Aquatar­ium ED quits

Coun­cil to vote next week on ho­tel tax al­lo­ca­tion

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - RONALD ZAJAC

Aquatar­ium ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bill Roger­son will be leav­ing his post in the new year to go work for the City of Kingston.

Roger­son an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion Wed­nes­day, ef­fec­tive Jan. 2.

Roger­son’s de­par­ture comes amid con­tin­ued fi­nan­cial trou­bles at the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar tourism at­trac­tion, strug­gles that spilled over to a fresh de­bate ear­lier this week about the al­lo­ca­tion of Brockville’s ho­tel tax revenue.

But Roger­son said Thurs­day af­ter­noon the fi­nan­cial is­sues did not mo­ti­vate his de­par­ture. “It’s just time,” he said. A for­mer Gananoque town of­fi­cial, Roger­son be­gan work­ing at the Aquatar­ium in March 2011, when it was still known as the Mar­itime Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre of the Thou­sand Is­lands and had yet to open.

Roger­son will move to Kingston, where he will be­come that city’s man­ager of recre­ation fa­cil­i­ties.

Con­tro­versy of some sort, of­ten of a fi­nan­cial na­ture, has been a con­stant in his en­tire ten­ure at the Aquatar­ium, noted Roger­son.

“It’s re­ally noth­ing new but I’m con­fi­dent in the plan that the board and the team here is putting to­gether,” he added.

From the out­set, it was al­ways un­der­stood the Aquatar­ium would re­quire some city sup­port, but the new board is work­ing hard to en­sure a greater por­tion of the fa­cil­ity’s revenue comes from pri­vate fund­ing and grants, said Roger­son.

The news fol­lows the lat­est de­bate at city hall about the al­lo­ca­tion of the Mu­nic­i­pal Ac­com­mo­da­tion Tax (MAT).

Coun­cil’s new eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, recre­ation and tourism com­mit­tee is rec­om­mend­ing the full coun­cil adopt a re­vised al­lo­ca­tion plan for the MAT, known col­lo­qui­ally as a ho­tel tax.

Sub­ject to an­nual ap­proval by coun­cil, half the money re­ceived is to go to the city “for tourism­re­lated as­sets and ac­tiv­i­ties” which could in­clude the Aquatar­ium.

The other half would go to the Brockville and Dis­trict Cham­ber of Com­merce, which runs tourism for the city, “for in­creased mar­ket­ing, sup­port of lo­cal fes­ti­vals and new prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.”

Mean­while, the rec­om­men­da­tion also calls for the one-off mea­sure “that $50,000 of the 2018 MAT re­ceipts, be­fore the for­mula is ap­plied, is al­lo­cated to the Aquatar­ium.”

The mo­tion cites a coun­cil res­o­lu­tion from July 24 as the ba­sis for that move.

The bal­ance of this year’s MAT revenue would again be split 50-50, with the city ’s half also go­ing to the Aquatar­ium.

City of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that in 2019, the first full year of the MAT, rev­enues will amount to $425,000.

For this year, the to­tal has been es­ti­mated at $200,000.

Tourism of­fi­cials have been lob­by­ing coun­cil for more money for tourism pro­mo­tion, ar­gu­ing this is nec­es­sary to help Brockville com­pete with nearby tourism des­ti­na­tions such as Gananoque and Kingston.

On Tues­day, cham­ber pres­i­dent Pat Markovich told the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee the move to take $50,000 off the top be­fore the al­lo­ca­tion does not com­ply with pro­vin­cial rules for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the MAT.

Cham­ber of­fi­cials want that $200,000 at least to be split evenly, with the tourism of­fice get­ting $100,000.

As worded in the mo­tion, the Aquatar­ium would get $50,000, then an­other $75,000 from the split al­lo­ca­tion, for a to­tal of $125,000, while the cham­ber would get $75,000.

Act­ing city chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Mau­reen Pas­coe Merkley told the com­mit­tee city of­fi­cials “have re­ceived an opin­ion” from the city lawyer that the res­o­lu­tion go­ing for­ward is com­pli­ant with pro­vin­cial rules.

The full coun­cil is ex­pected to put the res­o­lu­tion to a fi­nal vote next Tues­day.

Com­mit­tee mem­bers were sym­pa­thetic to the cham­ber’s fi­nan­cial plight, but backed the pro­posed al­lo­ca­tion.

Mayor Ja­son Baker said the city needs to get the Aquatar­ium to a po­si­tion where it re­quires less fund­ing from city tax­pay­ers.

For the mo­ment, city hall is “buy­ing them time and wean­ing them off,” added Baker.

“I’ve got faith in the di­rec­tion that they’re tak­ing down there.”

Baker said he does not be­lieve the Aquatar­ium will be self-sus­tain­ing, al­though Jeremy Hobbs, the Aquatar­ium chair­man, be­lieves it will.

The mayor told the com­mit­tee he hopes Hobbs will prove him wrong. Rza­[email protected]­media.com

FILE PHOTO

Aquatar­ium ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bill Roger­son speaks to Brockville coun­cil in Novem­ber 2017.

RONALD ZAJAC/THE RECORDER AND TIMES

Brockville and Dis­trict Cham­ber of Com­merce pres­i­dent Pat Markovich speaks to city coun­cil's eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, recre­ation and tourism com­mit­tee on Tues­day.

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