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Bluffs going the route of sports subsidies

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There's zero chance of a new recreation agreement between Owen Sound and Georgian Bluffs anytime soon, now that Georgian Bluffs has approved a 75% subsidy for residents paying the city's non-resident user fees for minor sports and recreation.
Approval came at Wednesday night's council meeting in spite of a deputation from three parents asking council to reconsider the impasse with Owen Sound.
Spokesperson Susan Natsheh told council that she didn't want to see any barriers to participation in sports and recreation, and that user fees and subsidies do just that. She said the added cost to parents could create a tiered system in sports, because some simply won't be able to afford it.
In the absence of a shared user agreement, Owen Sound will force non-residents to pay $167 per ice sport, per child, and $100 for field sports. In the failed negotiations, the city's bottom line offer was for Georgian Bluffs to pay just over $72,000 this year – up considerably from the $47,788 it paid last year. Georgian Bluffs offered a 5% increase this year -- $50,100.
“We should support the facilities our residents regularly use,” Natsheh said in urging Georgian Bluffs to make another offer to the city.
She suggested that Georgian Bluffs try to renegotiate based on the number of Georgian Bluffs youth participants in 2012, which was 546. The city was using the 2011 number of 583.
“We tried,” Mayor Al Barfoot told her. “We did go back to them and we all know what the response was.”
Georgian Bluffs expects a 75% subsidy will cost around $50,100 – the same as it would have cost had its offer been accepted.
After the meeting, Barfoot said it was important to resolve the subsidy issue before registration begins for minor summer sports in Owen Sound next week. He said it's impossible for council decisions to please everyone.
 “I don't think we're going to keep all the people happy all the time,” he said. “We set out at the start of this, saying we'd commit so many dollars, $50,000 to recreation. We've followed through with our commitment and we're still spending those dollars.”
After the meeting, Natsheh said she thinks the added cost to parents this year could be a burden to some.
“I think the user fees altogether, whether they're subsidized or not, are a mistake for minor sports,” she said, adding that it could have a ripple effect on participation. “I fear it's going to have a tremendous negative impact on the minor sports community.”
She said she also fears that the city could continue to raise their non-resident rates.
“I'm certainly concerned about stability (of the subsidy). I would not be surprised if the city's fees go up, because with decreased users, it means decreased revenue, which means increased costs for the city.”
Natsheh said she and other parents remain optimistic that a deal could be struck sometime in the future.
“That's why we're here,” she said, “or we wouldn't have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to rally the community to support this initiative. I truly believe that both city council and the township council wants what's best for our community. Somebody has to put their foot forward and take the next step and say let's get the ball rolling and do what's right for our children.”
Barfoot wouldn't say much when asked if there's any possibility for a future agreement.
“I'm sure there'll be lots of discussion that will come up out of it. We all know the positioning now. We sent the letter, we got our response back, so we'll see where it goes from there.”
Georgian Bluffs is working now on the logistics of the subsidy. Barfoot said parents will have to foot the city's user fees up front, then bring their receipt into the township office for a rebate. Cheques will be cut per family, he said.
“We want to make it as simple as we can for our people.”
Meaford council is to consider a subsidy at its regular meeting next Monday night.

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