FREE OR FEES?.
Bracebridge councillors are looking at implementing new fees for the soccer club's use of Gostick Park. Soccer club president Greg Black, (left), says the fee structure doesn't come close to compensating the club, who raised the majority of money and put in countless volunteer hours in construction of the fields. At right is the club’s vice-president of operations John Miller. (File photo by Neil Etienne)
The Bracebridge Soccer Club is seeking greener pastures after the town decided last week to begin charging them for using Gostick Park.
Councillors approved a new fee structure for the soccer club’s use of the fields at a general committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Until now, the club has never been charged fees for using the park under a previous agreement it had with the town. But if Tuesday’s decision receives final approval at council tonight, the town will be charging the club for fees in rising increments over the next four years, at which point they’ll be paying the same rates as other users.
In response, soccer club president Greg Black says his organization is now looking to make greater use of other fields that they can use for free.
“We’ll make use of more fields owned by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board or perhaps even the Simcoe District School Board that we don’t have to pay for, rather than pay for fields,” he said. “If there are free available fields, we’ll use them before we’ll book Gostick Park’s fields.”
Nonetheless, he said the club will still be using the Gostick Park fields, as there “aren’t enough fields in town to be able to not use Gostick.”
Gostick Park was built in 2004 with $175,000 from the town, $25,000 from a Trillium grant, and $200,000 raised by the soccer club, which recruited volunteers for construction.
But because the agreement that allowed the club to use the fields for free expired in 2009, the town announced in 2011 that it intended to start charging the club. With both sides disagreeing on the fee issue, the town took over management of the fields from the soccer club that same year, but decided not to charge the club for using the fields in 2012.
During the Tuesday meeting, Coun. Mark Quemby questioned whether volunteers could be compensated for their efforts in building the park.
“Can we actually put a dollar value on what the sweat equity was?” he asked. “Is there a way of factoring that into this equation so that we know? Because the clubhouse was built on volunteer labour, and the fields and lights were factored into a lot of that volunteer labour as well.”
Culture and recreation director Leo Broere said there was no way to figure out how the volunteer contributions could be measured and compensated.
“That’s a great question, but I just simply think there’s no way to substantiate and validate what the value is of the volunteers,” he said. “The soccer club has not been charged anything for the use of Gostick Park since its inception in 2004, and I think it’s time that the soccer club, like all the other user groups in the community, step up to the plate.”
Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith thanked and recognized the soccer club for its contributions to the community over the years, but agreed with Broere in saying that he didn’t think “every dime and every second and every drop of sweat” could be calculated in a “transparent way” that both the club and the town could agree to.
“Coun. Quemby also used the word volunteer a number of times, and I think that’s a key point here,” he said. “The relationship wasn’t, ‘We’re using you as delayed labour and we’re going to pay you back everything that you’ve put into this on an hourly wage if the agreements stop,’ the relationship was, ‘We’ve got an agreement in place, and you know that you’re volunteering …’ and we thank them for that.”
Smith said he felt it was “pretty clear” that the pre-existing agreements allowing the club to use the fields for free were not an “agreement in perpetuity,” and that the new incremental fee structure was a way of recognizing the soccer club for its role in building the park.
“I think we’ve got some way of recognizing that sweat equity by having no fees for the 2012 season, and by having the step increases starting in 2013 and rolling to 2016, when they’ll eventually get to the full rate,” he said.
However, a report by Broere tabled before council said the soccer club felt they had contributed much more than just volunteer hours and $200,000 in cash. Broere said the club feels it did the legwork to secure the Trillium Grant, and that it footed the vast majority of operating costs, including the costs of lights for one field.
Broere’s report said the club feels the town “paid for virtually nothing but grass cutting.”
In total, Black estimates the club’s total contributions over the years amounts to over $400,000. He says he felt the new fee structure proposed by the town doesn’t come close to compensating the club for its total involvement in Gostick Park over the years.
“They’re talking about giving us a reduction by phasing in the policy,” he said. “They might save us a few thousand dollars, as opposed to the $400,000 they owe us.”
Black said it’s been difficult for the soccer club to keep pressing the issue with the town since it is managed by volunteers. However, he said the club will continue to work with councillors in the weeks ahead.
“We’ll let council decide what they want to decide in relation to the general committee report, and we’ll be making our case that we want our money,” he said.