Some solutions for Sima

Whitehorse's city council finds itself in a bind. On Monday, it votes on whether to provide $200,000 to a group of volunteers that aim to reopen Mount Sima this winter. No option is particularly appealing.

Whitehorse’s city council finds itself in a bind. On Monday, it votes on whether to provide $200,000 to a group of volunteers that aim to reopen Mount Sima this winter. No option is particularly appealing.

Granting this request would require councillors to find the funds elsewhere – either by hiking property taxes, cutting services or dipping into the city’s savings. None of those would be popular moves to make.

Denying the request, meanwhile, runs the risk of derailing the latest push to restart the hill. We could see the ski hill shuttered indefinitely. This would be a senseless waste: more than $12 million in public funds has been spent on building up the hill over the past 20 years, according to city administrators. (Contrary to what some councillors would have you believe, almost all this money appears to have originated from Ottawa, rather than from the property tax base.) It’s in nobody’s interest to see the hill’s equipment sit and rust, or be packed up and sold.

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers has cleverly boxed city council in. He’s offered to help support the ski hill, provided it opens this winter. But he’s made it clear that he expects the city to provide an operating grant. Cathers noted that early estimates suggested that it would cost nearly as much to mothball the facility as it would be to provided the needed funds.

City administrators have responded by drawing up their own, lower estimates as to how much it would cost to put the facility on ice. They’ve suggested the city only contribute that amount, which would leave the Friends of Sima with an operating shortfall of $131,400.

It’s not clear when the drop-dead date is for the volunteers to receive funding. But it strikes us as irresponsible for both levels of government to be playing a game of chicken over who ends up paying the operating grant, when doing so puts at risk the hard work of Sima’s new volunteers.

Mayor Dan Curtis had earlier called on the community to step up and provide new ideas about running Sima. It has. Rather than accept the premise shared by their predecessors that nothing but buckets of public money could save the hill, Friends of Sima have aggressively revised Sima’s business plan. They would eliminate management positions, slash top salaries and shutter the hill on slow days to lower costs, while raising revenue with an aggressive fundraising drive that, according to pledges, would treble the number of season passes sold.

True, the hill would still depend on public funds to operate for the year. But that subsidy would be just one-quarter of the amount proposed by Sima’s earlier operators. Surely this is encouraging progress. It would be ideal for Sima to one day survive without public funds, but this is not a realistic expectation for this coming winter. It may never be: many community ski hills require subsidies to operate.

With that in mind, we think council should suck it up and pay the needed $200,000 for this year, rather than dither and run the risk of seeing the current volunteer drive collapse. Yes, that may require making a difficult decision about trade-offs. But that’s what municipal politicians are elected to do.

We don’t doubt that city council could use some help in making such a decision. Certain veteran councillors are awfully windy about their desire to cut needless waste when they’re on the campaign trail, yet come budget time, there’s never an intelligent alternative to the administration’s preference, which is to see property taxes inexorably rise. (Earlier this year, our columnist Keith Halliday calculated that his property taxes have grown 21 per cent above inflation over the past decade. Contrary to what the mayor humorously asserted this week, this is not the hallmark of a leanly run organization.)

So here’s a solution. Council could provide Friends of Sima with the money they need, with one condition. Once Sima’s operations stabilize, this same group of business-minded volunteers would review the city’s own operations with the same cost-cutting fervor they applied to Sima’s own business plan.

We realize there are major differences between providing municipal services and operating a ski hill – the city’s staff are unionized, to start. But we can’t help but think that Friends of Sima would at least generate some ideas about how to save money, which is more than can be said about the municipal councils we’ve watched in recent memory. Heck, the city’s last operational review actually managed to boost the number of managers on staff.

Council should also make it clear this contribution to Sima is a one-time deal. Both the ski hill and the Canada Games Centre are assets that benefit the whole territory, and it’s certainly plausible that their ongoing operations put an unreasonable burden on the municipal tax base. With that in mind, council should put together a reasoned case – not unlike the one that Friends of Sima made to them – that the territory should provide an operating grant for these facilities. If council could demonstrate they had worked to cut fat from the city bureaucracy, this would help bolster their case.

If the Yukon Party government isn’t moved by the merits of this argument, the mayor shouldn’t be afraid to employ a little rhetorical flourish. “I was under the impression the Yukon Party opposed tax increases. So why is the territory forcing Whitehorse homeowners to pay a tax hike? Why won’t the territory pay its fair share of assets that belong to the whole territory?” You get the idea. 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read