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Simcoe Seals big winners following council dispute

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The Simcoe Seals swim team was treated to some chequebook diplomacy at Norfolk council on Oct. 20.

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Hearing that the 40-member Special Olympics squad was $1,350 shy of its obligations this year at the Annaleise Carr Aquatic Centre in Simcoe, Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp and CAO Jason Burgess pledged $500 each while the mayor challenged the seven councillors around the table to pony up $50 each for the remaining $350.

On the floor was a motion from Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin proposing that the shortfall come from the municipal treasury.

After Martin and Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman, seconder of the motion, objected to paying out of their own pocket, Vittoria Coun. Chris VanPaassen got out his chequebook and gave Martin a last opportunity to reconsider.

“If I were to write a cheque for $350, would you withdraw your motion?” VanPaassen asked Martin.

Martin declined to contribute within the parameters suggested by the mayor. Council voted to reject Chopp’s proposal, and $1,350 in emergency funding to the Simcoe Seals was approved from Norfolk’s annual grant budget. While this was happening, VanPaassen got out his chequebook and cut the Seals $350 anyway.

This means that – following this series of events – the Seals went from a deficit position and many of its members unable to participate for the rest of the year to a $1,350 surplus and everyone on the team ready to get back in the pool.

“I take exception to how this was brought forward,” Huffman said of the mayor’s proposal. “I’ve devoted my time and my life to helping disadvantaged communities. Note as well the disparity between the wages of the mayor and the CAO and the rest of council.”

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Burgess draws a salary of $225,000 while Chopp, in 2019, earned just under $100,000. Norfolk councillors were paid a base salary last year of $42,600.

The Seals found themselves short of cash after Norfolk’s community services department imposed user surcharges to cover the extraordinary cost of continuous sanitation at the pool to limit the spread of COVID-19.

With each passing week since the summer, Chopp has taken an increasingly firm position on cost-recovery at recreation facilities. She has done so due to the limited ability of some households to pay their taxes.

“Anything to do with the Special Olympics is laudable,” Chopp said. “However, the taxpayers already subsidize recreational programming to the tune of millions of dollars.

“That subsidy is being paid by the wealthy, and it is also being paid by many members of our community that are unable to meet their basic needs. As our taxes rise, their ability to pay for their basic necessities diminishes.”

Chopp asked council to pass the hat because Burgess has negotiated an arrangement with the United Way of Haldimand-Norfolk to ensure that worthy community groups like the Simcoe Seals are never again caught out. All council needs to do, the mayor said, is get the swim team through the last three months of this year.

Starting in 2021, Norfolk’s community grant program will be administered in partnership with the United Way of Haldimand-Norfolk. The local United Way and Norfolk support many of the same groups. By co-ordinating their largesse, the goal is to eliminate duplication of effort through a more efficient, transparent allocation process.

The vote against Chopp’s preferred solution was 5-3, with Martin, Huffman, Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele, Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus and Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts voting in the majority.

“I have no issue contributing $50 to the Simcoe Seals,” Martin said. “I don’t think this is what this is all about. I believe all councillors have causes they contribute to, so I don’t necessarily agree with how this was sprung on us.”

Chopp, VanPaassen and Simcoe Coun. Ryan Taylor were prepared to donate while Langton Coun. Roger Geysens did not attend the Oct. 20 meeting.

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