by Chris Pickup

Haldimand council voted Monday to defer the final decision on charging non-county-residents fees to use the Caledonia pool, despite quite extensive discussion at the committee level approving it.

In 2012 the county introduced free access to all its pools to encourage residents to use the facilities, resulting in an increased use from 8,800 annually to over 34,000 over the next five years.

But also in 2012, the local Clark family gave a substantial financial donation which resulted in the redevelopment of the Kinsmen Park, including a brand new pool, diving tank and splash pad, among other facilities. This vaulted the Caledonia pool and park into a regional class that attracted very high usage, especially on weekends.

It’s a classic case of be careful what you wish for.

Complaints from Caledonia residents that heavy use by non-residents meant they could not enjoy the pool themselves reached the county, and staff polled public swim users in 2017.

Their findings indicated roughly two-thirds of the users on weekends were not residents of the county. This had only become an issue since the new pool was installed, and would probably get much worse with all the new residential construction in the Caledonia area.

The county sought legal counsel, and were told that while they could not ban non-county residents from using public facilities, they could charge them user fees. The proposed fee is $10 per person and $15 for adults. This is approximately three times what is charged in neighbouring municipalities.  It includes costs of identifying wristbands, electronic fee handling  and a subsidy offset charge to ensure 100% of the non-resident pool cost is covered.

The other pools in the county have no capacity issues, and would remain totally free.

In answer to the question of what happens when county residents have family visiting, it was indicated as long as they were accompanied by a resident, they would be allowed in free.

“It’s a pretty unique park,” councillor Grice noted, at the committee meeting. “It’s a charitable gift of the Clarks. It’s a matter of trying to protect that asset.”

However at last Monday’s council Grice said he felt more discussion was needed both with the Clarks, the Chamber of Commerce and the BIA to make sure they understand what council is doing, and why. He’d also talked to some businesses who claimed they aren’t seeing non-residents going to their stores as a result of being drawn into the area to use the pool.