Watson Lake golf grant veers out of bounds

Watson Lake politicians took a mulligan on a scheme to provide a $10,000 operating grant to a private golf course outside town. At Tuesday's council meeting, politicians also delayed a plan to end tax subsidies.

Watson Lake politicians took a mulligan on a scheme to provide a $10,000 operating grant to a private golf course outside town.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, politicians also delayed a plan to end tax subsidies directed to battered women, daycare operators and the elderly.

Had that measure gone ahead, the Help and Hope woman’s shelter would have seen its tax bill increase $10,000 – enough to cover the golf course’s grant, said the shelter’s manager, Caron Statham.

Funding the course, which sits 20 kilometres outside the town’s municipal boundaries, was controversial for the community, said Cheryl O’Brian, the president of the Watson Lake Community Club.

“The whole community is starting to have concerns,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘Why should we pay property taxes if you’re supporting something that’s outside of town?’”

The town’s newsletter reported, erroneously it turns out, the grant had already been approved, which added to the controversy.

Worse, the golf course grant and the plan to end subsidies to social nonprofits were scheduled for votes the same evening.

“Women, children and seniors they’re not going to give a grant to, but they’ll provide a grant to a golf association outside of the community,” said O’Brian. “It doesn’t make much sense.

About 40 people showed up at the council meeting to oppose the plan.

When the golf course grant came to a vote, Mayor Richard Durocher left the room to avoid a conflict.

Durocher sits on the Liard Golf Association Board, which runs the course.

But he did express his support of the bylaw, said O’Brian.

The bylaw was ultimately defeated. Only one councillor voted in favour of it.

A decision on the property tax grants for the women’s shelter, daycare and seniors’ home was delayed to allow more review.

While the prospect they would have to pay thousands more in property taxes was “disheartening,” the delay makes Statham optimistic.

“Hopefully we won’t have to pay the full amount,” she said.

Currently, the women’s shelter, daycare and seniors’ home only pay 25 per cent of their property tax. The rest is covered by a municipal grant.

Though they were supposed to be notified of these changes in January, so it could be added to the yearly budget, the town didn’t tell them of this potential change until last month, said Statham.

“It makes budgeting a little tough,” she said.

With only one private day care in the town, which just recently reopened, the prospect of having to pay more taxes doesn’t sit well with parents, said manager Michelle Fraser.

To cover higher taxes, more fundraising would have been needed, said Fraser. But that may not be enough, she added.

“If we don’t raise the money, then our fees will have to go up. So that will go back on the parents, and it’s tough as it is.

“It seems that the town is kind of going against the good we’re trying to do,”

The town’s move to end subsidies to the shelter, daycare and seniors is puzzling, said Statham.

“The province of BC and the Yukon territory support us, but our own municipality isn’t giving us much support,” she said.

However, the town seems to be backing away from the plan.

“There’s always hope,” she said.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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