Norfolk County has no immediate plans to close a second arena.
The possibility of closing a second ice surface was contained in a budget resolution in January. This is the same resolution that closed the arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre to make way for a new Simcoe Seniors Centre, a decision affirmed at the Aug. 18 meeting of council.
The January resolution was approved in response to an acute cash crunch arising from years of deficit financing, giving rise to depleted reserve accounts. The goal of the resolution was to produce another $150,000 in annual savings from mothballing a second arena in Delhi or Langton.
But on Sept. 8, CAO Jason Burgess said the need to close a second surface was off the table for the time being because staff has found the desired savings.
“There is no requirement to do anything further in 2020,” Burgess said, adding the question may arise again at the end of 2021 if Norfolk’s financial situation deteriorates further.
“Council is not bound by the budget motion at this point in time.”
Senior staff was called on to clarify the county’s position in response to non-stop speculation on social media. So many stories and scenarios are circulating that many in Norfolk are desperate for a fact-check – including members of Norfolk council.
“The problem is we have a lot of miscommunication in the public realm,” said Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts, chair of Norfolk’s budget committee.
“When you put arenas through a process of Russian roulette, we have to address that as community leaders. We’re seeing it in our email boxes. Why don’t we get this on the council table?”
Some council members were surprised to hear that public meetings regarding this issue are also in the works. They will be scheduled once council receives a report in December on the public-private proposals it has received on the future management of Norfolk’s arenas.
This call-for-proposals was also included in the January budget resolution. The process hasn’t been a smooth one, however, now that COVID-19 is standing in the way of the public gatherings required to respond effectively to council’s game plan.
As well, there have been complaints that uncertainty this year over the status of a proposed $50-million recreation complex in Simcoe – one with potential for a twin-pad arena – was complicating calculations for future use of arenas in neighbouring communities.
That question was resolved in August with word that Norfolk’s application for federal-provincial funding had been denied. Council’s support of the hub proposal was contingent on receiving significant support from senior governments.
Burgess reiterated staff’s position that the objective of the request-for-proposals is to give council options in case it’s confronted with another difficult budget session where costs are escalating and revenue is tight. He said neither council nor applicants with ideas for Norfolk’s facilities are bound by this process, adding all can stand down at any time in the absence of binding agreements.