Saturday, February 24, 2024

Sport Subsidy Has Worked Well For Meaford

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Meaford’s council has had a rough year. A year in which at times it must have seemed to members of council that it is impossible to make anyone happy, let along any specific interest group.

When councillors aren’t being scolded by residents for spending too much money, they hear complaints that they aren’t providing services that people want.

In the early weeks of this year council found themselves in a difficult position when they found themselves faced with a renewal agreement with the city of Owen Sound for access to youth sport programs that they couldn’t support.

For 12 years Meaford had an arrangement with Owen Sound which saw roughly $27,000 paid to Owen Sound in exchange for enabling Meaford youth to play various sports in Owen Sound.

Some were angry when Meaford announced that they would not renew the previous agreement, and even more were skeptical when it was announced that Meaford would adopt a subsidy reimbursement program that would pay 90 percent of Owen Sound’s non-resident fees for youth sports – fees that Meaford CAO Denyse Morrissey characterized the fees set by Owen Sound as the most expensive she had ever seen.

In the absence of a contract with Meaford and Georgian Bluffs, Owen Sound established non-resident fees of $167 for ice sports, and $100 for field sports. Those fees are in addition to the cost of the athletic program itself.

As it turns out, Meaford’s staff and council made an excellent decision in establishing the subsidy to help parents pay those fees. Meaford’s youth retained their ability to participate in Owen Sound sport programs, and interestingly enough, it cost Meaford taxpayers significantly less.

Previously Meaford had been shelling out roughly $27,000 per year in order for Meaford youth to have access to Owen Sound sports programming, yet under the subsidy program, Meaford’s Director of Community Services told council this month, the municipality has spent just over $15,000 – a savings of nearly $12,000.

Retain access to sports participation while spending less than half of what had been previously spent. Clearly Meaford’s council and staff should be applauded for making the best of a tense situation and then putting some icing on the cake by saving money.

Perhaps those who seem determined to doubt council and municipal staff at every turn, will take a deep breath in the future to first see how any given council proposal plays out.

Given the savings realized by Meaford opting out of the sports contract with Owen Sound, one has to wonder where else similar savings could be found.

Much was made of the contract negotiations for library services for Sydenham residents at the Owen Sound & North Grey Public Library a couple years ago. At that time there were roughly 1370 Sydenham residents carrying library cards for the facility in Owen Sound at a cost to Meaford taxpayers of approximately $110,000 per year – or roughly $80 per person.

After some research in December of 2011, The Meaford Independent reported that at $167 per household, Owen Sound had significantly higher non-resident fees that most every other library in Ontario.

Our random sampling of 20 libraries in communities of varying size in Ontario showed that the average non-resident membership fee charged was $36.58.

Some of the libraries we sampled charge nothing for non-resident memberships. Windsor, Oshawa, and Lambton County all charge nothing, though non-resident members sometimes have restrictions placed on the number of items that can be borrowed at one time by a non-resident member.

The majority of libraries sampled at that time charged a non-resident membership fee between $25 and $40. In Caledon the library charges $25, Hamilton $40, Gravenhurst $25, Blue Mountains $37.50, Newmarket $30, Waterloo $35, and in Meaford the library charges $40 for non-resident memberships.

Certainly there were libraries that charged more. Barrie for example charges $60, Guelph charges $50, and in Vaughan non-resident members are charged $80.

Given the success in realizing cost savings while still ensuring that Meaford residents had the services they want and need with the non-resident subsidy, perhaps the cost for library services for our Sydenham residents should be revisited.

One of the primary complaints heard from Sydenham residents is spending, and the need to cut fat from the budget. Our Sydenham residents need and deserve access to the library in Owen Sound, but if we can save money on non-resident fees for athletic programs, perhaps the same could be done with library costs.

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