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Multiplex grapples with unknown due to COVID

Proposed budget focuses on lower projected usage
Multiplex front desk_File_WEB
For now, the front desk at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex (ARM) sits quiet and alone but board members hope to resume normal, or near normal, operations in September said ARM society chair, Athabasca County Coun. Travais Johnson.

ATHABASCA - The proposed budget for the Athabasca Regional Multiplex (ARM) is on par with previous budgets, but getting to that bottom-line number looks a lot different in response to the pandemic as the finalized financials for 2020 show the devastating story of COVID-19 on the recreational facility. 

In the proposed 2020 budget, the sale of goods was estimated at $8,000, but came in at $4,228 and is projected to be $4,000 in 2021. Actual membership sales in 2020 totalled $65,211, down 58 per cent from the estimated $155,000 and over double the estimate of $30,000 for 2021 with ARM board members noting current memberships will be extended so they do not project many new members. 

“As for the forecast on the Multiplex, that is the million-dollar question,” said ARM society chair and Athabasca County Coun. Travais Johnson in an email April 25. “I would say the best forecast is positive and hopeful. Restrictions due to COVID made for those complex decisions on operations to save some money with the building being empty.” 

With schools unable to do field trips, for now, the only consistent rental will be from Edwin Parr Composite School, located right beside the Multiplex, with both actual and projected numbers well below the $40,500 projection for 2020 at $11,406 actual, and projected $17,200 for this year. 

“This year’s budget was based on the assumption the Multiplex would have very limited operations until September, and then likely operate in September at an increased capacity, similar to last September,” said Athabasca County CAO Ryan Maier, who stepped in as interim manager of the facility twice recently as a permanent manager was sought, in an April 23 e-mail. “Our hope is to return to ‘normal’ operations before the end of 2021, but at this time it does not appear likely.” 

Club rentals in 2020 were 45 per cent lower than hoped, finishing the year at $90,050; estimated to be $61,500 in 2021. General rentals dropped from a projected $155,800 to $59,897, or 61 per cent. The estimated for 2021 is even lower at $36,500. 

And with no club rentals there were limited liquor sales, with $13,137 sold of the estimated revenue of $61,000. For 2021, they are projecting a modest $25,000. 

“I would love to see the restrictions lifted tomorrow and have people get back some normality to their lives which includes using the Multiplex,” Johnson said. “Right now, it is a wait-and-see game, but by working together we will get through COVID and see our Multiplex being utilized to its full potential.” 

Lease rental, which includes the daycare and kitchen, was down 69 per cent from $24,860 to $7,638 and is estimated to be $17,144 in 2021. Advertising revenue also dropped from $54,500 to $24,495 and will be even lower for 2021 with an estimated income of $17,000. 

“Lease revenue is down because we are not charging lease rates while the facility is closed,” Maier said. 

Drop-in use should make up a large portion of revenue estimated at $170,000 in 2020, but finishing the year at $74,362. It is projected at $75,000 for 2021. 

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) offset staffing costs for $367,188 in 2020 and is projected at $210,000 in 2021. 

“CEWS is less because there are less employees to date in 2021 than in 2020, and we anticipate the end of CEWS sometime this spring,” said Maier. “Thankfully, it has been extended until the end of May at this point. All other reduced employee expenses are due to less staff.” 

The staff reduction is noticed in the proposed 2021 wage expenditure of $767,797, down 29 per cent from the 2020 actual of $1,084,852 and all other staffing related expenses have been adjusted accordingly including Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance contributions, as well as travel and subsistence to $500 for 2021 from $4,000 proposed in 2020. 

Repairs are a priority pumping that item up 43 per cent to $118,000 in 2021 over the $82,500 projected budget which came it at a final cost of $37,613 for 2020 and with programming software reaching end-of-life when the current program will no longer be supported after October, $44,000 was budgeted to replace it. 

Another savings is no longer having the Old Brick School falling under the Athabasca Performing Arts Centre (APAC) which was the Nancy Appleby Theatre, Alice B. Donahue Library and Archives and school combined, but since the school has been taken over exclusively by the Town of Athabasca, salary costs associated with APAC dropped from an estimated $34,625 in 2020 to $12,690 for 2021. 

With the school now off the books, natural gas and electricity costs dropped significantly for APAC from a 2020 $20,000 estimated cost each to $6,000 for gas and $3,000 for electricity and repairs were also lowered from $10,000 to $3,000. 

As for the bottom line, ARM projected a 2020 deficit of $1,582,517, but finished the year almost three per cent better with a deficit of $1,535,982. The projected deficit for 2021 is even lower at $1,525,355. 

“We will be ready and waiting to welcome back all of our patrons as soon as restrictions are lifted,” said Johnson. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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