It would be difficult to know that there is still a pandemic going on if you tuned into the December 7th South Dundas Council meeting. Many families are still dealing with pandemic-related financial issues due to unemployment or underemployment and businesses are struggling financially. Yet on Monday, council agreed to both increase spending by hiring three new municipal positions, and increase user fees for recreation.
For several months, the municipality has undergone an organizational review to plan not just for immediate staffing needs, but long term. The review is a good idea, but creating not just one, but three new positions at the South Dundas Municipal Centre will mean over $166,000 in additional wages next year.
At the same meeting, staff brought to the council a review of recreation fees and proposed not only increases of up to 26 per cent in some cases, but charging for ball diamonds which has never been done before. In this case, there was no consultation with user groups in preparing the report to council. All the groups interviewed by The Leader after the meeting had no knowledge of any planned increases.
Reviewing expenses and fees is a responsible course of action and should be done regularly. But the question needs to be asked – can community recreation groups, which are already struggling due to limited or cancelled seasons and a lack of fundraising really handle increased fees at this time?
No they cannot. Hiring multiple administration staff and increasing fees during this pandemic is ill-timed at best and comes across as tone-deaf to the realities in the community.
To council’s credit, they supported only raising fees and charging new fees for adult recreation; youth recreation fees remain unchanged. Hockey and figure skating ice time will cost the same as it did last year, and South Dundas will not charge youth baseball teams to play at local diamonds. Council opted to only increase fees on adult recreation programs and institute new rental fees for facilities. Adults who can maybe afford a bit more for recreation will have to pay more.
South Dundas is a caring community and does well to support one another in times of need. But this community also has a wide variety of socio-economic challenges, which the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified. Council and administration should reflect on the decisions of the December 7th council meeting to ensure the needs during this time are truly being reflected. Increased hiring and fees do not do that.