The Municipality of Smiths Falls has put in place a by-law which bans residents of Merrickville-Wolford from using their recreation facilities. The decision was made after Merrickville-Wolford decided not to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with them which asked that they pay $15,727 to Smiths Falls for the use of their facilities. Smiths Falls CAO, Malcolm Morris, says that the number is based on Merrickville-Wolford’s share, being 4.11% of the total operating costs of Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre and the Smiths Falls Youth Arena. This percentage was calculated based on how many residents of Merrickville-Wolford are likely to use the centres, based on their proximity to the facilities.
After hearing the proposal from Smiths Falls, Merrickville-Wolford council decided not to enter into the cost sharing agreement, because they felt it would be better to ensure the funds designated for recreation go directly to the multiple facilities used by their residents in the surrounding municipalities, including Smiths Falls, North Grenville, and Brockville. Instead of paying the $15,727 to Smiths Falls, which is over half of the municipality’s budget for recreation, they opted to subsidize any surcharges, charged to their residents, by $200 per person per year. “It makes more economic sense to me,” says councilor Chuck MacInnis. “This way it’s spread out to where we need it.”
However, according to the by-law adopted by Smiths Falls council last Tuesday, this isn’t good enough. Malcolm Morris says that the decision not to use the surcharge model was based on past experience. He says that they have been using that model since 2014, and have found surcharges to be extremely difficult to collect. “We only collected a fraction of what we were owed,” he says. “This jeopardizes the revenue needed to operate the facility, and puts the burden on the town and other contributing municipalities.”
The banning of Merrickville-Wolford residents from Smith Falls facilities will have a major impact on their residents, especially those involved in minor hockey. Children who play local hockey do not have a choice about where they play, as it is based on league boundaries, which they have no control over. If a child from Merrickville-Wolford is part of a team that practices in Smiths Falls, they will not be able to do so because of this ban. Malcolm says that, when they made the decision, Smiths Falls took the league boundaries into consideration. They also invited all 37 of the leagues and sports organizations that use their facilities to a meeting in June. According to the report that announced the prohibition, the leagues represented at the meeting did not support the ban, but they understood where Smiths Falls was coming from.
Merrickville-Wolford Mayor, David Nash, says that their decision to opt out of the cost-sharing agreement has not changed because of this announcement. The decision was made based on much public consultation, including a public survey and a recommendation from their recreation advisory committee. “It is unfortunate that this decision by Smiths Falls Council has now resulted in a lose/lose scenario, with children paying the hefty price,” David wrote in a statement on behalf of council. “The town of Smiths Falls requested, and received, funding to build the arena, based on it serving the surrounding communities. This is no way to promote healthy living, just because they did not want to be bothered to charge and collect a reasonable user pay fee.”
Malcolm says Smiths Falls will be working with the leagues and sports organizations to make sure only those from municipalities who have engaged in the cost sharing agreement are using their facilities. He recognizes that the two recreational centres were built as regional facilities, and they believe that they have made it affordable for municipalities to chip in to help cover operating costs.
“Smiths Falls is open to finding ways for all the surrounding municipalities to use the facilities,” he says. “We are open to negotiating with Merrickville-Wolford in the future.”