TLTI council ponders Gananoque arena costs
September 11, 2023
The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands council has deferred a decision on the creation of a Lou Jeffries Arena Board of Management, amid questions about the money the township pays for the facility.
This occurred during the Tuesday, Sept. 5 committee of the whole meeting, after a number of councillors questioned the management of the facility and the township’s partnership with it.
A decision on the matter is now expected to occur in October.
Both parties would have input on decision-making and planning concerning the arena. The board of management would enable the township to participate in spending decisions and planning for capital requirements.
Gananoque would retain responsibility for the day-to-day running of the facility, retaining contractors for repairs, ice bookings, etc.
Commonly referred to as the Lou Jeffries Arena, the Gananoque facility is actually named the Lou Jeffries, Gananoque and TLTI Recreation Centre. It is home to an indoor rink surface.
The township and Gananoque have had a longstanding cost-sharing arrangement with respect to the facility. Each municipality contributes 50 per cent funding to budgeted operation and capital costs pursuant to a Recreation Cost Sharing Agreement.
Ward 1 Coun. Jeff Lackie was displeased with staff’s report and the amount of money TLTI gives to the arena.
“We have some agreements with neighbouring municipalities, such as Westport, such as Athens, various others who we pay a fee that’s probably not even registering on our books,” said Lackie. “But yet, for some reason, we feel the need to cover people for the Gananoque arena.
In our last report when we discussed this – they don’t charge out-of-town user fees, to anyone, so why are we giving them, technically, an out-of-town user fee?
“To me, I was looking more for a report on why we’re doing this, for what purpose are we giving our money to something that doesn’t belong to us. It’s not our asset.”
Lackie added he’d prefer the township not pay anything towards the Lou Jeffries Arena.
“We wouldn’t have a rink, they say, if we didn’t do this,” said Lackie. “But we didn’t do this up until probably the 1990s, late 90s, for a rink that’s been there since (the 1960s). They didn’t come to us then and say, ‘do you want to go halves on the rink?’ or ‘do you want to pay some of this’? They built the rink. It’s not ours. So, I don’t want to pay anything. If they want to run it as a business, the way it should, where their revenue and expenses equal out at the end of the year. But again, people are coming from Kingston and other larger centers to use the ice in Gananoque because it’s the cheapest. Maybe they should think about raising their ice rates and run it like a business without us.”
After Lackie’s comments, it was noted that Gananoque council recently did raise ice rates for the upcoming ice season, by 10 per cent.
“The township residents use it about 48 per cent of the time,” said TLTI’s chief administrative officer, Stephen Donachey.
“So, there is a significant presence of township residents in the facility. Of course, it’s up to council to consider what relationship they’d like to have with respect to the facility going forward.”
Ward 2 Coun. Angela Kelman was shocked by the 48 per cent usage rate finding.
“I feel the same as Coun. Lackie,” said Kelman. “I was really shocked by how much we’re spending on that building. And perhaps because of the area of the township that I’m from, I do take issue with the idea that it is the only indoor rink service. In Ward 2, the vast majority of kids that use a rink for either figure skating or hockey or public skating, they go to Westport or Athens. I’m not disagreeing with the 48 per cent usage but I would like to see a breakdown of how that breaks down.”
Coun. Lackie continued his criticism.
“What I read is that nothing’s going to change,” he said. “We’re still going to sign a cheque and say, ‘here you go’. But what we’ve added is a lot more staff time devoted to this. Before, it was a joint board as far as council and staff from each municipality that was the oversight and made some decisions, recommendations. That, seemingly, went to the wayside. It was here, it was not. It was here, it was not. It was here, then we didn’t do anything. But now it’s staff’s (time) and is that something we want our staff to be devoting time to? Are we looking at it in dollars and cents, are we looking at it in manpower dollars and cents?”
Deputy Mayor Terry Fodey, who attended a Gananoque council meeting about a month ago, along with Ward 2 Coun. Mark Jamison, in support of Donachey’s presentation regarding doctor recruitment, said he was upset by a delegation prior to Donachey’s presentation, regarding the 10 per cent ice rate increase.
“I was taken aback in the sense that there was an ice rate increase of 10 per cent and yet our name is on an equal billing on the outside of that building,” said Fodey. “I would like to know if we’re going to increase rates at 10 per cent. It became clear afterwards that we were not involved in that process. The mayor, along with majority of council, chose that night on what appeared to be a prepared statement knowing these delegations were coming forward. They said they would offer a seven per cent one-time grant, if (the user groups) applied. Most of the ice renters were there that night – girls’ hockey, men’s hockey, figure skating, on and on, and a 10 per cent (rate increase) to some of those ice users amounts to over $12,000-14,000 a year increase after they had sent out their billing to each of their participating families or individuals to pay up for the calendar year.”
Fodey didn’t argue with anything Coun. Lackie said, but added he was willing, for the sake of the 48 per cent of the users in the arena who come from TLTI, to “bite my tongue for another year or two and let this board play out and see what comes of it.”
“As Coun. Lackie stated, the others, meaning outside of Gananoque and our township, are going (to Lou Jeffries Arena) because of the ice rates and, unfortunately, things have fallen behind there (in Gananoque) in a number of ways but that’s not to put blame on the current people (council and staff). If they have a way of preparing to fix it, I’m willing to give them enough time to try.”
The township’s responsibility for arena costs is capped at the amount listed in the cost-sharing agreement. Gananoque is responsible for any costs that exceed the budgeted amounts. The current agreement will expire on Dec. 31, 2023. Staff proposed the term of the agreement be two years and council approved a one-year term.
As the costs to run the aging arena increase, so too does the township’s annual contribution.
The township’s payments in respect of the arena are as follows: $85,000 in 2017; $112,820 in 2018; $121,885 in 2019; $130,955 in 2020; $140,030 in 2021; $145,274 in 2022 and $158,500 in 2023.
Ward 1 Coun. Brian Mabee agreed that a board could help with recommendations and/or oversight of how costing is put forward.
“There’s a lot of questions of how this is being done, how it’s being looked over,” said Mabee. “And we do need the rink. It’s one of the facilities in our township that, I don’t know how many multiple youth have gone through, adults (too). It’s a needed commodity. There’s no way we can really opt out of this one. We do need it.”
Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.