumulated surplus account. 

Data from previous council meetings shows that that account — the “rainy day fund” — sits at roughly $845,000. This means, after $275,000 is given to Mosaic Place, that account will decrease to about $570,000.

Coun. Heather Eby expressed disappointment that this financial need was not flagged in August — “it feels like we were blind-sided again,” she noted — when Mosaic Place asked for money for food and beverage services. However, this time, there was no option but to provide the funding.

She added that she did not favour taking the money from accumulated surplus since it was critical for emergent issues.  

The comparison between Mosaic Place and the cultural centre is appropriate because they face the same challenges, especially with booking, cancelling and prescheduling events, said Luhnnig. The cultural centre might be smaller, but it hasn’t come back to ask for more money. 

Council later voted 4-1 to give Mosaic Place the $275,000 and extend the repayment deadline for the $150,000 loan to June 2022. 

Luhning was opposed, while Coun. Jamey Logan refrained from voting due to a conflict of interest. 

 The next regular council meeting is Monday, Oct. 25. 

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