County council will be supporting the Prince Edward Fitness and Aquatic Centre (PEFAC) to the tune of $50,000 a year for operations and $20,000 annually for capital works for the next four years.
During budget deliberations Monday, councillors approved the four-year commitment after Mayor Steve Ferguson broke a tie that would see PEFAC’s request supported for two years only.
Since PEFAC’s inception in 2006, council has given over $735,000 to support its operations and $224,000 to support planned capital upgrades at the fitness centre.
A report from grants and special projects co-ordinator Emily Cowan suggested continued support is in line with other ways council supports recreation without emphasis on direct service delivery like operating its community centres and town halls on a fee-for-service basis without program delivery, providing per capita funding for ward creation committees, and providing seed funding for entitles like the Recreation Outreach Centre.
Cowan noted that over the next four years, PEFAC anticipates it will need a new pool tank cover, cardio and weight room equipment, renovation of unused space, hydra cycles and pool infrastructure, feasibility and planning for additional multi-use spaces, a family change room and an accessible washroom.
The report before council also included a fee comparison with facilities in Quinte West, Belleville, and Loyalist Township and Cowan noted “the fees charged by PEFAC are reasonable given the age of the facility and the services/amenities provided relative to the nearby competition.” She said some of the facilities includes are municipally operated and benefited by a greater amount of rate support.
Councillor Bill Roberts thought the continued expenditure represented good value.
“If you were to create an indoor pool, for example, there’s a very thorough piece of research done by the small town of Exeter, Ont. Through research on what it would cost to create a modest pool, with data going back to 2013, it would be between $9-13 million to build with operating costs in excess of $500,000 a year. If we believe — and I think we do — having a facility like PEFAC is a tremendous asset, we have a really good deal going here.”
Councillor Janice Maynard said she supports the operation of the pool, though it’s not overly accessible to all of the county. She said it appeared council was getting reasonable value for its dollars, but was concerned about making a long-term commitment until council completes its strategic planning.
“I don’t really see the need to do a long-term commitment at this time. Could we do one year and when council has information, we can dovetail that with other strategic plans?”
Ultimately, she put a motion on the table to that effect, which was further amended to two years of support.
Fellow Ameliasburgh representative Andreas Bolik echoed Maynard’s concerns, fearing the proposal would “tie the hands of this council for the entire term.” He also questioned whether PEFAC duplicated services from the two recreation centres the County owns.
Director of community development and strategic planning Neil Carbone replied there is no duplication, other than both facilities host birthday parties from time to time.
Bloomfield-Hallowell councillor Brad Nieman said he believes PEFAC is very valuable for residents’ heath. He added that he recalled PEFAC usually uses the County’s support to attain grants and other funding.
Carbone agreed, stating “Generally, they leverage the funding we provide and also contribute through fundraising initiatives as well. It’s fair to say they’re extremely successful in leveraging the dollars we provide to get additional dollars through agencies like Trillium, for example.”
Hillier’s Ernie Margetson said he thought the numbers presented made the contribution worth supporting, but he questioned the long-term planning behind upgrading a privately owned building that PEFAC leases.
Phil St. Jean, of Picton, shared his concern.
“Generally, I have a concern with taxpayer money funding somebody else’s property. That’s essentially what is happening. Personally, I have an issue with that. With this project, there’s an amazing organization in PEFAC — to see where they were when they started, any organization that can turn itself around like they have, I’ll get behind 100 per cent — but I have a problem without a plan of ownership. I’d encourage that some time, they have something in writing to amend their business plan so that they have an end goal which is ultimately ownership.”
That said, St. Jean said he still would support because PEFAC provides a service at a reasonable cost compared to what the municipality would have to do on its own.