The Smiths Falls and District Aquatic Recreation Centre (ARC) will receive funding from the town of Smiths Falls after members of council reached a compromise on an issue that had members evenly split over the course of several meetings.
At a special meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole April 3, agreement was reached on the awarding of a $26,600 community grant to operate the pool in 2017. The former Rideau Regional Centre pool, now on the grounds of the Gallipeau Centre, is on private property but operated by a volunteer organization as a community pool.
The volunteer board of ARC submitted a funding application seeking $26,600 from Smiths Falls, to be matched by a combined contribution from the neighbouring townships of Montague, Rideau Lakes, and Merrickville-Wolford.
In evaluating all applications for community grants for 2017, a committee of senior town staff recommended that the ARC request for matching funds be granted. Although the pool derives revenue from user fees, the grant requests were intended to offset an expected operating deficit.
A decision on whether to award the grant was deferred following a Feb. 21 meeting, when some councillors raised objections, including concerns about the efficiency of the operation of the pool. Councillors Jay Brennan and John Maloney argued that they would prefer to fund capital improvements, including installation of a water meter and a new pool cover, rather than paying operating expenses. 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.
At the April 3 meeting, town Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris reported that the ARC board has now installed a water meter, so actual water usage can be tracked and billed accurately, as well as purchasing the pool cover.
“This has really been a concerning issue for me,” commented Brennan. He said he felt confronted with a “moral dilemma” in providing tax money to a facility that operates on privately-owned land, and is marketed as an attraction in promoting the Gallipeau Centre to potential tenants. On the other hand, he added, the pool is run by volunteers giving their time to provide a public service the town can’t afford to provide. Having reflected on the question, said Brennan, he decided to support the staff recommendation to provide $26,600 to ARC in 2017.
Brennan said he was prepared to provide only the amount of funds that neighbouring municipalities actually match. If there is any shortfall, he said, the difference should be used by the town to pay for the cost of a regular weekly free swim for community members, including bus transportation to and from the pool, for a total contribution of $26,600.
All members of council agreed to support this compromise.