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Wellesley grapples with latest fee-waiver request from group

Wellesley councillors once again found themselves grappling with the uncertain issue of whether or not it was acceptable to waive fees for community groups working in the township – and found themselves at an impasse.

The question this time was spurred on by a request from the Wellesley North-Easthope Fall Fair, a not-for-profit that, besides organizing the 165-year-old fair in the township, has more recently taken on the role of running the township’s farmers’ market too.

Addressing council last week, the community group requested councillors waive the township’s rental fees for the pavilion which hosts the weekly farmers’ market over the summer months.

“So what you’re in effect asking is for a donation towards the fall fair?” said Coun. Carl Smit, noting the township already donated some $1,500 to the organization.

Complicating the matter, however, was the existence of an arcane, almost 60-year-old-contract between the Township of Wellesley and the fair board, which originally owned the land underneath the pavilion. The Wellesley-North Easthope Agricultural Society donated that land to the township to use as a recreational location, but in turn retained the right to the same grounds for its fall fair free of charge.

The agreement, penned in 1962, also allowed the board to use the land for other uses not related to the fair free of charge, but only if both the township and the board agreed to it mutually.

Coun. Herb Neher was especially sympathetic to the request, saying they deserved some recognition for donating the land to the township in the first place.

“They donated this land. They donated it. They gave it to the township. I think there’s got to be some way of recognizing that sometime, and maybe this is the time,” said Neher.

The township has in the past taken a generous view toward waving fees for not-for-profits operating in township, specifically if it could be shown that it would support residents in the township, and would not incur a significant expense on the township. Last month, councillors opted to waive approximately $7,500-worth of rental fees for the Paradise and District Lions Club to rent out the St. Clements Community Centre for their annual summer camp.

The fall fair board, similarly, was hoping to use the farmers’ market at the pavilion as a way to raise funds for the event.

“Recently, a decision was made to roll the farmers’ market underneath the Wellesley Fall Fair umbrella,” explained organizer Eric Wideman. “So full control has been assumed by the agricultural society board of the farmers’ market. We’re looking after staffing, finances, and scheduling and planning and how to get vendors and all that.”

“So our hope with the fall fair board was to turn the market into a fundraising vehicle for the fall fair.”

Coun. Peter van der Maas countered that unlike with previous instances of fee reductions, such as the Lions Club rental waive, the farmers’ market was a for-profit enterprise, at least for those participating, if not the actual organizers themselves.

“So I’m having a little bit of trouble reconciling waiving a fee for the market, which at the root is a profit generating enterprise. Those members of the market would not be there if they could not make a profit. In fact they seem to be doing so every year,” said van der Maas.

But Neher pointed out that a similar argument could be made against other events to which the township donates money, including the fall fair itself. Vendors would not attend the fair to sell their wares if they did not generate a profit, and yet the township donates to that.

Councillors rejected both the request for a full fee waiver, as well as a 50 per cent reduction in fees. Unable to settle on a number, council opted to defer the decision, asking staff to review if the fall fair would be eligible for a 35 per cent discount under the township’s existing policies.

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