Sunday, July 21, 2024

Indoor Pool Makes Waves as Council Approves 2016 Budgets

Stephen Vance, Staff

Brookside Condo Pool540

At their December 14 meeting, Meaford’s council unanimously approved the municipal budgets for 2016, however one small item in the budget made some waves at the meeting as councillors debated the merits of moving forward with a planned indoor swimming pool partnership with a local condominium pool.

The 2016 municipal budgets approved by council will add a modest 1.94 percent to ratepayers’ property tax bills. No increase is expected for the education component of property tax bills, while the county will also have a 1.94 percent increase.

For the average home in Meaford with an assessed value of $254,000, the increase will amount to an additional $37.92 per year on the municipal portion of the property tax bill, and an overall increase for 2016 of $55.85 when the county increase is included. Ninety-three percent of the 2016 increase in the municipal levy is directed entirely to road maintenance and repair.

While council was generally pleased with the 2016 budget, the indoor swimming pool issue was raised by Councillor Jaden Calvert, which led to a lengthy debate among councillors about how the municipality should proceed with the planned partnership.

The proposed plan to assume management and operations of the indoor swimming pool facility through a public-private partnership (based on a proposed September 2016 start up) is projected to cost ratepayers $54,500. Council was told in October an additional one-time capital investment of $15,000 dollars will also be required in 2016 to provide necessary identification and directional signage for the indoor swimming pool facility, grading of the gravel public parking area, fencing to delineate and control ingress/egress access points to the swimming pool facility, and minor upgrades to ensure facilities are in compliance with applicable Occupational Health & Safety Act and associated legislation governing public facilities and spaces. Meaford’s Director Parks, Recreation, and Culture, Dan Buttineau, told council that the proposed annual tax-supported operating subsidy for a full-year operation of the indoor swimming pool facility through public-private partnership is projected to be $99,937 in 2017 and $97,287 in 2018.

Councillor Steven Bartley, who had previously voted against the proposal, told council that he is still against the plan but acknowledged that the proposed lease of the privately owned pool would be the cheapest way to operate an indoor swimming pool for the municipality, however he’s not convinced that the majority of Meaford residents even want their tax dollars funding an indoor pool. Bartley requested more public consultation, and suggested a survey could be sent out with the first tax bills of the year.

Bartley also challenged the community consultation that had previously been undertaken suggesting that the number of residents consulted was too small, and of those respondents, those who indicated support for an indoor pool were even smaller in number.

“We as a group know that this would be the cheapest way to find out whether an indoor pool is worth it or not. I believe the survey that was (previously) done, there were 438 respondents, which is three percent of the people who live in the Municipality of Meaford. Out of that, less than half of a percent thought we should have an indoor pool. That’s a pretty small amount to be basing this whole pool strategy on,” Bartley told council. “I want to slow this process down a little bit.”

Councillor Shirley Keaveney requested a review of the arrangement should it ultimately move forward after 18 months in order to determine if the investment in the facility was worthwhile. She also asked that staff follow up on the potential for a similar indoor swimming pool partnership for the rural area of the municipality. Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield asked staff for a more comprehensive business case for the proposed public-private partnership.

While the funding for the proposal was left in the 2016 budget, council will still be able to vote on the initiative once staff has an agreement with the condominium board. Council agreed that should they ultimately reject the partnership agreement, the funds dedicated to the initiative will be put toward road repairs. Council also agreed to a review of the project after 18 months should it move forward.

*Editor’s note:  When originally published, we accidentally referred to Dan Buttineau as Meaford’s Director of Operations.  He is actually the Director of Parks, Recreation, & Culture.  We apologize for this error.

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