By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Changes are coming to a skating program for little kids in Picture Butte.
During the Picture Butte town council’s regular Oct. 23 meeting, Manna Middleton appeared as a delegation to discuss the Parents and Tots skating times.
Parents and Tots skating had typically taken place at the Picture Butte arena on Fridays from 12:50-1:50 p.m., and has been running for the past two decades for children ages three to six years old. Middleton, who is a consultant and the former owner of the non-profit Bee Hive Daycare in Picture Butte, came to council with a request that the time change.
“What I’m making a request for is the time is made as early as possible, that would still compliment administrative duties, in terms of finances and making it a viable program to continue,” said Middleton. “But also meeting the needs of what’s developmentally appropriate for the children and the program that it’s serving, which is children under six years old.”
The current time, according to Middleton, is right around lunch and naptime for the daycare’s charges. As the daycare is the one the main users of the Parent and Tots skating time, she asked council that they move the time to earlier in the day, alluding that she had made this request to the previous council.
“It may seem to those who don’t work with children or haven’t been with children for some time a silly thing for me to constantly hassle you with, and I do apologize. It’s just a program I value more then you can know,” said Middleton. “This opportunity has helped children have the opportunity to learn the skills and the development of basic fundamental skills of skating and physical activity.
“Last year, it was extremely stressful for the children to go around their lunch period and to skip their naps. It took the joy out of it, and it’s something we can’t continue to do, and it would be very sad, I think, for the community, as something we offer as a town to the people in our community.”
Middleton noted when she asked about getting the time changed last year, the previous council had “a good argument”, when they turned down the request because the daycare was a for-profit business.
However, now that they are a nonprofit, and considering how the daycare is the main user of the program, she hoped that the request may be considered.
When asked what the ideal time would be, Middleton said before noon, with the latest time being 11:15 .m.-12:15 p.m., with the ideal time being 10-11 a.m.
When asked if they could cover the fees for the ice time in a new tie bracket — or to prep and run the ice for two hours — Middleton said she would have to check, although she said that the daycare could cover the costs of escorting the kids to and from the ice, as the program charges a fee for adults on the ice.
Picture Butte CAO Keith Davis sought to clarify Middleton’s reply, saying that public skating fees were brought in for the program during the previous ice skating season.
“Everyone under six is free for any public skate. So parents and tots is considered a public skate,” said Davis. “If any resident came down with their child under six, the parent would pay and the child would get in free.”
According to Davis, the reason why Parents and Tots is at the time its at is because the arena has a figure skating program going at 2 p.m. To prepare the ice for skating, a contractor would have to come in half an hour prior, and although their contractor is willing to come in earlier, it would be outside of their contracted hours and the town would have to pay for it.
When asked if the daycare would be willing to pay for the added costs, Middleton said she would have to find out what the costs were and put it before the daycare’s board. Right now, the daycare is running strictly off of fees. When asked what percentage of users were from the county and what percentage were from the town, Middleton said that they didn’t keep track. After the delegation ended and Middleton left, council returned to the topic later on in the council meeting.
“This is kind of the same thing, whether they’re nonprofit or not nonprofit. If three parents down my block with 12 children wanted to have an hour of ice rental at 10 o’clock specifically, it will be tax payers paying for it,” said Henry de Kok, Picture Butte councilor. “Unless they are willing to cough up the extra money for the whole works.”
Middleton had submitted a petition to council, requesting that the time for the Parents and Tots skating schedule be changed back to 10-11 a.m.
Coun. Cynthia Papworth checked with administration that Middleton was going to see if the daycare would pay for the extra cost. Once confirmed, she said as long as they would pay for the extra costs, “would we not be able to do it?”.
Mayor Cathy Moore agreed with Cynthia, asking if they should table the matter and get the information requested. However, Davis brought up something that he said just occurred “literally” during the council meeting; the figure skating program which had previously gone at 2 p.m. that day canceled, and would now be going from 3-4 p.m.
“Unless it’s at 2 o’clock, the costs are going to be the same whether it’s a 10-11, 11:50 or 12:50, it’s going to be the same,” said Davis. “That cost will be $1,350 for the season.
“I’m working off that from the last time this came up, council approved a Parents and Tots skating time. So if council approves that again, it will be $1,350, that’s going to be picked up through the taxes.”
Davis said that when it was last brought up in 2015, he had cancelled the program and argued to council that the program was “pretty much a private booking” because the daycare was “the only ones who use it”.
“I made the argument, from my point of view, they’re a private booking, and therefor, they should book it as a private booking, which is $89, for a junior rate. Council decided not to do that, and decided to have a public Parents and Tots skate. So we scheduled it, and the taxpayers picked that up.”
Davis then asked if council wanted to continue the program, and whether they wanted to accommodate an earlier time then what administration would schedule for the program. After confirming that schools do pay for their own ice time, Moore questioned why they weren’t doing the same for the daycare, wondering why that was fair.
Deputy mayor Joe Watson wondered if they should be running the Parents and Tots program. He noted that if the Bee Hive daycare didn’t use the program, and chances are, they would get only a few families attending the program, and about half of which would likely be county residents, which they receive no funding for.
“My first thought would be we should cancel the Parents and Tots, because for the simple reason it’s not used, and it’s costing us money, taxpayer money,” said Watson. “The second question would be Manna’s (Middleton) situation, and folks, as far as I can see, if she wants ice time, she has to be charged just like everyone else. She’s running a business — might be nonprofit but there’s money coming somewhere — and we can’t ask taxpayers to pay, to carry to load for that.”
De Kok pointed out that there are other ice time that the daycare can attend during the week. Frank West, director of operations for the town, noted that the reason that the daycare used the Parent and Tots skating time was because of a potential safety issue of older kids and young kids on the ice together. Although de Kok argued that there wasn’t many other skaters on the ice during those times, Davis said that if council wanted to, it would be a good idea to separate Parents and Tots and public skate so parents can take their three-year-old out on the ice without worrying about the 16 year olds on the ice.
De Kok suggested that they use one public skate as Parents and Tots skating time, while Watson suggested stopping the program altogether. West recommended that the town promote the ice area more.
“We pay a good chunk of money just to keep the ice cold and the building warm. To only have it open eight hours a day, I think is not worth our investment that we put into it,” said West. “I think that we should look into utilizing the building more in the day, but somehow promoting that as well, to get people to come and use it. I do have requests from other user groups — other then Parents and Tots — for early in the day ice, and they’ve just come to me as well.”
Frank did note that they would be paying as a private booking however. Moore suggested that the daycare could get local businesses to sponsor skate time for them.
“I totally agree. Then if she wants that time, and she wants to pay for it, then she could also, as she said, get help through her own organization as well,” said Teresa Feist, Picture Butte councilor. “I think that would be a good idea.”
Feist said that she didn’t want to see the Parents and Tots cancelled, as the more the arena was promoted, the better. Watson said that if they do continue with the program, the time would have to be as economically feasible as possible for the town. Noting that the time might not be what works out best for the daycare, he said they would also have to decide whether to treat the daycare like the schools or a third party looking for ice time.
“(Middleton) is offering that program inside her program. So she’s using it as a selling feature for her program, and the Town of Picture Butte is picking up that portion of her program,” said Watson. “You can’t do that. I mean, as much as we’d like to help out the little kids to go skating, of course, but, you can’t do that with tax payers dollars when you’re charging everyone else.”
Coun. Cynthia Papworth noted that out of the names on the petition, only about three live in Picture Butte, with the addresses listed coming from place such as Lethbridge, the county, Nobleford and Shaughnessy.
Watson made a motion to look at cancelling the Parents and Tots skating program unless administration can schedule it at a time when program won’t cost any additional operational costs, with the program being evaluated during the new year. The motion passed unanimously.