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Council denies chamber's request for Port of Orillia financial relief

Decision to turn down pandemic-related request based on modest profit 'unfortunate,' says chamber's past president

Council committee has turned down the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce’s pandemic-related request for financial assistance.

In December 2020, the chamber’s then-president, Nathan Brown, wrote to council, asking for “forgiveness” of $41,429.53.

The chamber pays the city 31.5 per cent of gross revenue from the Port of Orillia for the right to manage operations at the tourist attraction.

“Our revenue was $130,821.84 with expenses of $138,905.89 before payment to the City of Orillia, making a net loss of $8,084.03 prior to payment to City of Orillia,” Brown wrote. “With the payment due of $41,429.53 from the contract, the chamber will incur a loss of $49,533.58.”

During Monday’s council committee meeting, staff recommended against providing the financial relief to the chamber.

A report noted the chamber “ended 2020 with a $119,000 total loss prior to subsidies.”

“However, after receipt of provincial and federal wage and rent subsidies, which provided $168,000, they ended with a profit of $49,000 for the year. This takes into account paying the city its share of the revenues from the operation of the Port of Orillia.”

During an interview Tuesday, Brown told OrilliaMatters the chamber’s $49,000 profit was “substantially lower than what it would have been if we had been able to operate the port (as usual).”

The rationale provided by staff, he said, does not “recognize that the port wasn’t profitable.”

“It’s unfortunate that that was the answer: It wasn’t a hard enough burden on us,” he said. “We just wanted the city to share in that burden. Part of that burden was due to our agreement with the city. They tell us when we can open.”

In his letter, Brown noted there were “factors dictated by the City of Orillia that were beyond our control.”

“With our ability to open delayed until June 1, and with the COVID-19 parking restrictions on the port facility, boaters chose to stay at their home marinas. As a result, we were never in a position to overcome the City of Orillia portion of revenue as per our agreement.”

Council committee ultimately agreed with the staff recommendation Monday.

“I know they need help, but I think there’s other government revenue from the province or the feds to help them out in this way rather than come from the taxpayers of Orillia,” said Coun. Ralph Cipolla.

Citing the $49,000 profit, Coun. Jay Fallis said, “It seems that the chamber itself is doing OK at the moment.”

“If it were ever a more dire situation, I would certainly be open to exploring this further,” he said.

Brown said the chamber values its relationship with the city, despite the odd disagreement, but added he was disappointed the city didn’t provide the requested assistance given the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19.

“Those agreements were never written with the foresight of a global pandemic,” he said.

Council committee’s decision will be up for ratification at the next council meeting.