Centre Wellington council votes for no increase to parks and rec fees

Council also approves motion to develop and implement a workplace mental health strategy

ELORA – Centre Wellington council has decided to hold the line on increases to fees and charges for parks and recreation programs in 2021.

It has also agreed to a 1.4 per cent increase to fees and charges in all other areas, as recommended by staff.

Council breezed through a number of items at its Dec. 14 council meeting that it did not get to at its previous meeting, including approving the development charge interest policy and early payment agreements report, the 2021 interim tax levy bylaw and a 2021 temporary borrowing bylaw.

Council also directed staff to conduct an IT service delivery review in conjunction with a review at Wellington County, and approved the contract negotiated between the Township of Centre Wellington and the staff association for its team of volunteer firefighters.

But it was the proposed 1.4% increase to parks and rec fees and charges that prompted the most discussion among councillors.

Dan Wilson, managing director of corporate services, said staff had done what council had asked back in June – to keep fees and charges to a 1.4% cost of living increase.

But when push came to shove, councillors didn’t want to burden individuals or sports organizations, even with that modest increase.

“We should be rethinking 1.4%,” said councillor Kirk McElwain.

“A lot of families are hurting right now… I think fees should have zero increase this year.”

In answer to a question by councillor Steven VanLeeuwen, Wilson said not increasing parks and rec fees amounts to a $20,000 loss to the bottom line. To make it up would mean a 0.14% increase to the tax bill.

Council decided to keep parks and rec fees at 0% increase and all other fee increases to 1.4%.

The firefighters’ association agreed to extend its contract for one year and negotiate a new contract for the remaining three years of the four-year contract.

This was mainly due to COVID-19 and the challenges of holding meetings and holding the financial line until the pandemic emergency comes to a close.

Council also approved a request by the Elora Centre for the Arts to allow it to use $380,000 from the Jack R. MacDonald Fund as it applies for a matching grant from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund.

Mental health strategy

Councillor Neil Dunsmore put forward a motion for staff to develop and implement a workplace mental health strategy.

Dunsmore has long been an advocate for mental health initiatives and cited national statistics that mental health accounts for 30 per cent of long-term disability claims in the workplace.

Councillor Stephen Kitras wanted to know how many long- and short-term disability claims there were among staff due to mental illness.

“We need to know how big the problem is,” he said. “There’s no use reinventing the wheel and dealing with issues we’re already dealing with or may not have.”

“You can’t track these numbers,” Dunsmore said. “We know we have a problem in this community. Mental health issues can manifest with tragic acts.”

“Every organization should have a workplace mental health strategy,” agreed Mayor Kelly Linton.

“Centre Wellington should be a leader in this. We don’t need more numbers.”

Councillor Bob Foster put forward a motion to refer the matter to staff, but the referral was defeated.

Dunsmore’s original motion passed with only Foster voting against.

“There are no clear deliverables,” Foster said while casting his vote.

This was the last council meeting before Christmas.

Council returns to the virtual horseshoe on Jan. 5 and 7 to tackle the 2021 budget.