Chopp doubts recreation complex grant coming to Norfolk

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Norfolk’s mayor has expressed pessimism about the county’s prospects for receiving millions of dollars in funding for a new recreation complex in Simcoe.

Mayor Kristal Chopp says she has always believed the chances of receiving federal-provincial money were slim. She said the fact that local MPP Toby Barrett has been lukewarm to the concept almost guarantees that Norfolk’s grant application will be denied.

“Our MPP has been against it, and without the support of your MPP you’re not going to get it,” Chopp told Norfolk council on June 9.

“Do I think we’re going to get it? No, I don’t.”

Chopp was responding to a deputation from Steve Scheers of Delhi, a spokesperson for the Concerned Residents of Norfolk.

Scheers appeared by video link. He told council it must resolve the question of hub funding before it asks the community what should be done with its arenas and community halls. Coupled with uncertainty arising from the COVID-19 pandemic alert, Scheers asked council to suspend the proposal process for at least a year.

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As a potential cost-cutting measure, Norfolk County has asked community groups and the private sector to table ideas for the management of these facilities.

Norfolk council has concluded the county’s financial situation is precarious. During January’s budget talks, council agreed to solicit ideas for new ways of managing community facilities.

Scheers said the process is flawed, partly because of unanswered questions regarding the hub and whether it will be a factor in the equation for the future. Scheers worries council’s process for fielding input has set Norfolk’s user groups up to fail.

“No one wants to put forward any ideas until the issue of the hub is settled,” Scheers said. “Who would want to put in a proposal for the Port Dover arena when the hub is five minutes down the road?

“Until that decision is made, you’re not going to get anyone making proposals. Why would they? There’s too much risk.”

Chopp reminded Scheers that the current council inherited the hub file from the previous council. The mayor also reminded Scheers that his ward councillor – Mike Columbus – was the one who tabled the motion to resurrect the hub concept in 2018 when it appeared to be gone for good.

The motion that put the hub back on the table states that Norfolk council’s support is contingent on receiving significant federal-provincial funding for the project, which could cost in the range of $50 million.

Chopp added the hybrid management structure Norfolk council has in mind for arenas and community halls harks back to the days of Haldimand-Norfolk Region when local communities ran local facilities.

“I don’t think you speak for all of Norfolk County because there are people interested in putting forward proposals,” Chopp said.

“I know change is difficult. It always is. But the change we’re suggesting is the way it used to be. The idea is to get back to a time when you guys ran the facilities.”

CAO Jason Burgess added that the county is not bound by any proposal. As a matter of fairness and transparency, Burgess said the municipality must employ a widely-advertised process so no one can claim they were kept in the dark while council cut side-deals with preferred parties.