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Vancouver Pride more than $100,000 in debt because of high city bills

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Vancouver Pride more than $100,000 in debt because of high city bills

December 16, 2017
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The bills are ‘too onerous,’ says Pride co-chair

Two unexpectedly high expenses from the town of Vancouver possess plunged the Vancouver Satisfaction Society into debt.

The first bill came last October, when the town suddenly charged Pride $125,000 for parade-weekend services – more than double the bill from previous years.

In contrast, the town charged just $48,615 in 2015, so when the 2016 bill arrived, VPS board users were shocked.

Pride appealed to the city for help and, after months of negotiations, the town has now decided to forgive 60 percent of the bill, says Andrea Arnot, the VPS’ executive director.

But the negotiations took a year, and Arnot says Pride was slapped with a new bill for $67,956 for 2017, just three times after finally receiving the adjusted bill for 2016.

VPS directors claim the combined total of $118,000 (from what’s left of the 2016 bill plus this year’s expenses) is difficult to pay.

Largely mainly because a result of these unpaid bills, Pride ended its 2017 financial year in August with a deficit of nearly a quarter-million dollars.

According to Pride’s latest financial statement, its expenses exceeded its revenues simply by $238,626 in 2017 – leaving the VPS with a standard debt of $136,368.

That’s a departure from the previous few years, VPS directors told people at their annual general meeting on Nov 25, 2017. Since 2014, when Pride ended the year with a surplus of almost $140,000, the organization seemed to maintain nearly balanced surpluses and deficits, for typically positive year-end balances, directors said.

But the money it now owes the city “is too onerous,” Pride co-chair Michelle Fortin told the interacting with.

“We aren’t asking them to forgive the whole amount because we recognize it costs money to accomplish these things,” she said. “But we are requesting them to recognize that board and staff would like an accommodation of sorts.”

The city has now decided to forgive $75,000 from its 2016 bill, says Arnot, who joined the VPS staff in March 2016. “The process was cordial,” she says. “We have a good working relationship with the town, so whenever we received the 2016 bill we emailed back right away and said, ‘This is a lot more than the estimate we were given, could we have a conclusion?’”

Asked what produced the city’s bill suddenly jump in 2016, Arnot says town staff informed her it has related to the set-up charges for the Davie Street party. Rather than sending the most common traffic authority personnel to set up the street party, the town sent cops, since traffic staff were already busy establishing for the fireworks at English Bay, she says she was informed.

Xtra called the city to ask about the charge hike, especially because the fireworks fell on Pride weekend in 2015 as well. But in an emailed declaration, the city’s special events department would just say that it “remains focused on supporting this iconic event and dealing with the festival in 2018.”

The emailed statement also noted that the Pride parade is among three parades with civic status in Vancouver, which means it receives up to $50,000 per year to offset city and police charges. Satisfaction also received a Community Arts Grant of $9,000 from the city in 2017, the e-mail added.

After years of lobbying, the Vancouver Pride parade finally received civic designation in 2013, this means the city provides VPS an annual grant of $30,000 to $50,000 to greatly help cover fees for cleanup along the way, policing and money lost to unusable parking metres through the celebration.

But the city fees continue to rise, and the VPS does not know why.

“We actually don’t have an answer compared to that,” Arnot says. “There are things like inflation and peoples’ wages increasing, and if you looked at the cost of gaining Pride events 10 years ago to now, everybody’s price will be higher, for tents and toilets and suppliers. That’s probably part of it. The others, we don’t have a remedy.”

VPS co-chair Charmaine De Silva thinks the town should help Pride with the costs.

“To place it in perspective, the parade is a civic parade, thus we get yourself a $50,000 discount on our bill every year,” she told the VPS’ annual general meeting. “But other communities – for example, Toronto – do not charge for the policing costs. We get the expenses.”

“They’re great partners,” De Silva says of Vancouver city hall, “we want to use them, but we hope that amount will go down. We don’t want to spend that amount.”

Arnot says it seems unfair an event without civic designation, just like the 4/20 marijuana celebrations on Sunset Beach, take up as much space as Pride and leave almost all their garbage, yet pay simply no bill.

Contacted for comment by Xtra, Vancouver city councilor Tim Stevenson, who was instrumental in obtaining the Pride parade the civic status in 2013, was shocked to listen to about the bill.

“Oh my God, and you may quote me on that,” he says. “I had no idea.”

Stevenson says he is disturbed that Pride organizers did not contact him for help.

“I’d wish to know what all these expenses were. I have worked very carefully with VPS on this. I would have got them all in my office with my personnel and we would have figured something out,” he says. “I’ll certainly be talking to the mayor about any of it.”

Stevenson confirms that the mayor’s chief of personnel received an email from the VPS within the last few weeks, but says city staff and council will be focusing on the operating budget into the new season and the VPS’ funds likely will not come up before late January.

But, he adds, it’s definitely not a simple question. “It’s a tricky situation if Pride is saying, ‘Make sure you make us an exception and charge us much less,’” he says. “And it’s all taxpayers money, therefore we are responsible to say, ‘Why would we forgive that?’ Before, they didn’t obtain any city money, and now they are receiving some of money. Taxpayers aren’t too happy when the city says, ‘Oh sure, we will just write that off.’”

While the almost all this year’s VPS deficit originates from its unpaid city bills for 2016 and 2017, Arnot says part of in addition, it originates from Pride’s own accounting procedures that saw monetary statements filed predicated on best estimates, just before those bills being received.

“Our calendar year end is Aug 31. The city bill doesn’t come until October,” Arnot explains.

So the 2016 city bill was only estimated for the financial survey shown to members last year – but the report had not been adjusted after the actual (unexpectedly high) bill arrived.

Any adjustments for the actual bills received have only demonstrated up on the next year’s financial statement, Arnot says. So the bills didn’t arrive as losses in the year they were actually incurred.

But this year’s financial record corrects for that, she says, and is now an accurate reflection of underneath line, like the money the VPS today owes the city.

Arnot says Satisfaction is making changes to its automated monthly bookkeeping system and will accurately reflect profits and losses for the year in which they’re incurred to any extent further.

“We are just saying ‘stop right now’ and we are taking it all on the chin,” she says. “We’re just taking all that now and stating here’s our deficit. We will climb out and everything will become accurate from right here forward.”

Climbing out of debt may mean encouraging some community teams to carry their own events, instead of having the Pride Society fund them completely. But those decisions have not yet been made, Arnot says.

Pride also received not even half the donations in 2017 that it did in 2016 (just $9,000 in 2017 versus $21,000 in 2016).

Arnot says that’s mostly because only one team of rainbow flag-bearers collected donations in the parade this season, instead of the usual two. Fewer volunteers arrived for that task this year, she explains.

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