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YWCA women's shelter may close

Banff’s YWCA may close its shelter for abused women in the face of tough economic times and ongoing increases to the organization’s costs.

Banff’s YWCA may close its shelter for abused women in the face of tough economic times and ongoing increases to the organization’s costs.

On Monday (March 14), Y officials told Banff council they have been running an overall deficit budget for the last four years and also rely on their hostel to pay for their programs.

But, they say, the “tipping point” could well be the Town’s new garbage and recycling pick-up fee, which, at full implementation, will cost between $7,000 and $10,000.

The projected cost to run the shelter, which temporarily houses women and their children fleeing violent relationships – will be about $73,000 this year.

“We are in our fourth year of a deficit and, although this utility is not the only thing, it’s the tipping point for us,” said Kerry-Lee Schultheis, the Y’s executive director.

“We are going to have to close our shelter because we can no longer sustain it. That’s what we have to do.”

Schultheis was before town council armed with more information in her attempt to persuade them to exempt the Y – a registered charity — from the new waste charge.

As of Jan. 1, the Town of Banff moved to a new method of charging for garbage and recycling collection services, known as the waste utility.

It means the cost of recycling collection and taking garbage to the landfill now appear as a separate utility charge, rather than on property tax bills.

The Y is exempt from paying municipal property taxes because it is a charity, so the garbage and recycling utility is a new fee.

Schultheis said the daycare, the library and the seniors centre – all housed in town-owned buildings – don’t pay property taxes, nor do they pay a water and sewer bill.

“I am asking you to make a philosophical commitment to exempt Banff YWCA from this new utility and that all charities be treated equally in regards to this new utility,” she said.

While council decided against forgiving the new utility at this time, the door was left open to the possibility of some form of help.

They directed administration to come back with a report detailing tax exemption and utility charges for non-profits and charitable organizations the Town of Banff currently provides.

Councillor Chip Olver, a former Y board member, said she was struggling with this issue, particularly given that what the Y was asking for “seems like such a small amount.

“I think our community is well served by the YWCA. I find it really distressing to see the shelter might close,” she said.

“I have philosophically always supported the Y, and maybe forgiveness from the utility might not be the way to go, but I think we should be doing something.”

Schultheis said two-thirds of the rooms at the Y are for permanent accommodation, while the remaining third are sold on a nightly basis.

The Y’s projected revenues for 2011 total $596,405, including $500,417 from permanent revenue from its lodge and $95,988 in provincial grants, she said.

Schultheis said the Y is putting close to $1 million into social programming, including $470,000 for programming staff, benefits and wages.

She said that, despite ongoing perceptions in the community, the Y is not a “hotel pretending to be not for profit”.

“We need the money from the hostel to do the work we do in the community,” she said.

“The majority of our focus is on anti-violence and our second focus is housing. We are not making money to support shareholders.”

Schultheis said the shelter has so far been used for 294 nights in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, compared to 49 nights in 2009-2010 fiscal year.

She said half of those were women with children and/or were pregnant. She said the higher number this past year could be attributed to harder economic times for families.

Schultheis said there are 33 YWCAs across the country. Of the 16 who responded to her questionnaire, all but one paid water and sewer bills, but six do not pay for garbage pick-up.

But she said many municipalities – such as Calgary, Vancouver, Peterborough, Kamloops and Moncton – also supported the YWCAs in their communities financially.

“When I was looking into other Ys, I saw other communities valued their Ys, and you know, it doesn’t feel that way here,” she said.

Coun. Stavros Karlos said he was “getting a bit touchy” and “frustrated” to hear the municipality does not support the Y.

He said the municipality exempts the Y, and other charities, from paying municipal property taxes, but indicated he would be keen to have a broader policy discussion.

If the Y were to pay property taxes, the Y would have paid about $170,000 in 2010, with $121,000 being municipal taxes.

“I’m not disputing the Y does plenty of amazing work in the community, but we do support you,” said Karlos. “When we give property tax exemptions, that means the rest of the ratepayers are paying that.”

Schultheis replied, “I believe we pay $1 million worth of property taxes through our programs. Look at what we do for the community”.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she too supports and appreciates what the Y does, saying she does not like the fact this could lead to programs being reduced.

“But waste is a cost of doing business,” she said. “We are now shifting that so people have to be responsible for the waste they’re producing.”

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