Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mayor Calls Fee Scheme "Harebrained"

Concern in Mansonville and Shefford

by Alex Roslin

Brome County News

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Two neighbouring mayors are reacting with surprise and disappointment to the Town of Brome Lake’s demand for massive fee increases for non-residents who take classes at the community centre in Knowlton.

“It seems a little harebrained,” said Mansonville Mayor Jacques Marcoux.

Mansonville has eight residents who take classes in Knowlton, but it would have to cough up about $27,000 per year under TBL’s plan.

That works out about $3,400 for each of the eight Mansonville residents taking classes. “Pardon the expression, but it’s pretty crazy. Higher non-resident fees are reasonable. But from there to say you have to pay based on municipal evaluation is not the correct way to do things,” Marcoux said.

(Mansonville’s fee would probably be reduced slightly because it has community facilities of its own that Brome Lake residents may use. The actual figure demanded isn’t known yet because TBL has yet to put a request in writing.)

Meanwhile, in Shefford, Mayor Jean-Marc Desrochers was no less stunned when told of TBL’s plan.

“Tabarouette, that would be totally absurd. There would not even be a discussion,” Desrochers said.

Shefford would probably have to pay about $32,500 a year under TBL’s plan. That’s $3,250 for each of the 10 Shefford residents taking a class in Knowlton.

The reaction was similar in Brome, which would be asked for almost $16,000 a year. (It has a dozen residents taking classes in Knowlton.)

Non-residents already pay 40 percent more to take classes at the community centre. TBL Mayor Gilles Decelles says that’s not enough and doesn’t cover the town’s full costs.

But the actual cost of the programs at the community centre is not known. A review has just started to figure that out.

That didn’t stop TBL’s council from going ahead in May with a vote to ban residents of West Bolton from taking classes at the community centre if an agreement with that town isn’t reached on recreation by August 1.

TBL has asked West Bolton for $91,000 a year. West Bolton offered $3,000.

Bill Baldwin, vice-president of the board of Lac-Brome Recreation and Community Services, which runs the community centre, says he is concerned that banning so many non-residents would mean fewer classes being given. He urged both sides to be more reasonable.

“This business of banning kids entirely is absurd. There’s got to be a middle ground,” he said.

In total, TBL’s plan would demand about $150,000 from West Bolton and the three other neighbouring communities. That’s 30 percent of the community centre’s budget of $500,000.

Meanwhile, residents of those four towns make up less than 10 percent of the people who take classes at the community centre.

Officials of some of those towns say TBL’s amount is unfair because high portions of their residents are weekenders or seasonal dwellers who don’t take classes in Knowlton.

Last week, West Bolton’s town council extended an olive branch by voting to increase its offer to $15,000 a year. That amount would cover just kids under 18 and would allow them to pay the same as residents to use the community centre in Knowlton. Adults from West Bolton would pay a higher non-resident fee to take classes.

“In my opinion, adults have the choice to pay whatever Brome Lake wishes. But children do not have a choice,” said West Bolton Mayor Donald Badger.

In an interview, Badger struck a conciliatory tone. “Whatever Brome Lake decides to do, we don’t want it [the community centre] shut down for anybody. There’s got to be a solution,” he said.

In TBL, councillors were also sounding friendlier. “I think these two months will give us a chance to reflect and negotiate like two neighbours should and to treat our neighbours the same way as we want to be treated,” said TBL councillor Marta Guber Gomes. “If another town did this to us, we would be freaking out.”

Now, another town is doing just that. Waterloo Mayor Pascal Russell says his town doesn’t want to subsidize non-residents either and wants a huge increase in money from TBL and other neighbouring towns to use Waterloo’s indoor skating rink and other rec facilities.

“If we say no [to Waterloo], we will be banned,” Decelles acknowledged at a council meeting last week.

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