In hockey terms, Penetanguishene feels like it's getting cross-checked by its Tiny Township neighbours who aren't paying their fair share of arena dues.
At the start of his council term, attention on neighbouring Tiny Township’s funding for the Penetanguishene Memorial Community Centre (PMCC) caught the attention of Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Rawson as it was less than half of what the library was earning.
A financial report on Tiny’s contribution to the PMCC was presented to council at its recent regular meeting. (Coun. Bonita Desroches, chair of the finance and corporate services committee, works for Tiny Township; she declared a conflict of interest and sat out of the discussion and its vote.)
The report by director of finance/treasurer Carrie Robillard dove into Tiny’s annual contributions since 2015, which started at $18,500 and slightly increased over the years; in 2018 a jump to a $25,000 contribution was noted with further slight increases as time progressed.
As an attempt to quantify contributions which were never written or calculated by formula, Penetanguishene staff formally requested to Tiny in 2019 that the annual contribution be raised to $75,000 through a phased-in approach, based on a more accurate calculation of usage data by Tiny residents.
From 2020 to 2022, the rough average paid by Tiny was $25,900 annually; the 2022 invoice of $27,700 was not paid in full.
Rawson praised Robillard on the report, but stated it opened up more questions in its findings.
“I was kind of hoping we would have gone without a two-year ramp up; I was kind of hoping we would have done it right out of the gate,” said Rawson, addressing the not-paid-in-full status of last year’s bill. “And I saw that the amount was actually less in 2022 by $750 than it was in 2021.
“When I further go down to read about the utilization allocations, they're getting a bargain and they're putting the pennies in the piggy bank,” Rawson added.
Of the 1,230 registered groups using the facility in 2023, 32 per cent hail from Penetanguishene, 26 per cent from Midland, 26 per cent from Tiny Township, 8 per cent from Tay Township; these numbers remained consistent from 2019 statistics.
The PMCC net operating cost for 2023 was approximately $418,000 with the net user group utilization at $265,000 at a 63 per cent allocation; Tiny Township utilized $68,500 of the $108,000 portion listed for the town’s full cost recovery.
Staff’s recommendation to council was for a two-year phased increase through written agreement for annual indexing, amounting to roughly $50,000 in 2024 and $75,000 in 2025 – effectively a jump from $25,000 over the past decade to $75,000 in years to come for Tiny users of the PMCC.
“I don't know why we want to delay this two years,” Rawson continued. “Why don't we just go right out of the gate for the one year? I think this unfolds other funding pieces as we go forward.
“I think it shows us what's fair; but I don't think we're getting the fair piece from our partners,” said Rawson, reiterating his hopes that council set aim for the full amount in the upcoming 2024 budget deliberations.
Coun. George Vadeboncoeur commended staff on the report, calling it excellent.
“It really lays out the logic in terms of how we arrived at the figure of $75,000,” said Vadeboncoeur. “I think the phase-in (approach) is very reasonable, and I think that it's something that the council of the Township of Tiny should consider as a payment for their residents that use our facility. I think it would be well appreciated by their residents.”
Another supporter of the report was Coun. Bill Waters, who expressed concern over the ‘annual indexing thereafter’ portion of staff’s recommendation, softly suggesting it get removed to be reassessed at a later time.
“$75,000 sounds like a bargain to me,” said Waters, “and if you only increased it by cost of living or something, I just don't think it's… you don't have the option of getting the money that you really should be getting for the service provided.”
Deputy Mayor Dan La Rose replied that it was something that could be looked at in the future after Tiny entered into the agreement once further information could be obtained.
La Rose added: “When you look back from 2015 when it was an $18,500 bargain, then it was agreed to increase by a fair bit in 2018 and then that didn't happen, and then it went to the $26,000 and change and then they only paid $25,000 out of that – I believe that the work that the treasurer has done to outline it, it's very straightforward.
“And anybody doing anything in municipal stuff would understand that the $75,000 is a wonderful deal for all involved,” La Rose concluded.
The vote, minus Desroches, was approved with staff direction to submit a formal funding request and rationale to Tiny council for the two-year phased-in increase to $75,350 by 2025 and annual indexing thereafter.
Tiny Township in 2023 passed a 10.82 per cent municipal tax rate increase, which caused widespread frustration by those residents who were caught unaware of the spike which Tiny council attributed to underfunding of long-term asset management, and has seen community engagement critical of unnecessary spending in ways to keep taxes lowered.
The arena financial contribution from Tiny report, including cost breakdown from 2015 and user analysis, can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.
Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.
Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca