Just nicely into his second year of operating a Forbidden Flavours mobile concession in Victoria Park, local restaurant owners Mike and Vicki LeBlanc are cutting their losses and pulling out. "I just could not deal with the Souris Parks Board any longer," remarked a frustrated LeBlanc. "Every turn was a brick wall and mixed messages from various Parks Board members and I found it impossible to operate a business the way they were forcing me to." When LeBlanc, who runs the successful Forbidden Flavours located on Crescent Avenue in Souris, along with his wife Vicki, first purchased the mobile concession they thought they were bringing something to town that would compliment the lovely park setting near the pool and give an option to the tourists who come to town. Additionally, he hoped to make a buck but knew that with the economy and the cost of setting up and purchasing his supplies, it would be tight for a while. That he prepared for. What has driven him over the edge is what he perceives to be lack of support from the Parks Board. LeBlanc, when he first approached town council members to discuss the problem, was told that it would be a Parks Board decision. Ironically, three of the six town councillors are Parks Board members. The problems started last year when he tried to get approval for a site location and power hook-up. After much negotiation, the board members finally arrived at an agreement with LeBlanc on where he could operate and approved an electrical hook-up as long as LeBlanc covered the cost of installing the 50-amp breaker and wiring. LeBlanc admits that his fee for setting up in the park in 2009 was nominal, only $25 a month, and that was agreed upon in recognition of the uncertainty regarding the pool start date and the number of potential customers. That contract would be renegotiated for 2010. LeBlanc said attempts to negotiate terms with the Parks Board for 2010 were fruitless. With a busy Canada Day imminent, LeBlanc met with Parks Board president, Don Smith and LeBlanc said that they had reached a verbal agreement on site location. There was no fee set as of yet but he felt secure in setting up shop for what he hoped would be a busy tourist season in Souris. However, the problems continued for LeBlanc and his concession. Campers were given permission to set up their sites in the bowl area of the park since the campground was full, something that had never been allowed before. There was so much power being drawn from the same power box as the Forbidden Flavours concession that the breaker popped on numerous occasions. According to LeBlanc, the power box was not locked as he felt it should have been and individuals would attempt to reset the breaker on their own. This proved costly for LeBlanc, who lost two freezers of ice cream because of the fiasco. "Those people should not have been allowed to plug in and overload the power at the plug that I use," LeBlanc said. "Or at least the board members, who approved the overflow campers, should have made sure that the power box was not accessible to just anyone. It should have been locked."Finally, LeBlanc received a letter dated July 11 from the Parks Board. "Based on traffic experienced in the park last year along with the fact that the pool will be open the entire season and the possible earning potential of a business in such an environment the board felt an increase was warranted," the letter stated. "Board members felt that the amount of your space should be similar to camping rates. Therefore the board passed a motion setting your amount at $100 per month paid in advance. "The Board also expects that the amount for the 2011 season must more closely reflect the 2011 camping rates so you should expect an increase next year. The Board also noted that you have located your business in the park this year without negotiating the amount prior to location and as such require $100 for July immediately. If you find the terms unacceptable then your business must be removed from the park immediately."LeBlanc says he was so frustrated with what he calls the incompetence of the Parks Board to deal with this issue in a professional manner that he sought out and found a sale for the concession. The really sad part for him, he said, is the fact that five employees will now have their hours cut to the bare minimum and that some jobs could be lost entirely. "This board just bungled the entire affair. Now I have to cut staff who depend on their pay cheques. There was no professionalism at all and I am glad to be done with them, " LeBlanc said."It seems that all the young businessmen in Souris have had issues with council at one time or another. Nothing goes smoothly for new businesses in Souris. Something needs to change. Town council really needs to look at who is running the show here and whether or not they want businesses to expand in Souris. But that won't happen as long as three of the council members are Parks Board members as well."Parks Board member Jim Ludlam said he was distressed to hear of LeBlanc's frustration and although he has not met with or discussed the issues with the other members of the Parks Board he would address his concerns. "I am sorry Mike is selling. I heard it was for sale but not that it had been sold. We did try to negotiate with him in good faith," Ludlum said. " We thought he should have located his concession across from the campground office between the pool and campground areas. "I believe he would have been much more successful in that spot, but he was determined to stay where he was." Ludlam said that as far as hooking up to "his" power post, it wasn't his. The hook-up belongs to the Parks Board and they have an obligation to give power to everyone. Ludlam said he was unaware of any power outage.As far as campers having access to the power box, they have to because that's how they plug in and hook up. If they couldn't do that themselves a staff member of volunteer would need to be there all the time. Additionally, he said that the Parks Board members all felt, when they sent out the letter notifying Mr. LeBlanc of the summer's fees that the amount of $100 per month for electricity and water was a fair deal. "We charge campers $4 a day for electricity and the concession uses a lot more than a camper would use, not to mention the large amount of water," Ludlam said. " It's a shame we could not have worked out a deal with Mike. I wish him well."
© Copyright Westman Journal