North Huron Council receives dozens of letters after proposing recreation cuts
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
North Huron Council has been met with an absolute mountain of correspondence, largely from users of the Blyth and District Community Centre, amid fears council may decide to close the centre, either seasonally or altogether.
At council’s Monday night meeting, Deputy-Reeve Kevin Falconer remarked on the very high level of community response in regards to the importance of local recreation. Falconer suggested a typical meeting would elicit approximately five e-mails in response but discussions about possible cuts to recreation resulted in over 40 e-mails and letters.
Also that night, venerated Blyth Lions Club members John Stewart and Greg Toll addressed the recent discussion of potential cuts to the recreation budget. Stewart acknowledged that a 20 per cent tax increase for citizens is unacceptable, but that drastic cuts to recreation is not an appropriate route to take.
“Recreation cannot, and should not, be measured in dollars and cents. Physical activity is important to all sectors of the population, for an individual’s physical and mental well-being. It is particularly important for our youth,” stated Stewart.
He went on to compare the disparity between the 13 recommended cuts and recommendations made by the recently completed Parks and Recreation Culture Master Plan. The Master Plan, commissioned by North Huron Council, makes a strong case for recreational growth to match the needs of a growing population, and supports the expansion of existing structures into multi-use community hubs. The Blyth Lions Club stands strong against any cuts to the recreation budget, Stewart said, but he and Toll spoke most passionately about the proposed closure of the Blyth and District Community Centre from April to August on an annual basis.
“We find it difficult to understand how closing the community centre for a five-month period will save tax dollars. Whether the doors are locked or not, the facility still requires heat, hydro, water, coverage for insurance. The staff, which is employed, are still required for summer maintenance work, or will be redeployed to other areas of the municipality. In fact, we believe there will actually be increased costs to the taxpayers, as revenue from organizations that rent the facility will not be forthcoming. As well, profits from these events, which normally would be returned to the community, will not be realized.”
Toll elaborated on the Blyth Lions Club’s connection to local events, whether it be providing workers or raising funds. Since its founding in 1945, the Blyth Lions Club has raised over $1.25 million, all of which has gone directly back into the community.
“Closure of the community centre would also have a negative impact on fundraising efforts of other service groups, various churches, and of course the Blyth business community. The Blyth Lions Club strongly believes it is vitally important that the Blyth and District Community Centre be available for use by various community organizations to rent at a reasonable rate,” Toll concluded.
“This would be devastating to the community,” added Stewart, in no uncertain terms. He went on to cite the Master Plan‘s observation that arena usage has increased from 71 per cent to 83 per cent between 2017 and 2020. The Lions Club believes the community centre (constructed using public donations and grants from the provincial government) should be expanding services, not shrinking them.
Stewart concluded the presentation by thanking the council for its time and welcoming any queries they might have. Reeve Paul Heffer acknowledged their concerns and invited council to ask questions.
Councillor Chris Palmer, having received a number of inquiries from the community on the subject, sought to clarify that the 13 suggested cuts were just part of an ongoing conversation, and stated that “his first comments that night were ‘let’s keep it’, and that wasn’t appreciated by all of our members.” Palmer went on to say that the arena is the heart of the community, and that more conversation and study is needed.
Stewart concluded by saying the Blyth Lions Club wants to work together with council, not fight it.