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Keeler catering contracts stand: Cramahe council

By Mandy Martin, For Northumberland Today

(Postmedia Network)

(Postmedia Network)

COLBORNE - A proposal to cancel the three-year contracts with the two approved Keeler Centre caterers was nixed at Cramahe Twp. council Nov. 7.

The two caterers, Black Dress Catering and King's Plate were informed by phone of the municipality's plans just days before the Nov. 7 meeting.

"What has happened so drastically that this comes to a head?" Coun. Ed Van Egmond asked. "We have contracts. Why are we going back on it?"

"Staff feels it is tying our hands in terms of renting the hall and booking events," Cramahe operations manager Jeff Hoskin said. A wedding was "missed" because another caterer could not be used.

"We've had smaller functions who wanted to rent but were not in agreement with" the stipulation only approved caterers could provide food. "We thought this would be a step in the right direction."

Mayor Marc Coombs said a number of smaller groups of 50 or less have expressed interest in renting half the upper-floor Rotary Hall for $50 or so and want to bring in pizza or their own food.

In August 2015, Cramahe signed contracts with the two caterers to be the sole agents providing food service at the municipally owned Keeler Centre in Colborne. It had taken over two years for Cramahe to formulate and sign the agreements.

"I worked very hard at this and we agreed to a three-year contract," Deputy Mayor Sandra Arthur said. "I believe only a handful of people or events are turned away. I don't see where some of the advantages (of cancellation) are. I'm not sure we gain. This doesn't look good on behalf of us as a council. We need to honour what conracts we have. I don't see a plan in place to market."

"This seems like a big step backwards," Coun. Ed Van Egmond said. "We put this in place because (before) people were not taking care of the Keeler Centre, left it in a mess. I haven't heard any complaints. Why change when it's two-thirds through the contract? We should have a coordinator in place for weddings. I'm not in favour of this at all."

Coun. Don Clark said the motion to cancel was his suggestion: "My hope was to bring in more business. I hoped there would be a big uptick. Two years into the agreement, I didn't see an increase in revenue for use of the hall upstairs."

Coun. Clark said he thought part of the agreements was that the caterers would promote the Keeler Cenytre.

"I think we should honour the contracts," Coun. Tim Gilligan said. "We can look at the verbage so it's not deterring smaller groups and you still get the rental."

"Both council and staff would like to increase usership at the Keeler Centre. Therefore, moving forward, staff feel it would be most advantageous to continue to work with these two catering companies (as they have provided great catering services), but also not limit these types of services to any one or two particular service providers," a Cramahe Twp. staff report to the Nov. 7 council meeting stated.

"Over the three years, we have had many enquiries about renting out the Keeler Centre for smaller private functions but prospective renters have declined as they were not able to have a small pizza party or bring in their own food and snacks.

"Also, larger organizers have also found it limiting by not being able to bring in their own food service provider in which they have a pre-existing affiliation with."

The canteen operation at the centre has always remained the responsibility of the municipality.

When the Keeler Centre first opened in the fall of 2001, Cramahe Twp. had a banquet and catering manager on staff, Donna Rusaw. That position was cut 10 years ago. In the ensuing years, hall rentals could bring in their own food and/or catering firms or have use of the centre's kitchen and place setting supplies if a rental fee was paid.

However, in the wake of inconsistencies, and the on-going money-losing Keeler Centre operations, a Mayor's Task force in the 2010's recommended food service be provided only by a contracted caterer and consistent pricing be established for rentals and food service. Black Dress Catering and King's Plate were the only two catering companies which applied for the catering contract.

Rather than select just one, in August 2015 both caterers were approved and offered three-year contracts to expire the end of August 2018.

The contracts established the two approved caterers as the sole contacts for providing food for events at the Keeler Centre. They had the authority to sub-contract or approve other food providers under their aegis.

Black Dress Catering by Donna Rusaw paid Cramahe Twp. 50 cents per head for public service catering functions, $1 per head for other events.

King's Plate (Darren Lawn) paid Cramahe Twp. five per cent of all food sales.