Windsor awaits answer as Essex County council considers Ontario Summer Games funding split



essex_county_seal copyBy Ron Giofu


Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis was at Essex County council to pitch for a 50/50 funding split for the 2014 Ontario Summer Games but will have to wait until Nov. 6 for an answer.

County council sent Francis’ request back to administration to see how the county could fund the $636,500 the city is seeking. Without it, Francis said the city would have to approach Sport Alliance Ontario about scaling back the games.

“We work together well on many issues,” Francis told county council. “We advance issues of regional interest well together.”

Francis believed the county derives benefits greatly from organizations such as the Windsor Essex Economic Development Commission (WEEDC) and Tourism Windsor Essex County Pelee Island (TWEPI) and that Essex County benefited from the recent International Children’s Games (ICG).

Over $110,126 in products and services were purchased from Essex County during the ICG, stated Francis, with the Windsor mayor also saying that 47 county athletes were part of the Windsor-Essex team that was housed in the “athlete’s village” during the August games.

Some teams also had excursions in Essex County, Francis added, including the German team that enjoyed Lake Erie perch at Meadows by the Lake, a tour at Fort Malden National Historic Site and a canoe trip on the Canard River.

The Ontario Summer Games will attract up to 3,500 participants with Francis stating that Sport Alliance Ontario projects a $3.5-$4 million economic spinoff to the area. Expenses are projected to be $2.1 million with $800,000 in offset revenue leaving the rest to be funded by municipal contributions.

Francis admitted “timelines are pretty short” to get an answer but he looks forward to the Nov. 6 county council meeting.

There is a possibility of 12 of 22 events being held within Essex County, should the county approve the funding request.

“I have absolutely no problem having events in the county,” said Francis, adding the city has supported Detroit events as a way to promote the region.

Francis told county council members nothing is stopping individual towns from “putting together an aggressive program to attract people to their towns and keep them in their town” while the athletes and public are in the area for next year’s three-day event.

County CAO Brian Gregg said funding $636,500 over one year would amount to a one percent increase in the municipal levy just to accommodate that item.

“We would likely have to fund it over multiple years,” said Gregg. “That’s a significant amount to do in one chunk.”

Gregg speculated some of the money could come from reserves but recommended the reserves be paid back should the county consider that option.

Not all members of county council were enthusiastic about spending that kind of money for the Ontario Summer Games. Leamington Mayor John Paterson said it was “an exciting opportunity” for the region and was pleased events would be in all seven county municipalities but believed each town should study whether they want to opt in and pay for a share rather than having the county pay for it.

“It is my position this is not an event that should be funded regionally,” said Paterson.

Paterson also questioned what infrastructure projects might have to wait if funding goes to attract the Ontario Summer Games.

“Is this what county council should be doing with its money?” he questioned.

Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche questioned whether the county could afford the $636,500 and wondered where the economic spinoff would occur. He said much of the costs are for hotel rooms and restaurants and believed most would spend money close to where they are staying. Meloche said most people would stay in Windsor since that is where the majority of the hotel rooms are.

“I agree it’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Windsor-Essex but I look at the economic drivers,” said Meloche. “I just have concerns putting in a 50/50 split.”

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya believed the county should approach the idea of splitting funding on a regional basis rather than by individual municipalities, a notion shared by Amherstburg Mayor Wayne Hurst.

It was Hurst who made the motion to refer the matter back to administration.

“If we do this, it should be on a 50/50 partnership on a regional basis,” said Hurst.

Hurst also believed co-hosting the 2014 Ontario Summer Games “is something we should give serious consideration to.”

“I am a firm believer in the saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’,” added Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland, adding he wants to ensure it’s affordable.

Francis said after the meeting he was grateful Essex County council took the time to discuss his request.

“It was a good discussion,” said Francis. “I’m optimistic and I look forward to administration’s report coming back.”

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