The Town of Smiths Falls is turning to its neighbours for help in keeping its arena running, with little success so far.
The Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre is one of those recreational facilities that are still holding out hope for a partial season in spite of the lockdown.
However, the reduction in ice bookings over the course of the two 2020 seasons is taking a big bite out of the town's arena budget, so in an effort to recoup costs the town is seeking help from its recreational partners.
"The deficit is being driven by loss of revenue as opposed to additional costs. The arena facilities were closed in the higher revenue months of March (half of the month), April, and August – hockey camps," said town chief executive officer Malcolm Morris.
The net cost of the arena to the town of Smiths Falls in a normal year is $430,000. But this year that cost has increased substantially.
"We do not have year-end figures at this juncture but we are projecting a $235,000 deficit for the arena facilities and this is the figure we used to anchor the financial assistance request from our partner municipalities” said Morris, clarifying that this is in addition to the $430,000 annual cost.
In mid-January, Rideau Lakes as one of Smiths Falls recreational cost sharing partners received a request for an additional $27,419.50 from Smiths Falls.
"In 2020 the payment from Rideau Lakes was $109,000. The agreement protects the partners from excessive increases by way of a five-per-cent cap year over year. Their current ask was for funds beyond this five-per-cent cap," said Mike Dwyer, chief executive officer with Rideau Lakes.
In fact, Smiths Falls is asking its partners to adjust the five-per-cent maximum year over year to 25 per cent.
At the municipal services committee meeting held in Rideau Lakes on Jan. 25, members of the committee rejected the request categorically.
"I think the feeling on council is that every municipality got COVID relief funding to offset costs caused by the pandemic, and council felt that's what Smiths Falls should be using to offset the arena deficit instead of asking its partners for additional funding. We already contribute a significant amount and in 2020 we contributed to a facility that we haven't used either," said Rideau Lakes Mayor Arie Hoogenboom.
Meanwhile Smiths Falls is still hoping to salvage something out of the season. So far the town has maintained the facility's two ice surfaces and only adjusted temperatures to reduce energy consumption, said Morris.
"We are engaging with our arena customers to forecast potential usage in light of a delayed second half of the ice season. If there is reason to believe our inability to use the facility will be extended further or the leagues and other ice users reduce their ice time bookings, then we will be positioned to make a decision on cutting costs by removing one or both ice surfaces," he added.
Rideau Lakes is not the only partner on the agreement. There are technically five potential partners that Smiths Falls had identified based on geographic proximity to the facility. The partners identified by Smiths Falls are Elizabethtown-Kitley, Montague, Drummond-North Elmsley, Merrickville-Wolford and Rideau Lakes. Montague, Rideau Lakes and Drummond-North Elmsley and Elizabethtown-Kitley all signed on and contribute funds based on a percentage determined by an assessment-based formula of the catchment area.
According to Mayor Doug Struthers, Merrickville-Wolford did not sign onto the agreement.
Each of the participating partners has been sent a letter asking them to consider adjusting the five-per-cent annual maximum cap to 25 per cent.
"Drummond North Elmsley have responded in the affirmative provided the majority of the others contribute. We're waiting to hear from the rest," said Morris.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times