Owen Sound’s municipal neighbours appear to be “many years away” from thinking more regionally when it comes to services, says Mayor Deb Haswell.
“I think there’s still a real urban/rural split and a lack of understanding of the benefits of thinking and doing business on a more regional basis,” she said in a recent interview.
Haswell was pointing to the breakdown of negotiations between Owen Sound and its neighbours Georgian Bluffs and Meaford for new recreational partnership agreements.
The current agreements, which provide youth in Georgian Bluffs and Meaford with equal access to city minor sports and recreational programming in exchange for an annual payment from the municipalities to the city, expires Monday.
In the absence of new agreements, the city says it will still start charging a per-sport user fee for youth in Georgian Bluffs and Meaford who participate in recreational activities in Owen Sound.
The user fee will be $167 per ice sport per child and $100 per non-ice sport.
Owen Sound has separate recreational partnership agreements with Georgian Bluffs and Meaford. Either can accept Owen Sound’s last offer to avoid the user fees for its residents, city officials say.
Haswell said the city has “numerous times” demonstrated that it is serious about creating partnerships with its municipal neighbours as a way to save money.
She said the city continues to be open and “very interested” in discussing new ways to collaborate.
“However, when you talk about partnerships and collaboration, you’ve got to have a partner on the other side who understands both sides of the equation and is truly interested — and not just providing lip service — but truly interested in creating collaborative partnerships,” she said.
Haswell said the city’s last offer for recreational partnership agreements was more than fair.
The city has posted fact sheets at city-owned facilities, including the Julie McArthur Regional Recreation Centre, and on its website, that show a breakdown of Owen Sound’s offer of $125 per minor sport participant.
“We wanted to make it very clear that it was not going to be an onerous cost to Georgian Bluffs and Meaford,” Haswell said.
Called “The Real Cost of Recreation Services for Youth in Owen Sound,” the fact sheets say the city’s offer works out to $53.43 for each of Owen Sound’s 10,109 households, $14.88 for each of Georgian Bluffs’ 4,896 households and $4.81 for each of Meaford’s 5,327 households.
The offer would have city taxpayers footing 84.5% of the operational costs to provide recreational programming in the city, even though 63% of users are from the city. Georgian Bluffs, with 21% of users, would pay 11% of the cost and Meaford, with 7% of the users, would pay 4% of the cost.
The latest offer from Georgian Bluffs and Meaford is a 5% increase to their current payment to the city each year for three years.
Owen Sound accepted Meaford’s offer as the total payment after three years would meet the city’s target of $125 per minor sport participant. However, Meaford has since withdrawn its offer, saying the city must also approve the same offer from Georgian Bluffs.
Georgian Bluffs’ offer, however, works out to only $92 per minor sport participant after three years. Owen Sound rejected that offer.
Haswell said city council must first look after the taxpayers of Owen Sound.
“By living outside of the city, it shouldn’t be cheaper to get the services that you get in the city,” she said.
The mayors of Georgian Bluffs and Meaford have said their municipalities will reimburse its residents a portion of the user fees charged by Owen Sound if a partnership agreement isn’t achieved.