Morris-Turnberry will pay North Huron recreation fees
BY DENNY SCOTT
Despite not having an active agreement with their North Huron counterparts, Morris-Turnberry council members have voted to pay for their residents’ use of North Huron facilities.
During Morris-Turnberry Council’s Nov. 17 meeting, staff presented options regarding the amount typically paid under Schedule F of a cross-border agreement with North Huron, which for 2020 was budgeted at $118,308. That includes $75,000 for the Wescast Community Centre, $16,000 for the Blyth Community Centre, $17,308 for cemeteries and a $10,000 contingency fund.
Midway through last year, however, North Huron Township Council sought to end the agreement containing Schedule F and negotiate a new agreement. In his report to Morris-Turnberry Council at the meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Trevor Hallam said there was “an informal verbal consensus” to uphold the agreement until a new one was put in place.
Hallam told council there were three options based on that verbal agreement: pay the full amount, pay a reduced amount reflecting the time that the municipal facilities weren’t available or pay some other amount. However, he requested that if council chose that path there should be justification.
Hallam calculated that, due to COVID-19, the centres were closed 38 per cent of the year, meaning that, if the municipality wanted to drop the amounts paid, they could pay $46,500 for the Wescast centre’s usage and $9,920 for the Blyth centre’s usage, but leave the cemetery and contingency funds untouched. Under that model, Hallam said, the municipality would pay $83,728.
Councillor Jim Nelemans felt that, if council were to honour that obligation, council shouldn’t reduce the amount paid.
“Their expenses haven’t dropped by 38 per cent,” he said. “They have still had to pay staff, pay for the facility, pay hydro and keep the building heated. I think 38 per cent is a bit too much to reduce it by.”
Councillor Kevin Freiburger, however, said the idea of the money wasn’t to pay for the facility.
“The intent is that it offsets the non-resident fees that people would have to pay if they wanted to use those facilities,” he said. “In essence, it’s just for the use of the facility.”
Freiburger then said the 38 per cent change makes sense to him.
Deputy-Reeve Sharen Zinn, however, felt council should consider not paying at all.
“I think we’re missing the point,” she said. “A year and a half ago, they cancelled this agreement. If one party cancels, they can’t expect the other side to honour it.”
Zinn eventually said there should be a payment for this year, but going forward, that shouldn’t be the case.
“We were very clear from the time it was cancelled,” she said. “The new agreement would only be for water and sewer, not recreation. Schedule F will have nothing to do with it. They do nothing to help us on their end.”
Nelemans said that wasn’t true, pointing to the fact that North Huron had not changed any water rates.
“They’ve kept up their part,” he said. “They haven’t increased the rates. They just haven’t allowed these two new connections.”
Zinn said that the users are paying for water, so it isn’t like North Huron is not being compensated.
“I don’t disagree, but I feel we need to have some responsibility for the usage we’ve had for the year we’re in,” Nelemans said, talking about the recreation facilities. “We did agree we would continue with the existing agreement until we have a new one. I feel some responsibility there.”
Council voted to pay the reduced amount due to COVID-19, with Zinn voting against the motion.
As a result of the discussion, Nelemans said he wanted to put off the municipality’s normal budget process. He said he wanted to see how negotiations with North Huron went first. Other council members, however, said they weren’t in favour of waiting.