Fish hatchery funding question back on table

By Chad Ingram

It was a familiar discussion.

Haliburton County councillors are torn on how to handle a grant request from the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association which operates the Haliburton fish hatchery.

Members of the county’s tourism committee discussed the association’s request for a $10000 grant for 2016 during a Jan. 13 meeting.

For years the municipality has provided funding to the hatchery which stocks Haliburton County’s lakes with thousands of trout and walleye each year.

At one time the county funded the HHOA at $20000 per annum but in 2013 noting financial pressures county councillors voted to stop giving direct cash infusions to community groups.

However since some county councillors felt the hatchery provided a function essential to area’s tourism economy the HHOA has continued to receive funding at $10000 a year with the file being moved under the purview of the tourism department.

For 2015 as a condition of the funding the HHOA was to meet a number of requirements.

“As part of the approval process for the 2015 grant request from HHOA the tourism committee made it clear that the HHOA was to work closely with the tourism  department throughout the year to ensure that there was communication regarding  marketing activities and that HHOA was to reach out to the tourism department to  ensure we were in the loop on planned activities and marketing initiatives” read a report from county tourism director Amanda Virtanen. “During the 2015 marketing year the tourism department promoted HHOA via social media channels however there was no contact made by the HHOA and in order to promote HHOA activities the tourism department had to actively seek out information on events and programs.”

It was Virtanen’s recommendation that if council chose to support the hatchery again in 2016 that a formalized process be established through which the HHOA would provide proactive updates to the department.

Virtanen also noted that the $10000 request had not been included in her draft budget and that if council chose to grant the request money would have to be added to the draft budget or reallocated from other projects.

“I think this is another one of these very tender conversations” said Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt. “It’s about . . . the equitable application of process. There’s all kinds of organizations that we will not fund that also contribute greatly to our community.”

Moffatt pointed to local studio tours for example which attract many people to the county and reiterated that other organizations that once relied on county funding had been weaned off.
“The outdoors association remains” she said.

“They’re not like all the other organizations” said Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey. “They have a physical structure to maintain. It’s a physical building and it's got costs.”

The hatchery building is located along County Road 1 just outside Haliburton Village.

Fearrey pointed to the high cost of electricity as well as the fact the HHOA has lost significant provincial funding in recent years.

Stressing the HHOA stocks lakes at a level of about 30000 a year Fearrey said he didn’t want to cut the association off cold-turkey and recommended that funding be gradually decreased.

Committee member Bruce Ballentine said he saw the situation not as a county issue but one for the lower-tier townships.

“I see it as a municipal expense” Ballentine said adding the association stocks lakes throughout the county and suggesting that each of the four lower tiers contribute $2500 toward the operation of the hatchery.

“Dysart does write off their taxes so we’re trying to help” Fearrey said.

Highlands East Deputy-reeve Suzanne Partridge thought that if funding was going to continue the HHOA would have to come through on deliverables.

“If we agree to continue to fund them in any amount we have to have milestones” Partridge said.

Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin agreed with Fearrey that funding should be reduced gradually.

“Reduce it over time wean them off” Devolin said.

“We already did that and they got a reprieve” Moffatt said.

It was agreed that Moffatt and Virtanen would meet with HHOA reps and the issue would come back to the table at a Jan. 27 county council meeting.