Council defers voting on “contentious issue” of pool funding

arc-pool-swimming
Aqua fitness classes have been well attended at the Aquatic Recreation Centre in Smiths Falls.
Posted on: March 14, 2017

Chris Must
editorial@pdgmedia.ca

Smiths Falls town councillors remain unable to reach a consensus on a funding request from the board of the Aquatic Recreation Centre (ARC).

At a March 13 meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole, a vote to grant the request was deferred when acting committee chair Councillor Chris Cummings refused to allow it to take place because one member who was opposed to the request, Councillor Jay Brennan, was absent.

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“We’re not going to hold a vote just because someone who’s against it isn’t here,” said Cummings, adding that to do so would look too much like a “strategic move.”

The volunteer board that operates the former Rideau Regional Centre pool on the property now known as the Gallipeau Centre has asked for $26,600 from the town of Smiths Falls to help offset a projected deficit in operating costs for 2017. A town staff committee tasked with reviewing funding requests under the town’s community grants program recommended that the funding be provided.

At a Feb. 21 meeting of council, some councillors indicated they were unable to support the request, and council was evenly split on the issue, with half its members willing to provide the funds and the other half opposed.

At that meeting, Brennan and Councillor John Maloney agreed that they would prefer town funds be used to pay for a water meter and pool cover to help the pool reduce expenses, rather than paying for operating costs.

Cummings, who chaired the Feb. 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, said this proposal would fail to satisfy the board of ARC, who had indicated their inability to continuing operating without municipal funding. Councillors asked Art Manhire, the town’s manager of community services, to meet with the board of ARC and determine if providing funds for capital expenses rather than operating costs would be acceptable to the board.

Manhire reported at the March 13 meeting that the ARC board still requires operational funding. Manhire said the board informed him that it is easier to find funding sources for capital projects than for operating costs, and that they would be willing to find funding for a water meter and pool cover on their own.

“The challenge is still the same,” said Manhire. “It’s to cover the operating costs.”

Councillor John Maloney expressed concern that other municipalities whose residents use the pool weren’t prepared to pay a proportionate share of the costs, and that this might jeopardize the viability of its operations. “I actually support it personally, but I’m not using my money,” he said.

Also opposed to granting the request are Brennan and Councillor Dawn Quinn. Quinn said she was against providing public money to a pool operating on a property whose owner, fellow Councillor Joe Gallipeau, is suing the town.

Gallipeau’s lawsuit alleges he is being overcharged by the town for water usage. “If that lawsuit went away, I might change my mind,” said Quinn.

Cummings, Mayor Shawn Pankow, and Councillor Lorraine Allen said they were in favour of the funding request.

Pankow said 150 children have signed up for swimming lessons. He added that 13 Special Olympians use the pool to train, and that it employs 21 lifeguards. “There are too many people committed to this and involved in it to say no,” he said.

Cummings said a vote on the request should be deferred until all members of council are presented, because it is “a contentious issue.”

Other requests for funding through the town’s community grants program will come forward for approval at the next regular council meeting on March 20.