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Rec fee fallout may cut participation

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Minor sports groups in Owen Sound are concerned their registration numbers will decline once the city begins charging a per-sport user fee to participating youth from Georgian Bluffs and Meaford.

 

“There will be people out there that either will not be able to afford it or will not be willing to pay it,” said Glenn Wilson, president of Owen Sound Minor Soccer Association.

“It’s going to hurt the kids for sure.”

The city and its municipal neighbours, Georgian Bluffs and Meaford, have failed to reach new recreation cost-sharing agreements for 2013 and beyond. The last one expired Dec. 31.

The agreements provide youth from outside the city with equal access to minor sports and recreational programming in Owen Sound in exchange for an annual payment from their municipality to the city.

Owen Sound says it will charge a user fee to youth from municipalities that do not have an agreement with the city for each sport the child plays with a city-based organization.

The fee is $167 for minor hockey, girls hockey, ringette and figure skating. A $100 non-resident surcharge will apply for minor soccer, minor lacrosse, minor baseball, minor fastball, day camps and specialty camps.

The mayors of both Georgian Bluffs and Meaford have told The Sun Times that their municipalities will offer a subsidy to families who pay the user fee to help offset the cost. A dollar amount has not been set.

In 2011, just under 800 of the 2,715 registrations in an Owen Sound minor sport lived in either Georgian Bluffs or Meaford. Another 1,000 in a city-run day camp, specialty camp or swimming lesson were from one of the two municipalities.

About one-quarter of the 1,200 Owen Sound minor soccer players resided in Georgian Bluffs or Meaford.

Wilson said it’s “frustrating” that the municipalities and the city have failed to reach a new agreement that would have avoided the need for user fees.

There’s “no doubt” registration numbers will suffer with them in place, he said.

“If our membership were to go down by let’s even say 10%, then absolutely it would impact us financially,” he said.

“But ultimately, we’re there for the benefit of the kids. We can adjust our budgets accordingly, but it’s the number of kids playing the sport that we’re more concerned about as opposed to whether we’re going to succeed financially or not.”

Also in 2011, 161 youth from Georgian Bluffs and 83 from Meaford played with the Owen Sound Minor Hockey Group.

Brian Seaman, the organization’s president, said registration is already on the decline without user fees. Numbers dropped from 650 in 2011 to 575 in 2012.

Meanwhile, costs continue to climb. Ice rental fees in Owen Sound are to increase by 3% annually. The city is also planning to reduce the subsidy it offers to minor sports groups for prime ice time from 30% to 15% over the next five years, starting this fall.

Those cost increases must be passed on to the registrants, Seaman said. A decrease in registrants will mean there will be less families available to shoulder that cost.

“There’s a ripple effect all the way down,” he said.

On top of the cost concerns, Seaman said minor hockey must commit to ice time for the 2013-14 season in March, even though the organization won’t know for months how the user fees will impact registration numbers.

Owen Sound is the only community in the region that offers minor lacrosse. Nearly half of Owen Sound minor lacrosse’s players are from municipalities outside of the city.

Ninety-three of the 487 players were from Georgian Bluffs in 2011, while 21 were from Meaford.

Minor lacrosse president Richard Suchow said the league is waiting with “bated breath” to see how the user fees will impact registration numbers.

Out-of-town families must already pay for fuel and other costs to play in Owen Sound, he said. The user fees will be just another expense.

“I think it will really have an impact on the families that have more than one child,” he said.

About 30% of the youth who play Owen Sound minor fastball are from Georgian Bluffs or Meaford.

President Tom Waller said he has been trying to convince the city to ditch the 30% subsidy it offers the association for renting city ball diamonds — and charge the full adult rate instead of imposing user fees.

He said the user fee will almost certainly lead to a decrease in registration in minor fastball, which has been experiencing a decline in numbers.

“And we’re going to get hit again,” he said.

About 60 youth from Georgian Bluffs and Meaford participated in other sports programs in Owen Sound in 2011, including figure skating, minor ringette and minor baseball.

During negotiations for a new recreation cost-sharing agreement, Owen Sound submitted a final offer to its municipal neighbours of $125 per minor sport participant, which, based on historical numbers, would mean a $72,875 cost to Georgian Bluffs and a $25,625 cost to Meaford. The annual fees would provide youth from the municipalities with unlimited participation in minor sports plus access to day camps, specialty camps and swimming lessons at no additional charge.

Meaford and Georgian Bluffs both submitted a final offer that would see their current charge of $47,787 and $25,055, respectively, increase by 5% per 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.

Owen Sound says its latest 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.

 

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