UXBRIDGE: The organizer of the Highlands of Durham Games appeared before Uxbridge Council this week to provide an update on the event for this coming year.
Steve Harrison appeared before council at their meeting on the morning of Monday, Jan. 21, to update council on the efforts of Ribfest and the Highland Games, as well as present a $500 donation to the township.
Last year was the first time both events were organized by the same group, and took place in back-to-back weekends at Elgin Park in Uxbridge. According to Mr. Harrison, combining the events proved to be a very successful endeavor and allowed organizers to cut their costs by a third.
"Being combined has saved both events," Mr. Harrison boasted. "We combined resources for everything and it was a success story, for both our event and the township."
Mr. Harrison added that there was record attendance at the Highland Games, and several residents told him that they attended Ribfest all three days.
New for this year at the Highland Games, Mr. Harrison mentioned that pipe bands from around the province would be invited to compete for the Elgin Award, which is fashioned out of an old oak tree. As well, there are plans for an outdoor play with a cast of roughly 90 people depicting the history of Scotland.
It was also noted that The Standard's popular Chrome in the Park Car Show at Ribfest would return in 2013 for a second year.
Talk soon shifted to the financial details of the event. Last week, council laid down a mandate that no group would be given no-rent access to the park without presenting financial reports to the township by March 1.
"I have only been asked for financial statements verbally, nothing in writing," Mr. Harrison said of the request, adding that he would be happy to cooperate and have township staff, including Mayor Gerri Lynn O'Connor look at his audited financial reports as he has done in the past.
Mr. Harrison, who noted that he slept at Elgin Park during Ribfest in order to protect the park, detailed the sparkling track record of the events in regards to mischief and other incidents.
"There has been no criminal activity, no vandalism, nothing in my 18 years with the event."
Since launching in the mid-90s, the Highland Games have grown substantially in reputation throughout the province. Mr. Harrison noted that the Games were ranked third out of 75 similar events in Ontario, and he remains committed to staging the event in Uxbridge.
"Despite offers to move the event to South Durham, I have no plans to do so. I love Elgin Park," said Mr. Harrison.
Although the park is offered by the township to the event free of charge, Ward 1 Councillor Bev Northeast clarified that groups are billed for any work carried out by the municipality's Parks and Works Departments.
"We have the $1,000 bill to prove it," added Mr. Harrison.
Regional Councillor Jack Ballinger, who was a vocal opponent of the Ribfest event taking place last year, questioned the offering of the park rent-free.
"It bothers me that former residents have to pay an extra fee for our facilities, while a private business doesn't," said Councillor Ballinger.
However, Township CAO Ingrid Svelnis cautioned councillors about charging rent for the events at the park, and the ramifications such a move could have.
"Putting rent on the park might prevent those events from happening in the future," said Ms. Svelnis. "However, we could open up agreements with the Highland Games, Art in the Park and the Fair Board to have them provide financial statements."
Councillor Northeast sought the same treatment for all groups with talks shifting to groups disclosing financial details to the township.
"If we are going to do that, every group that operates should be doing the same. We can't pick and choose," commented Councillor Northeast.
Ward 4 Councillor Jacob Mantle attempted to clarify the matter of financial statements being provided to the municipality.
"It's not about money or rent. It's about accountability and council being reassured that we're proper stewards of the park," said Councillor Mantle. "I wouldn't want my personal financial statements strewn about town. Maybe there is another way to do it, such as a closed session of council."
Councillors later passed a motion approving Ribfest and the Highland Games for 2013.
Discussions surrounding lease agreements with user groups at Elgin Park are expected to continue in the fall.