A deadline for Owen Sound to reach a new recreation agreement with neighbours Georgian Bluffs and Meaford expires today, but it doesn’t mean the door is completely closed, according to Georgian Bluffs Mayor Alan Barfoot.
In an interview at a meet-and-greet with constituents Saturday at Cobble Beach, Barfoot said no new negotiations with the city are planned, but that there will be at least one final discussion in January before the sides go their separate ways.
“It’s a little bit cat and mouse as to who wants to make the first move,” Barfoot said. “We’re still quite a ways apart, so I don’t know if there’ll be a real reason to get back together again, but we will have a discussion with them and the discussion will be either is there any way to go with it or is it final.”
Barfoot said a final decision is needed before soccer registration takes place in early February.
“It’s not fair to our residents who will be applying for minor soccer. They need to know the day of registration what we’re going to do for them.”
If no agreement with the city is reached before then, Georgian Bluffs council has agreed to compensate parents of children who play minor sports in the city.
Past agreements with the city have provided youth in Georgian Bluffs and Meaford with equal access to city minor sports and recreational programming in exchange for an annual lump sum payment from the municipalities. In 2012, Georgian Bluffs paid Owen Sound $47,787 and Meaford paid $25,055.
Without a new agreement, the city says it will start charging a per-sport user fee of $167 per ice sport per child and $100 per non-ice sport.
It’s not known how much of that amount Georgian Bluffs will subsidize for parents.
“If we can’t reach an agreement, then we will reimburse to some degree our residents,” Barfoot said. “We’ve got facilities for soccer, so we’ll have discussions whether they want to start up soccer again in the Shallow Lake area, so that’s an option that can be explored. We have some people who still want to maintain and go to Owen Sound, and we will support those people. We just need to see the level we need to go to.”
The city wants Georgian Bluffs and Meaford to pay $125 per participant, whether it’s soccer or minor hockey. Georgian Bluffs and Meaford, however, want to simply pay a 5% increase over what they had been paying. Based on historic numbers, the city’s final offer would amount to $72,875 for Georgian Bluffs and $25,625 for Meaford.
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.
Barfoot called the negotiations complex, and thinks Owen Sound’s offer is unfair because about 45% of Georgian Bluffs youth participating in city sports enrol in soccer as opposed to hockey and soccer fields are cheaper to run than hockey arenas.
“It’s got to be a different ratio that we pay. This $125 does not work that way. Meaford’s is 25% of their people playing soccer, so they’re agreeable to their figure, we were agreeable to the figure we had in the past, but you can’t paint it with the brush that they’ve painted and expect everybody to agree to it,” Barfoot said. “It’s just too much of an increase. We can’t justify it to the rest of our residents to pay that kind of money.”
Barfoot is also miffed that his municipality is being tagged to help subsidize all Owen Sound recreational facilities.
“We’ve had a really good working relationship (with the city) up until this year, but the city’s whole philosophy they’re looking at is a huge change and that’s not what we think we should do moving forward. They want us to pay towards all their parks. We have numerous parks in Georgian Bluffs, and we’re not asking for the support of those. If you own it and it’s in your municipality, you should be looking after it.”
In an interview with The Sun Times last week, Owen Sound Mayor Deb 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.
Barfoot said Georgian Bluffs is interested in regional cooperation.
“It’s got to make sense for both parties,” he said. “There’s only one way to go into a partnership, and that’s for both to benefit.”
Barfoot cited the township’s financial contribution to the Family Y portion of the city’s new recreation facility as an example of a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“There’s times when you need to be a region and you need to think regionally, and that certainly was one that council supported right from the start.”
Georgian Bluffs also pays into the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Library, and while that commitment is stable for now, Barfoot said it is sometimes controversial and comes with a huge price tag. He said he’d be interested in a county-wide library system some day.