Mount Sima money under fire

This letter is not intended as a criticism of the Great Northern Ski Society, its president and board of directors or its many dedicated volunteers and employees.

This letter is not intended as a criticism of the Great Northern Ski Society, its president and board of directors or its many dedicated volunteers and employees. They all deserve to be commended for their amazing accomplishments and determination.

Mount Sima is an excellent facility that is enjoyed by many. We can all hope that it will also go on to enhance the tourism industry as well.

It is the endowment of an additional $1.3 million – particularly the way it was done – that is the focus of my concern.

We have all seen very trite issues drag theirway through council for meeting after meeting. Should we rezone this parcel of land? Should this creek be protected? Should this or that neighbour be sold a sliver of land? These issues seem to take up countless meetings, but with Mount Sima, multi-millions of dollars have been granted in the blink of an eye.

Last year Mount Sima’s predicament was presented as an emergency. We were assured that this was a one-time bailout of this recreational facility. Their lift was unsafe and beyond repair and the cost of replacing it was beyond their ability. The City decided to step up with more than $1 million and the society was going to fundraise the rest.

I held my nose and let that one slide. It was an unforeseen emergency but I was still dismayed by how quickly it went through. Any concern that might have been expressed would have been futile. After all, it was a done deal by the time most people learned of it. In a few short months council was stunned to find out they were now running an $800,000 deficit.

Again, this year we find ourselves supporting the ski hill for another $1.3 million. Again, the funding agreement was rushed through and again the people of Whitehorse were only made aware of it after it was a done deal. The difference this time is that this emergency funding is starting to look a lot more like core funding. (There have been indications that this will need to be done again next year.)

This ski hill is gradually progressing from a non-profit society of ski enthusiasts to a fully funded Whitehorse recreational facility. This escalation is happening without any consultation with the citizens and taxpayers of Whitehorse. The city has taken the position that it is the council that decides these things and they have decided. Public input is neither needed or wanted.

I think that with the exception of Coun. Betty Irwin, the mayor and council could not be more wrong. The public should be involved in significant ventures like this one and if properly presented, council may even be surprised by the level of support it receives.

The council went on to ensure the public that the funds were not taxpayers’ money but federal funds that had been allotted to road resurfacing. “Don’t worry. We are not spending your hard-earned tax dollars on this. We are spending that crazy money we get from the feds.” I get concerned when I see any organization do the financial shuffle to justify spending.

I strongly feel that the council is financially accountable to the people of Whitehorse, regardless of where the funds come from, be it property taxes, user fees, territorial transfers, federal funding, or any other source.

I am also concerned that feds might view this transfer of money as a misappropriation and that it could jeopardize future funding or even result in the federal government demanding its return.

This is all happening when taxpayers are facing another tax increase. With increasing mill rates and assessments, property taxes have doubled over the last 10 years. That is an average of 10 per cent a year. No one is receiving those kinds of wage increases and this is far in excess of the inflation rate. It is particularly hard on people with fixed incomes and our seniors.

I find it ironic that the city gives lip service to affordable housing without recognizing that keeping property taxes down is a large component of making housing affordable. They just don’t get it or they just don’t care.

But how does council get away with it? We elect council in an ‘at large’ election. Sometimes 30 or more candidates run for only six seats and when the ballots are counted the winners and losers are often separated by only a handful of votes. In this environment, any interest group can swing an election even if it does not represent a majority.

I believe electoral reform should begin with the way we elect council. A ward system would address neighbourhood issues and make the council more accountable but this issue is really about some councillors wanting to be re-elected than it is about accountability.

Finally, I disagree with the premise given by council that this will provide economic development for the city. The same argument was given for the multiplex. Spare me. We all know that this is primarily about recreation. The real question is, “Can we afford it?” and we are not being allowed to ask it.

Taxpayers expect the council to be fiscally responsible, accountable and prudent. Most have shown that they are not. Thank you, Betty Irwin, for being an island.

Bill Barnie