City to issue request for proposals to operate Veiner Centre, Meals on Wheels

Members of the Public Services Committee listen to a city presentation about community consultation regarding the future of the Veiner Centre on Monday afternoon in the Esplanade Studio Theatre. Left to right: Coun. Jim Turner, Coun. Julie Friesen, chair of the committee, and Coun. Kris Samraj. Coun. Phil Turnbull is not on the PSC, but attended the meeting.

This week the City of Medicine Hat will issue a request for proposals to operate the Veiner Centre and the Meals on Wheels program.

The chair of the Senior Citizens Advisory Council, LaVerne Noble, said she is “apprehensive” regarding the process.

“I can’t wrap my head around this and where it is going to go,” she told the Public Services Committee on Monday.

“I find it really scary,” she added noting that the SCAC has been operating continuously for more than 70 years. Programming for seniors and the VC had evolved as the grassroots worked to meet the needs of seniors.

The initiative to explore alternative operating models started with the city’s plan to be financially fit.

The annual cost of operating the Veiner and Strathcona Centres is $1.42 million. The city has previously stated that less than four per cent of a potential 26,000 people, who qualify for membership, are members.

Coun. Kris Samraj asked what percentage the city has as a target.

Leah Prestayko, general manager community development, said it would have to be tailored to the city’s investment.

Brian Mastel, commissioner public services said, “We are still formulating,” but based on other centres it would need to be about 10 percent.

A year ago the PSC was told 25 per cent of the seniors centre budget was earned revenue, 42 per cent family and community support services (provincial funding distributed at the municipal level) and 33 per cent from taxes.

Last fall the city embarked on a series of community consultations to determine what programming seniors would like and what was needed to attract more members and appeal to those more than 50 years old.

Samraj questions whether it is even appropriate to attempt to appeal to such a wide age group.

Turner said there is nothing at the VC that interests him and he can’t think of anything that could be offered to attract him. He also pointed out reopening the VC this fall, after COVID, is going to present additional challenges.

There were key themes and priority program areas that emerged from community consultations, Prestayko told the PSC. Many people felt it had taken too long to recover the VC after the 2013 flood but a central hub was very important.

Noble says many programs established by the grassroots were gone after the flood.

Coun. Julie Friesen, chair of PSC, talked of the importance of programs to address social isolation issues. It is also an opportunity to expand and attract more people.

Some of the consultation report was revealed in February but COVID-19 brought the progression to a halt.

“This whole study has taken on a life of itself,” said Coun. Phil Turnbull who noted it could take the city back to the conundrum it was in three years ago, and there are many services in the city that deserve the same attention.

Coun. Jim Turner said the current financial situation federally and provincially, due to COVID, may mean less transfers to municipalities reducing finances further.

This week RFP details will be made available for service providers to submit proposals for an operating model within the next four weeks. The city’s senior services will also present a proposal.

Submissions will be evaluated and scored in October and November, and presented to the committee.

Ultimately it will be city council that will award the contract and that could take place in November or December, said Mastel.