Original Published on Jul 08, 2022 at 07:55

By Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WINGHAM – A somewhat calm discussion revisiting when to install ice at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex in Wingham became rather heated when the topic of money came up.

A request from the Wingham Minor Hockey Association to open up the arena at the Wescast Community Complex a month early had almost every councillor weighing in on the contentious subject, including Reeve Bernie Bailey. He brought up the sensitive issue of how Morris-Turnberry is no longer paying what it used to for the complex.

Ryan Sanders, president of Wingham Minor Hockey, sent a letter to council dated June 22, requesting the township reconsider the set date of Oct. 1 for the opening. Sanders says the late start would have a negative impact on the players and the organization.

“To create the utmost fair environment, we require at least two weeks of tryouts,” Sanders said. “By delaying ice installation, we will now push out our process for an additional month.”

Several suggestions came from councillors, including Deputy Reeve Trevor Seip, who proposed a more flexible policy. 

Coun. Paul Heffer inquired if a compromise of two weeks would help to lower the cost of opening early.

Vicky Luttenberger, North Huron’s director of recreation and community services, told council that there is a report on the agenda for the next council meeting informing them of an ongoing staffing issue in her department. 

“Even if you (council) approve an early start date, I won’t have the staff to run it,” she told councillors.

Coun. Anita Van Hittersum concurred with Luttenberger’s statement. 

“If we don’t have people to run the arenas then we’re stuck, we can’t do anything,” she said.

Coun. Kevin Falconer questioned the difference between the Blyth and Wingham arenas, contending that both should be afforded the same options.

Coun. Chris Palmer wondered if council should wait until there is a formal request to open the Blyth arena from a paying association, saying, “Why open the arena if there is only Coun. Falconer skating around in it?”

Luttenberger told council that she crunched some numbers before the meeting to have an estimate ready for them and she said that the hydro bill for the extra month of ice at the Wescast Complex would cost approximately $35,000.

The conversation took a sudden turn when Bailey spoke up, beginning by acknowledging nobody would want to hear this, but he said it anyway.

“When it comes to recreation, we are surrounded by Morris-Turnberry…they have the same population as we do in North Huron. They’re supposed to help with the facilities that we own; the upkeep and the cost of it,” he said.

Bailey went on to talk about the last three or four years of reduction in payments from Morris-Turnberry.

“At one time we could count on about $90,000…from them to help support the facilities that do just what you folks are asking.”

Bailey said the township has lost that money from Morris-Turnberry “because of squabbling.”

“North Huron cannot afford to supply everything to everybody,” he said. “You need to go to those town halls too and you need to ask for support. And I’m very serious about this,” he said.

“We’ve already lost $100,000. They will not pay for the water. They will not pay for the sewer. The greater communities put those up together; we did it together as a team. We volunteered, and we put our own personal money into it.

“Never ask me why North Huron has the highest taxes because you’re going to hear the same thing every time. It’s not because we have three arenas; it’s because we pay the bills for three arenas.”

Added Bailey, “Nobody is against hockey, nobody is against children, nobody is against swimmers.What we’re against is paying so much taxes. We have the highest taxes in Huron County because we give things away.

“There’s a fine line between being a friend and a sucker. They’ve got to start paying or build their own tank, build their own fire department, their own arenas.”

Bailey apologized for going on a rant but said that he was sure his staff was aware of it.

The conclusion of the discussion brought forward a request for staff to prepare a report that would see a policy change to provide more flexibility for all arenas on when to install ice, depending on what each may or may not need.

Bailey said that the staffing shortage is a separate issue. However, when a suggested ice installation request comes in, and there is still a staffing issue, he is sure whoever makes the request would understand.

This item reprinted from Advance Times, Wingham, Ontario