Don’t write off Sima so soon

I would like to thank the mayor for his quick response to my request for detailed information about the city's contributions to Mount Sima.

COMMENTARY

by Rolf Hougen

I would like to thank the mayor for his quick response to my request for detailed information about the city’s contributions to Mount Sima.

Over 20 years ago, when Don Branigan was mayor, the city contributed an initial $405,955 towards the facility. However, since that time, the city taxpayers have only contributed $30,000. Since the start up of the hill, the city has essentially not been a significant contributor to this important recreational facility for summer and winter activities.

Will the WildPlay installation ever work? I do not know, but it has not been in operation for one full summer.

Perhaps we are too small a community to make it financially viable, but it would be a mistake to write it off at this early stage. I’ve read where Parks Canada is planning to install these types of systems across Canada. As for the ski hill, I have a friend who has served for decades on the Olympic ski organization. He said Whitehorse’s ski hill is a first-class, medium-sized facility.

I do not have access to detailed information, which, of course, the city administration does have. I am surprised that city councillors were not given various options that could work without any substantial burden on the taxpayers.

For instance, based on the numbers I have seen, a one per cent tax increase would result in a tax increase on my home (it’s downtown and quite large) of only $44 a year. A medium home would have a $20 to $25 increase and a very modest home a $15 to $20 increase. I think the majority of voters would accept this.

Another option: The city payroll is $29,716,450 as of 2012. The city staff level is 318 full-time including 58 casual employees as of 2011. Every business organization goes through a process from time to time to determine redundancy, and reductions due to changed circumstances. I am convinced that the city should and could do the same and come up with savings equal to Mount Sima’s annual needs of about $300,000.

I assume staff earn from a low of $40,000 a year to a high of $150,000. Through attrition and using an average pay of $60,000, five fewer staff would equal $300,000 a year, the amount I believe is needed to keep Mount Sima open.

In addition, there is a current, one-time need of funds to pay off creditors. Since the city has not yet made a contribution to Mount Sima (except $30,000) I would suggest that reserve funds could be accessed for this purpose.

However, it is unfair for creditors to wait for these funds to be released. If five other business organizations will join me, I am prepared to go to a bank and with the six signatures to secure funds to immediately pay all of the creditors. The Yukon government has already offered to pay for the roughly $200,000 for the chair lift. I believe the city should make a 10-year funding commitment so that the operation has a chance to mature and grow.

Finally, I would like to comment on the many negative statements regarding the board of directors of Mount Sima. I printed out the board list today from their website and know they are very competent and experienced people. If there is any way to have them remain I think they should be arm-twisted to do so. The board also includes two city representatives, and two Yukon government individuals. They too have experience and have presumably kept both governments informed during this period. They, too, should remain.

Mr. Mayor, please provide the leadership that is so badly needed.

Rolf Hougen is a longtime Whitehorse resident and businessman.

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