Members of the Sidney Business Association (SBA) are walking away from an organization that’s now in debt after 13 years of trying to promote business in the community.
On Sept. 4, the SBA issued a five-page letter, outlining their decision to shutter the organization — laying off their manager in the process — and slamming the Town of Sidney for essentially running them out of business. A further parting shot was levelled at the Town from SBA president Bill Buckley, who told the News Review on Monday that the municipality put too many hurdles in front of an organization whose goal was to promote the business community and, therefore, Sidney itself.
“They didn’t support us,” Buckley said, adding it appeared to him that since 2009 the Town had been actively trying to get rid of the SBA — steadily increasing its fee to run the annual street market, removing the SBA from their location at the Old Customs House and eating into their profits.
The SBA lost the summer market — it’s largest money-maker — this year. Buckley told the News Review for a Sept. 4 story on an outstanding debt left over from the 2012 market that their memberships were solid, while programs such as a newsletter and downtown street banners kept revenue coming in. The SBA board’s decision to close indicates that those efforts were not enough to continue in the face of growing debt.
“We promoted Sidney,” Buckley said. “We did a good job and yet, there was a lack of support for the SBA.”
The SBA, Buckley admitted, does have a lot of debt, but did not reveal just how much. Apart from the $19,000 owing to the Town for the 2012 market, Buckley said they owe money to a lawyer hired to get the market back last year after the Town wrongly cancelled their contract. As well, he said the SBA owes money to a number of creditors, including their landlord. In the past 30 days, Buckley said SBA board members put up $10,000 of their own money to keep the SBA afloat.
He added that from his perspective, a recent meeting with Town chief administrative officer Randy Humble suggested there wasn’t room in Sidney for three business organizations — the SBA, Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and the new Sidney Business Improvement Association.
Humble, in turn said from his perspective, that the future of the SBA was in their own hands.
“At the end of the day, the SBA needs to determine what place it has in the business community and what they can offer outside of what the BIA and chamber can offer,” Humble said Monday.
Humble said in no way did he tell Buckley there was no room for the SBA in Sidney, but admitted the meeting (held Aug. 22) was heated.
Responding to the SBA in a letter to the News Review, Mayor Larry Cross stated laying blame on the Town “is an unfortunate abdication of responsibility.”
“For many years, it has been readily apparent to (town council) that the finances of the SBA were in disarray and that there was serious operation dysfunction within the organization,” Cross said. “This, in fact, was the very impetus for undertaking a request for proposals for the street market.”
The mayor added the fact that SBA board members were putting up their own money for the last month shows the operation is “not financially sustainable.”
Richard Talbot, a former board member of the SBA and chair of its audit committee in 2012, said the SBA was in financial difficulty a long time ago. Operating expenses (salaries, rent) were taking their toll and Talbot said members were leaving for one reason or another. He added he agrees with Buckley that the Town’s fees for running the market were very high. Faced with this uncertainty, Talbot said the Town wanted the SBA to partner with another merchants group and the municipality itself when it came to running the summer market.
“The Town was clear,” Talbot said. “The market was successful and they were successful in getting a lot of volunteers, but there had been some complaints from merchants.”
Talbot said the Town had doubts about the future of the SBA and wanted partnerships to help the long-term stability of the market. When his own resolution to do just that was rejected by the SBA board, Talbot said he and other board members resigned.
“That was the vote,” he explained. “I felt that if the SBA didn’t co-operate with the merchants group and the Town, the SBA would be toast.
“The SBA did a good job and ha s a lot of volunteers, but the writing was on the wall.”
Buckley said he’s not sure what will happen with the SBA’s outstanding debt now that the board has walked away. He said the landlord would probably get what’s left in the SBA’s bank account.
Humble said with the SBA closed, collecting the $19,000 owed the Town “would be a challenge.”