“Is Gone” is tacked on the Boissevain GO Centre sign during a protest to save the office in May. The government closed the centre in July, but continues to pays for cleaning staff to maintain it.
It’s the graviest of gravy trains — cleaning an office that is completely vacant.
Since Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) shuttered the Boissevain GO Centre on July 12, cleaning staff have entered the government-owned building five times a week as part of an agreement with the province.
It’s wasted money that RM of Morton Coun. David Stead said could have been used to keep the meaningful staff that used to occupy the office in Boissevain.
"It really annoys me because how is this being fiscally responsible?" Stead asked.
In May, residents protested the closure of the building, which staffed two employees.
One employee was offered a job in Souris, while the other, extension co-ordinator Rhonda Coupland, was offered a job in Brandon.
Coupland, who had worked at the office for a decade, was an invaluable member of the community, according to Stead. She had extensive files on local farmers in areas such as manure management and forage programs. She also worked tirelessly supporting the 4-H club.
Community members suggested to the government that Coupland could move into the former Land Titles Building, which houses Manitoba Conservation’s district office. The building has plenty of room, according to Stead, and would achieve the government’s desired goal.
The government would save the overhead expenses of closing the GO Centre in Boissevain, while farmers would still get the expertise and experience Coupland provides.
Instead, neither happened.
The government still owns and pays for cleaning staff to maintain the GO Centre, while farmers are void of Coupland’s experience.
Coupland also chose not to take the job in Brandon.
Stead said the real estate market in Boissevain is healthy and can’t understand why the government is still holding onto the building almost five months after closing it.
"If we ran our business the way they do, we’d have been broke long ago," said Stead, who owns Steads Farm Supply north of town.
He also doesn’t understand why the department would change its name from MAFRI to MAFRD, effectively changing the last word from "Initiatives" to "Development."
"It’s not going to make any difference to how the department runs, but you can imagine the cost for all the signs on buildings, the letterhead, the business cards," Stead said. "It’s just wasting thousands of dollars."
He brought the issues up to the premier at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ ministerial forum last week.
"I understand what you’re saying, you’d like to have somebody who lives in your community that provides services in your community," Premier Greg Selinger said.
"If there is a sensible case that can be made, I know the minister of agriculture (Ron Kostyshyn) and his department will review it."
A provincial spokesman said "the name change better reflects the priority our government has in rural development."
The government has made substantial investments in the department in the last 10 years, reaching a high water mark in 2011-12, when it approved more than $228 million in funding.
However, in the last two years, the department has slashed approximately $15 million.
The name change won’t cost the government any additional funding, the spokesman said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 4, 2013