Centre Wellington council considers break for Elora Rocks

ELORA – Rich Wigmore and Cassie Silverthorne kind of knew what they were getting into when they took over management of the Elora Rocks in 2021.

They knew the club owed the township for rental arrears and had reached a repayment agreement with the township in 2021. 

Now they find themselves between a rock and a hard place. But they heard councillors say numerous times at the April 29 meeting that they want the club, with a long and sacred history in Elora, to continue.

The Rocks are up against it financially, Wigmore told council in his delegation, with a $26,000 debt that is crippling the organization.

Wigmore hoped council would forgive the debt and allow the Elora Rocks to move forward with a clean slate.

“I don’t think it’s so broken it can’t be fixed,” he told councillors. “If we can get a clean slate, maybe we can attract new board members.”

The hockey team dates back 100 years and has been wildly popular with local fans.

The team fell into ice rental arrears totaling about $14,000 in 2010 and formed an agreement with the township to pay back that debt over nine years. That went fine until the 2015/2016 season, when the team suspended operations.

In 2017 a new agreement was reached with the township and things went well until 2020, when there was no season due to COVID. No debt payments were made either and the debt had grown to $31,000.

Wigmore and Silverthorne took over management in 2021 and reached a new agreement that included debt repayment. They have been making the annual $3,100 payment personally.

But with the loss of the Jefferson Elora Community Centre last winter due to renovations, the club has only limped along, Wigmore said.

Writing off the debt would enable the Elora Rocks to start fresh with a new business plan and the ability to pay for ice time going forward.

Wigmore argued that the debt “really is a community debt” as each agreement between the club and the township was approved by the council of the day.

The club is a non-profit organization that needs a board of directors to function. Wigmore said it’s been difficult to form a new board with the looming debt.

He said he’s not sure who owns the Elora Rocks without a board and is worried the club could lose its not-for-profit status. For these reasons, he hoped council would forgive the debt. Council saw that as problematic.

“We have other organizations with interest-free loans,” said councillor Bronwynne Wilton. 

“There will be others who will want the same. This is a problematic situation. Why should this one group get special treatment?”

“I think we all have a part to play with this debt,” countered councillor Jennifer Adams, citing the past agreements that were approved by previous councils.

Adams noted COVID and the community centre renovation were challenges no one could have foreseen, and that Wigmore has been making the debt payments.

“I don’t think it’s just the organization that’s to blame,” she said. “I’m of the mind that we want to help if we can,” agreed councillor Kim Jefferson.

In the end, council decided to defer a decision on the debt repayment to give time for staff to work with Wigmore to find other solutions.

Staff will bring other options to council at the June 10 meeting. After the meeting, Wigmore said he was pleased with how it went.

“I thought the mayor and council asked important questions and the right questions,” he said.

“This is a historic team and there have been gaps from the business side of things and they need to be fixed. I just want to move forward properly.”

Wigmore said he’s been involved in hockey all his life and it helped form who he is now.

He took on management of the team as a way to give back to the community. Hockey is a great sport enjoyed by all ages and it’s beneficial to have a senior team here, he said.

“I felt heard and understood and council is ready to think about other options,” Wigmore said. 

“For me that’s a big step.”