August 16, 2017 8:37 pm

Merrickville-Wolford denied access to Smiths Falls arena due to cost-sharing agreement

WATCH ABOVE: Merrickville-Wolford bows out of arena cost-sharing agreement with Smiths Falls.

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Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre is a popular spot for physical activity, whether locals are enjoying the indoor ice pad or the walking track above.

Surrounding communities have a cost-sharing agreement with Smiths Falls to gain access to the facility.

The last agreement was based on a user-fee model which expired last year. Smith Falls mayor Shawn Pankow says the agreement was problematic.

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“We had to track the residency of every user,” he said. “In some places we had to collect a fee from users who are not part of a participating municipality.”

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So they switched to a weighted assessment system, Pankow explains.

“The closer you are to the facility, the more likely you are to use it, [so] the higher the weight you put on that assessment,” he said.

Pankow says the price difference for each surrounding municipality is minimal.

“Rideau Lakes saw an increase. Montague saw a decrease, actually. Merrickville-Wolford saw a modest decrease.”

But Merrickville-Wolford refused to sign the deal, and now its residents are being denied use of the arena.

Merrickville-Wolford mayor David Nash says the new system is equivalent to “double-dipping” and is unfair to children playing organized hockey.

“Any visiting organized hockey team is not asked to pay additional fees above and beyond the league fees they pay and the ice time they purchase, so why are our residents denied the right to play organized hockey?” he asked.

“The numbers used to calculate what Smiths Falls feels is a fair share should therefore not include organized hockey players,” he added. “If those numbers were removed, the difference would be negligible.”

A number of the community centre’s users say they don’t understand the decision made by Merrickville-Wolford council and point out that it will be the community’s residents who ultimately pay the price.

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Smiths Falls resident Mary Lyn Durant uses the walking track five times a week.

“We’re offering this service to them and it works out with the refund, or whatever you call it. Works out the same — pay it, enjoy it,” she said.

Bill Black lives in neighbouring Port Elmsley and runs a hockey school out of the centre.

“There are so many facilities here — ball parks, the curling club, everything. I’m really proud of my township for staying with this group,” he said.

Nash says the rink rental feud has some of his constituents talking about boycotting businesses in Smiths Falls.

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