Mt. Sima defends asking for cash

Mt. Sima wants $800,000 in 2013. This came as a surprise to city councillors on Monday evening. During a presentation to council on March 11, representatives from the Great Northern Ski Society...

Mt. Sima wants $800,000 in 2013.

This came as a surprise to city councillors on Monday evening. During a presentation to council on March 11, representatives from the Great Northern Ski Society, which operates the ski hill, asked for just half of that.

During the presentation, the society’s treasurer, Jody Woodland, repeatedly told council that $400,000 is all the society needs for the next 12 months. Yet the ski society is now insisting they were misunderstood.

The society had asked the city for a long-term funding agreement. It turns out that the society envisions this agreement would result in the group receiving another $400,000 this year.

“It’s going to impact our discussions,” Robert Fendrick, director of corporate services, told reporters after Monday’s meeting. “It makes the challenge that much greater.”

The city is already proposing to raise taxes by 3.83 per cent this year. It would need to further raise taxes by almost an additional three per cent to get the $800,000, said Fendrick. There’s little support for that option, he said.

The city needs more information from the society, he said.

“But we know that they’re in a deficit, or else they wouldn’t have asked us for $400,000 right away, and then continuing to ask for another $400,000 to get the next season going,” said Fendrick.

On Tuesday, the society issued a press release to say the $400,000 was an estimate, rather than an official request.

“We have always said the immediate $400,000 could carry us successfully into 2013/2014,” Patti Balsillie, a board member, said in the release. “We have not changed our original submission – our secondary ask has always been to sit down immediately and begin a conversation about a new funding model.”

That model can’t be determined until a full summer season is complete at the hill. That won’t happen until October, the release says.

The society is also still waiting for its books to be audited.

Whitehorse residents are split on whether or not the city should fund the ski hill. Sixteen people spoke to council in favour of the funding. Another six were opposed. The city received 10 written submissions in favour of funding and another 17 opposed.

Coun. Dave Stockdale has received many emails from citizens who don’t support funding the hill, he said. Similar comments have been posted online, said Coun. John Streicker. It’d be surprising if more than 20 per cent supported funding the hill, he said.

In person, the response has been similar.

“No one has walked up to me on the street and said ‘Support Mt. Sima,’” said Stockdale. But even jokes about giving the hill money makes some residents bristle, he said.

He wants the ski hill to continue to stay open, he said. But he doesn’t support funding for the summer park. That’s causing this mess, he said.

“I’m not prepared to look at the WildPlay area – at all. I think the city’s responsibility will be Mount Sima. I feel the people that made their bed should have to lie in it,” he said.

It’s important for residents to know that the $1.6 million Mt. Sima received from Whitehorse in 2011 to replace the chairlift and the additional $1.3 million it gave the ski hill last year came from federal government funding, he said.

“A lot of people still think the city used tax money to bail out Mt. Sima,” he said. “It was not money that came out of our general revenue at all.”

But it’s all taxpayers’ dollars, said Coun. Betty Irwin, who voted against past funding for the ski hill.

“I would like to remind everyone that ultimately the monies that go to Mt. Sima or to the city are all taxpayers’ dollars, because that’s what the governments operate on. So one way or another, as taxpayers, we are supporting Sima,” she told council.

The groups who use the hill should raise funds for it, said Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu.

“I’m putting it out that it should be the community’s responsibility. It shouldn’t be forced upon the taxpayers,” she said. “It’s the people that want to use the hill. They need to step up to the plate, and they need to actually do something to try and save this hill. It was nice that they all came and spoke to council asking for the money. That was great. But we don’t have the money. So I would

just really like for them to actually step up to the plate, do something and let us know what you’re doing. If we can support you, we will, I’m sure of it.”

Without Mt. Sima, there will be no place for freestyle skiers to train, said Lynda Harlow, president of Yukon Freestyle Ski Association. She first learned about the society’s financial problems at a meeting the board held with user groups earlier this month, she said.

Right now, the freestyle ski association isn’t doing any fundraising activities for the hill. But it would, she said. It would like to host an event in Whitehorse, she said. That would give Mt. Sima revenue and exposure.

If the hill closes, they can’t do that.

Public opposition to funding the ski hill “takes me aback,” said Harlow. People wouldn’t think about shutting down the Canada Games Centre, she said. Mt. Sima is the only place where freestyle skiers can train.

“Yukon could no longer have a freestyle ski team,” she said. Athletes would have to go Outside to train, she said. Without Mt. Sima, the association would be “done.”

It isn’t known when city council will make its final decision. There will be a closed-door meeting between council and staff on March 27.

Mayor Dan Curtis is in France and was not able to attend Monday’s meeting.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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