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Committee Listens to Public Input on User Fees
  by Francie Dennison  
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Central Elgin's Ad Hoc committee on User Fees was in full attendance - Councillors Dan McNeil, Sally Martyn and Russell Matthews, and Director of Finance Karen DePrest - and attentive during a public information session regarding the proposed 2014 User Fees Schedule, held at the Port Stanley Arena on Saturday morning, December 14, 2013.

Representatives and members from the Port Stanley 55+, Seniors Hockey and Seniors Baseball Clubs were present to offer input and express their concerns. Dan McNeil started off by explaining the committee's mandate was to review all the fees and make recommendations to make fees consistent across the municipality so that everyone was on a level playing field, and to make sure the fees being charged were also fair to the ratepayers of Central Elgin, at least recovering full operating costs, if not capital costs.

The biggest changes in the proposed new user fees schedule affects non-profit groups using the arenas, community halls and parks. Community hall rental has been the most varied with the most "special cases" regarding rental fees charged. In some cases a group was doing the set up, clean up and take down in the hall to reduce the rental rate charged. In others the group was being billed at a premium rate because it was a statutory holiday and staff gets paid more on those days. The committee has come up with a flat $35/hr across the board rate for both arenas, irrespective of statutory holidays and with no non-municipal workers doing any of the work. This is the calculated actual cost per hour to open and use either the Port Stanley or the Belmont Community Hall in the upstairs of those arenas.

The 55+ Club pointed out that the change to a flat $35/hr rate from what they paid in 2013 to what was being proposed for 2014 (and they pay a premium rate to use the arena on statutory holiday Mondays) works out to double what they will have paid in 2013. They were invited to submit what they could afford as an annual rate, instead of an hourly rate, as were the Belmont Lions and Lioness Clubs, and the committee will look at what might be done in terms of an annual rate for year round regular users.

Jim Robbins (J.R.) from the Port Stanley Seniors Hockey Club informed the committee that the rate they pay now for non-prime day time ice time makes seniors hockey in Port Stanley more expensive than it is in London or St. Thomas. Both of those communities have programs wherein they subsidize seniors hockey. "This is resulting in many players choosing to play where they can get the best value for their pension dollars, and some aren't playing anywhere due to the high cost relative to their income," Jim said, noting that, despite the MacLean's magazine article, not everyone who is retired is wealthy. Players must be at least 60 years of age to play Port Stanley Seniors Hockey. The club currently has 50 members ranging in age from 60 to 75 years, and they currently play three mornings a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). The City of St. Thomas has an arena that is underutilized during the day time hours and the Port Stanley Seniors Hockey Club has been approached by them to meet and discuss the possibility to relocate.

Pointing out that they do all their own collecting and paper work, all their own age screening, and provide their own jerseys, referees and time keepers (the provision of which are all part of the London and St. Thomas programs), J.R. suggested the Port Stanley Seniors Hockey Club be charged the same as the Youth non-prime day-time rate, which will be $69.75/hr instead of the Adult rate at $90.00/hr. This will allow the club to reduce its members' fees from $312.50 for the season down to $260.00 for the season, allowing more people to be able to afford it.

Jim was eloquent and passionate in his presentation. "You can stop talking now, you've won," McNeil interrupted. Jim kept going. "Jim, sit down, you've won," McNeil repeated as everybody laughed.

The committee does not have the power to decide, only to recommend to Council. The actual decisions will be made by the full Council of 7 members. The committee will, however, make recommendations reflecting these considerations that user groups in Port Stanley and Belmont have brought to light. Because they involve more than one schedule, and will include looking at giving the Port Stanley Seniors Baseball Club the same day time Youth rate, they involve revisions and recalculations of more than one table. Therefore, the committee will ask at the next Council meeting that the by-law to accept the new user fees be deferred until the New Year and the new rates implemented February 1st rather than January 1st, 2014.

Proposed 2014 User Fees Schedule

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