Mount Sima: A realistic and equitable solution

I would like to point out that this letter is a personal reflection on the Mount Sima situation and in no way represents the opinion of council.

COMMENTARY

by Dave Stockdale

I would like to point out that this letter is a personal reflection on the Mount Sima situation and in no way represents the opinion of council.

It has been pointed out that the City of Whitehorse financially subsidizes capital and O&M costs for many citizens of the community. Why then should Mount Sima be any different?

The Canada Games Centre is heavily subsidized to the tune of $156 per year for every man, woman, and child. Transit, if everyone used it, would still need a subsidy in excess of $100. Curlers and skiers have leases that are based on a 50 per cent return on operational costs, and city-run facilities try to meet the same target.

Having sat on council for a very long time, there is ample evidence of situations where council has supported groups in financial difficulties. In the 1980s, the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club built a chalet in order to host a World Cup Ski event. They did a tremendous job and have gone on to develop an impressive and proud international reputation. But in 1985, they were in trouble and could not afford the cost of running the Ski Chalet.

It needed $514,000 just to correct deficiencies in the building. The solution to their problem was to build the new curling facility at Mount McIntyre. Problem solved, the curlers rescued the skiers. A few years later, the curlers found themselves in the same financial position and ran up local debts trying to run their facility. The council of the day paid these debts on two separate occasions to the tune of $80,000 and $100,000. A similar situation occurred when the Sport Yukon Building ran over budget by $156,000 and was having difficulty finding tenants. In this situation the city’s recreation department became a tenant and worked-out a repayment plan which is still in place today.

Because of the lack of accurate public information, or a forum through which information could be presented, the community has had to rely on the media to explain Sima’s situation. Naturally, sensational headlines have been the order of the day and public response to Sima’s situation has created negative feelings in the community. What is needed now is a public meeting, called by the GNSS, and full disclosure about the present situation, which I understand to be the following:

The GNSS owes $192,000 for the ski lift which the city has agreed to pay with the provision that it be city owned. If the hill opens this year the Yukon government will cover this expenditure.

Meanwhile, $170,000 is owed to local creditors, which may be settled by a consortium of local business people headed by Rolf Hougen. Wild Play is owed $72,000 and a 10-year franchise fee, which could be forgiven if they were to secure Wild Play assets. This particular piece of the puzzle will require some shrewd negotiations. If all these debts are paid, it will be time to elect a new board in order to tackle the task of opening the hill for the 2013-14 season.

Obviously the operation of the hill will require a business plan, which focuses on increasing revenue and decreasing expenditures. Some simple solutions come to mind: staffing of the hill will need a greater volunteer element and reduction in managerial staff or wages. We are told the hill had 20,000 visits last year. Why not increase each visit by $5 and raise $100,000? Associations using the hill should pay a basic user fee for maintenance and improvements, which the golf club does. Annual memberships should be increased so that those who wish to see the hill operate make a contribution to it’s survival.

Finally, it has been pointed out that the city has a policy which tries to re-coup 50 per cent of the operational costs of running it’s facilities. If this philosophy were applied to Mount Sima, this would mean they would have to raise 50 per cent of their seasons deficit, i.e.$134,000 and be subsidized $134,000 by the city. This looks like a lot of money but it would be equitable when we consider what we do for other organizations. I am hopeful that with a new board and new ideas a community solution can be found to have the hill open next season.

Dave Stockdale, a veteran councillor, has run several sports organizations and served on many granting boards.

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