Belgrave Community Centre stays ‘status quo’

NORTH HURON – The Belgrave Community Centre avoided any changes to its lease with North Huron after budget deliberations have the township reviewing all of the services it delivers, looking to reduce the extreme tax levy that was proposed in early January.

The township currently owns three ‘community centres’ that have fallen on hard times, partially due to the pandemic and the reduction in funding from Morris-Turnberry, but in the case of the Belgrave Community Centre, the difference is that North Huron does not operate that facility.

According to CAO Dwayne Evans, North Huron’s annual financial contribution is approximately $50,000, and Morris-Turnberry currently contributes about $6,000 toward operating costs.

The lease for the Belgrave Community Centre was renewed in 2021 for 10 years to the centre’s board (a not-for-profit corporation) for day-to-day control of the facility’s operation. The board also reimburses the township’s insurance cost.

Evan’s report said, “In addition, the Belgrave Community Centre Board representatives advised that the board contracts snow removal and lawn care services. While the facility is used equally by Morris-Turnberry residents, the board advised that because the facility is a North Huron asset, all improvements and upgrades to the facility are paid for using funds received from North Huron.”

To ensure councillors had all the information they needed to make an informed decision, Belgrave Community Centre Manager Jonathan VanCamp spoke to council during the public comments portion of the meeting.

VanCamp outlined the many other ways they reimburse the township beyond the rent and insurance. He also reminded councillors of the many contributions to upgrading the existing building and grounds, totalling $128,438, since 2013-14.

Additionally, the board is currently installing accessibility upgrades, new playground equipment, and a new batting cage, among other things.

Evans provided six staff recommendations for council’s consideration, most of which included terminating the lease after proper notice, but number six was to remain status quo, which council eventually chose.

Deputy Reeve Kevin Falconer cried foul, expressing frustration at what he perceived as a double standard.

“I don’t want to stall the process… it’s just that we’ve already started the discussion about what we touch and what we don’t touch,” said Falconer. “I want to make a motion that we revisit the decisions made about Blyth Ward’s recreation assets in favour of a status quo. The same weight that we just gave the assets in another ward.”

Added Falconer, “I don’t want to throw a wrench into it, but we’ve already done that; we’ve already set a precedent of making a firm decision on whether we look at a reduction in services. We’ve already made that decision for one municipality, I want to make it for my own.”

Falconer will provide the notice of motion in writing. This topic will be discussed at the March 6 regular council meeting.

Coun. Mitch Wright told council that once Falconer’s motion is introduced, he will be asking for an amendment to include Wingham’s recreation services also.

Wright believes all of North Huron’s recreation asset decisions should be made simultaneously, not motion by motion.

“I think this was a really good process. I think it was good to go through and consider these things; we got lots of community feedback,” Wright said. “I think we know very well where the community’s minds are at with regards to the programs that we’re running.”

In 2020, the township hired KPMG to conduct a Municipal Service Delivery Review to assist in an objective evaluation of current services offerings provided by the township with the view of identifying potential opportunities intended to maximize value-for-money, minimize pressure on taxes and contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the township.

The Service Delivery Review Report indicates the township’s net operating cost per household for recreation is the highest in the comparator municipality group, and this is a reflection of the number of facilities that the township owns and operates.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times