Montague Township councillors have decided to defer voting on a recreation cost-sharing agreement with the Town of Smiths Falls, which would see the township pay an annual share of $50,000 to give its residents access to the town’s two arenas.
Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow and Director of Community Services Art Manhire attended a March 21 meeting of Montague Township council’s Committee of the Whole to present details of the proposed recreation facility cost-sharing agreement between the town and the surrounding townships. In addition to Montague, the agreement will include the townships of Merrickville-Wolford, Rideau Lakes, Drummond-North Elmsley, and Elizabethtown Kitley.
The previous cost-sharing agreement took effect in 2012 and expired Dec. 31, 2016.
New arena cost-sharing plan a tough sell in Montague
The recreation cost-sharing arrangement between Smiths Falls and its surrounding municipalities is a long-standing practice, but the new agreement to take effect this year and run until 2021 will be calculated differently than in the past.
Rideau Lakes, Drummond-North Elmsley and Elizabethtown Kitley have all signed on to the agreement. Merrickville-Wolford is still in the process of considering the request.
Rather than attempting to count the actual number of arena users from each outside municipality, Smiths Falls wants to move to an “assessment-based model.”
In their March 21 presentation, Pankow and Manhire explained that this new model calculates how many people are likely to use the arenas based on how far away from the facilities they live. This makes sense, they said, because, “Proximity to recreational facilities is a key determinant in public participation in recreation and social programming.”
In previous agreements, tracking users “proved to be problematic,” Pankow said.
The assessment-based model is designed to align with the catchment areas of sports organizations. Political polling areas within the townships were given a percentage factor based on estimated usage. This model was developed for Smiths Falls by town auditor Howard Allan, who also developed similar systems for Perth and Carleton Place, said Pankow.
Manhire presented the 2016 budget for the operations of the Smiths Falls Youth Centre and Memorial Community Centre arenas, showing total costs of $909,002. These costs were offset by revenues from facility rentals, ice rentals and advertising which totaled $529,658, leaving net expenses of $424,794. The expenses include wages of staff directly involved in running and maintaining the facilities as well as heating, cooling and electrical costs, but do not include any principal and interest payments related to the construction of the arenas. The Youth Centre was built 25 years ago, and the new Memorial Community Centre opened seven years ago.
Based on these numbers, Smiths Falls is seeking payment of $50,852 from Montague as the township’s share under the new cost-sharing agreement. The amount will be phased-in, requiring a payment of only 90 per cent ($45,766.80) in 2017.
Under the previous agreement, Montague paid $36,113 in 2013, and $49,273.50 in 2016.
At a meeting in February, township council asked Clerk/Deputy Administrator Jasmin Ralph to obtain up- to-date figures on how many Montague residents use the facilities in Smiths Falls.
Ralph reported that in 2016-2017 35 Montague residents participated in boys’ minor hockey, and 25 in girls’ minor hockey. She was unable to reach the Rideau Lakes Figure Skating Club to obtain numbers from that organization, and numbers for adult users were not included.
“Fifty thousand dollars in my opinion is just a little on the stiff side,” said Montague Councillor Jim Carroll, adding that, “This is a lot of money for 60 kids.”
Manhire stated that the arenas are open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. 363 days a year, and provide a variety of experiences for users including an indoor walking track and the rental of halls for special functions.
“This is not just about some kid being able to play hockey,” said Manhire. “This is about people being able to have a social, cultural and recreational experience.”
If a township chooses to opt out of the agreement, Smiths Falls may choose to charge each of its residents an individual user fee of several hundred dollars a year, or to bar its residents from using the arenas. Pankow and Manhire indicated that the no such decision has yet been made. “It’s something we’d have to strategize about,” said Manhire.
Montague councillors would also like to see the establishment of a joint oversight body for sharing recreational services, to allow the townships an opportunity to have input. “We can’t go back and change the history,” said Pankow, adding that the town is now trying to provide more transparency and detailed information to the townships than in the past.
At an April 4 township council meeting meeting, Ralph presented draft terms of reference for the proposed oversight committee which she developed in consultation with Smiths Falls town staff. Councillors agreed at the April 4 meeting to wait several weeks until the other four municipal councils have had a chance to review the terms before voting on the cost-sharing request. Councillors also expressed a desire to pursue discussions with the town about water and sewer rates charged to Montague residents who live in the Atironto Subdivison, and receive those services from Smiths Falls.