No pay, no play: Funding dispute sees Merrickville-Wolford banned from Smiths Falls arena
A debate over how to cover operational costs of the Smiths Falls Youth Arena has residents in one border municipality banned from the ice.
Residents in Merrickville-Wolford who for years have been able to access the rink by paying user fees are now banned from the ice.
14-year-old Tyler Swerdfager signed up in June to play his tenth season with the Smiths Falls Bears. His season is now in jeopardy and because of hockey jurisdiction rules, Swerdfager cannot play house league in another city.
"To be honest, it sucked," said 14-year-old Tyler Swerdfager, a Merrickville-Woldford resident. " You just want to play hockey and saying you're not allowed to play isn't very nice of them (Smiths Falls)."
Swerdfager's mother, Allison Gaudet, said she understands why Smiths Falls banned residents from a town who refused to help pay the arenas operation costs, but said she wishes the towns had thought of the kids.
"So many friends, so many good friends, best friends were made on that team over the years," she said about her son's time with the Smiths Falls Bears. "To have to walk away from all that because of these reasons just doesn't seem fair."
The ban comes after the municipality refused to enter into a new recreational cost sharing agreement with the town of Smiths Falls and four other communities.
“With respect to the neighbours who have paid and committed, we had to protect the integrity of that agreement and those relationship and unfortunately we had to make the decision to block access,” said the Mayor of Smiths Falls Shawn Pankow.
Pankow said the decision to move from a user fee to a cost sharing model has been in the works for more than one year. He said initial discussions were moving in a positive direction until the village of Merrickville-Wolford refused to pay just over $15,000 a year to maintain rink access.
“There is roughly 70 users and when you spread that between different leagues, I don’t think there will be a big impact,” Pankow said. “Unfortunately, the biggest impact I can see, is that there are kids in Merrickville-Wolford and residents in Merrickville-Wolford who won’t have the ability to use this great facility.
In a statement, the Mayor of Merrickville-Wolford said he was “astonished” by the ban. The town’s closest year-round ice rink now resides in Perth, Kemptville or even Ottawa.
“The Town of Smiths Falls requested and received grant funding to build the arena based on the ability of surrounding communities to use it as well,” wrote the town’s mayor David Nash in a release. “To see such discrimination based on geographical location is not in keeping with Canadian values.”
Nash said the town circulated a public survey on the issue in early 2017. The results showed roughly 84% of people did not support the financial contribution and about 77% did not believe the arena in Smiths Falls was “an essential service.”
Nash is hopeful the two towns can come up with a temporary solution. He is planning on asking the Mayor of Smiths Falls to allow Merrickville-Wolford residents to play this year, especially if they are already registered in a league, so families and hockey leagues have time to adjust.
Anyone hoping to use the Smiths Falls arena, including on a hockey league, must now show proof of residence or ownership from one of the communities who signed the new agreement.