BRACEBRIDGE - Though the stands were largely empty, council had heard enough noise behind the scenes to call a time out before making a final decision on new fees for the Bracebridge Soccer Club.
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)
During a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 21, councillors voted in favour of the delay, until the club can make a formal presentation to voice their opinions on the issue. The club, which partnered with the town in 2004 by pitching in money and volunteers to build and maintain Gostick Park, previously had an agreement to use the fields for free.
But because that agreement expired in 2009, council has been looking since 2011 to charge the club fees in rising increments over the next four years – a decision which hasn’t sat well with many in the soccer community.
If approved, that arrangement will see the club paying 25 per cent of what other users pay in 2013, then 50 per cent in 2014, 75 per cent in 2015 and the exact same price as other users beginning in 2016. At that time, staff reports estimate the club will be paying around $21,000 yearly to use the park, which the club fears will mean their members will be paying 20 per cent more to participate in four year’s time. Run by volunteers, the club’s management has said they didn’t have the time to contest council’s direction on the fees with a delegation during this week’s meeting.
Audience seats in the council chambers were almost completely deserted during Wednesday’s council meeting, but enough complaints were made earlier in the day to prompt council’s deferral.
“The outcry that we’ve heard from the emails and phone calls I’ve received today definitely speak to the fact that they’d want to hear more, that we need to hear more,” said Coun. Mark Quemby.
Coun. Lori-Lynn Giaschi-Pacini said she’s also heard a number of people voice their opinions on the issue in the previous 36 hours, and supported the time out until the club can be invited to speak formally before council.
“One of the individuals stated that they were unaware it was coming forward and they weren’t prepared, and didn’t have enough time,” she said.
But prompted by a question from Coun. Steve Clement, Mayor Graydon Smith reminded councillors that the club will only have a chance to plead their case, but not to actively debate with council on the fee issue.
“Simply they will be appearing as a delegation if they so choose to appear, and I don’t know if they’ve requested that yet or not … and any other interested persons that wish to appear as a delegation will be given regular delegation time,” said Smith. “No, we will not be engaging in debates with the delegations as per regular procedures, but we will debate the motion at the appropriate time.”
A number of residents had directed their complaints to Smith himself via Twitter beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 20, after club managers sent a formal email to club members announcing their opposition to the town’s decision.
“Many volunteers including myself did not work at creating Gostick Fields so they could pay more fees to use them,” Bracebridge soccer player Meggie Good tweeted to Smith with the hashtag #getaclue. “The amount of stones I alone picked up should pay for a century of field fees.”
Two weeks ago, Smith had formally thanked and recognized the volunteer efforts of the soccer club in creating the fields, but said he felt it was impossible to compensate the soccer club for “every time and every second and every drop of sweat” it invested. He said he felt easing in the fees slowly over four years was enough to compensate the club.
Twitter user Toni Lefebvre-Mick, however, disagreed.
“Over 800 players and thousands of volunteer’s hard work for nothing,” she tweeted to the mayor.
In its formal email to club members, the club reiterated its desire to be compensated for its volunteer and financial contributions to the park over the years – a number the club has pegged at being in excess of $400,000.
Though the email notes that the club is not opposed to new fees “in principle,” it did note that fees could have an impact on the numbers of players that can sign up.
“Introducing user fees at the park will have a serious impact on all of our soccer programs, affecting registration fees, what programs are offered, how often and where we can play,” the email read.