Dysart et al Coun. John Smith defended his comments on arts and cultural facilities at a town hall in the West Guilford Community Centre March 7.

The event attracted more than 40 people asking questions of the first-time councillor. Much of the discussion centred on Smith proposing to cut municipal funding to the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre and Haliburton Highlands Museum during budget talks. Smith had suggested the facilities should be more efficient and operate more independently using private donations.

Based on a show of hands, Smith said about half of the people attending were from outside his ward, adding that is a result of those comments.

Smith said it was a very respectful discussion.

“That’s what a town hall ought to be, so I’m delighted,” Smith said in an interview. “My past comments stirred up a number of people in the arts community … it’s great that people get engaged about something they care for.”

“The museum and the Rails End Gallery aren’t the most important thing to everybody in our community,” Smith further said. “I’m going to continue to challenge those organizations to demonstrate they have community support by getting more money from things other than taxes.”

Smith said he hosted the town hall to engage with members of the public. He plans to hold them twice-yearly.

Daniel Manley, a member of the Haliburton Highlands Arts Council, said there are issues associated with relying on donations.

“Trying to put the onus on the public to support these things, you get donor fatigue,” Manley said.

“The community does an incredible amount of (work) raising money,” attendee Barb Bolin told Smith. “People, I think, have given until it just about bleeds in this community.”

Smith responded that he prefers to have more choice in where his money goes. He further said there must be change to achieve the things people are clamouring for, such as a new community centre.

“Some people say just maintain the status quo. Keep giving the Rails End Gallery their building and their money. Keep giving the arena their money,” Smith said. “If we keep doing all those things, the other things that folks are talking about will never happen.”

Other topics included tax increases, tourism, short-term rentals and environmental issues.

Attendee Ted Parent said the night progressed well.

“He (Smith) stood there tonight in a room full of people who started out not all positive. We are now in a place where we will all work together,” Parent said, to applause from the crowd.

Smith said it would be important to acknowledge different perspectives as council decides on its objectives this term.

“We need to recognize that we’re a diverse community,” Smith said after the meeting. “Find ways of ensuring all those perspectives are reflected in our goals.”

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