BRACEBRIDGE - Bracebridge councillors need to give some clearer directions on how the town’s culture and recreation department should proceed in the future, Mayor Graydon Smith says.
Smith raised his concern as councillors were discussing future priorities during a general committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2. Earlier in May, it was announced at council that the Bracebridge Sportsplex was anticipated to face an $85,000 shortfall by the end of the year.
The shortfall came to light just shortly after Gravenhurst announced the grand opening of its own recreational complex, and in the midst of increasing private-sector competition that includes the opening of a 24-hour gym in town last year.
“We’ve created an unfortunate situation in culture and recreation, and there’s some very strong opinions on that department in terms of the businesses they’re involved in and the way they conduct that business vis-à-vis competition in the private sector,” said Smith. “I think in 2012 in budget conversations, it got reflected in such a way that I don’t believe staff had a very clear vision on what it was council wanted around culture and recreation.”
Culture and recreation staff brought forth a number of suggestions for equipment upgrades at council during budget deliberations in February, but council see-sawed in choosing what the department could buy.
In the end, $2,400 was approved for the purchase of an automatic belay machine for the sportsplex climbing wall, but a $1,500 request for inflatable pool tools and a $7,200 request for a new upright bike and elliptical workout machines were denied.
After some discussion, council initially wanted to keep $2,200 in the budget for a group cycling program at the sportsplex. However, council later backtracked on that decision and slashed that from the budget too, following debates on whether the program would be duplicating similar programs already offered at other area gyms.
In June, recreation and culture department director Leo Broere told council that staff asked for the budget-time upgrades in anticipation of changing market trends, and that they were the “kinds of value-added pieces that would retain membership and attract new membership.”
“I hope that we can provide some more clear direction to culture and recreation specifically this year, in terms of what our expectation is around their service delivery model,” said Smith. “Ultimately it manifested itself in what I thought was an unfortunate nickel and diming approach by the time we got to the budget discussions.”
Bracebridge CAO John Sisson said staff will look into arranging a special meeting to discuss services offered by the culture and recreation department in the near future.
“Based on the mayor’s comments, I think what we should probably look at doing is trying to set up a supplementary session with general committee as early as we can, and maybe provide some reference material regarding programs and services that culture and recreation provides, and maybe being able to highlight some of those programs,” he said.