Smiths Falls town councillors reached an impasse during debate at a Feb. 21 meeting over how much municipal funding should be given to the Smiths Falls and District Aquatic Recreation Centre (ARC).
In the course of approving staff recommendations on how to disburse community grants for 2017, the six council members who attended the meeting were evenly split over the issue of how to fund the operations of the pool located at the Gallipeau Centre – or whether the facility should receive any public money at all.
The board of directors of ARC, who operate the former Rideau Regional Centre pool, had asked the town for $26,600 in 2017, a request supported by the staff committee that evaluated this year’s community donation applications. The staff made the recommendation on the basis that this amount would be matched by contributions from neighbouring municipalities whose residents also use the pool.
Mayor Shawn Pankow and councillors Lorraine Allen and Chris Cummings spoke in favour of providing the grant. “It provides a vital service to our community,” said Pankow.
Councillor Dawn Quinn objected to providing the funds on the basis that “This pool belongs to somebody that we’re in legal action with.” Councillor Joe Gallipeau, who owns the Gallipeau Centre and was not present for the Feb. 21 meeting, is in the process of suing the Town of Smiths Falls on the basis that his business has been overcharged for water services.
Councillor Jay Brennan said, “I have come to have great respect and admiration for the people who run the pool.” However, he added, the pool is privately owned is being marketed for profit. “These are my concerns and I hear them every day around town,” added Brennan.
Also expressing reservations about municipal support for the pool was Councillor John Maloney. He said he was concerned that public funds being given to ARC could be more efficiently spent, and that energy efficiency could be improved through the installation of a new pool cover and water meter, both costing several thousand dollars.
Maloney and Brennan agreed that they would rather see municipal funds go toward these capital expenditures rather than operations. Councillor Chris Cummings, who chaired the Feb. 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, said this proposal would fail to satisfy the board of ARC, who have indicated their inability to continuing operating without municipal funding.
“Maybe there’s some more homework that needs to be done before we can finish this subject,” said Cummings.
“I think it’s absolutely atrocious,” commented Allen. “I think it’s a very sad day.”
Council directed Art Manhire, the town’s manager of community services, to follow up with the ARC board and convey council’s concerns.