Residents of neighbouring municipalities refusing to contribute to the operating costs of Smiths Falls recreational facilities will no longer be allowed to use those facilities, under a new town policy.
The town negotiated cost-sharing agreements with all municipalities bordering on Smiths Falls and managed to reach agreements with the townships of Rideau Lakes, Montague, and Drummond-North Elmsley. The councils of Merrickville-Wolford and Elizabethtown Kitley have refused to contribute the cost-sharing amounts Smiths Falls was seeking. Negotiations began after a previous five-year cost sharing agreement expired this year.
In a report to town council Aug. 8, Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris said Smiths Falls had three possible options to deal with municipalities refusing to sign the agreement: impose a surcharge on their residents wishing to use Smiths Falls facilities; prohibit those residents from using the facilities; or take no action.
Morris said council had already decided that taking no action was not an option. Surcharges on residents of non-complying municipalities had been tried in the past, he added, but “It was very difficult to administer.”
Town staff is recommending that residents of non-complying municipalities (those bordering directly on Smiths Falls) be prohibited from using the arenas.
“In the end the staff recommendation is to move ahead with the prohibition,” said Morris.
The town will help sports leagues using the arenas to administer the policy. Users will be asked for proof of residency, in the form of a tax bill, water bill, electricity bill or bank statement, which Morris said would cover either renters or homeowners.
In response to questions from council, Morris said the most recent usage statistics showed that out of 1,250 arena users, 72 came from Merrickville-Wolford, amounting to six per cent.
The town was asking Merrickville-Wolford for a cost sharing contribution of about $15,000, said Morris, adding “Between the mayor and I, we made three trips to their council to make representations.”
Commenting that he hates to see kids prevented from playing sports, Councillor John Maloney said, “But that’s on their council, not ours.”
“This is not an action that anyone wants to take,” said Mayor Shawn Pankow.
Morris said that Merrickville-Wolford has time to reconsider joining the agreement. “We are open to discussing any kind of change with Merrickville-Wolford,” he said.