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Mayor responds to social media discussion on ski hill, golf course appraisals

Mayor Marchisella clarifies ownership, management, reasons for appraisals of Mt. Dufour Ski Hill, Stone Ridge Golf Course
USED 2018-06-25 Stone Ridge Gold Course BS
Brent Sleightholm for ElliotLakeToday

After a story was published in Elliot Lake Today last weekend, Mayor Dan Marchisella posted a comment to several social media sites the story had been shared to. 

He opens by saying, "Some of the comments in this article and the last are inaccurate and misleading. Neither committee nor council recommended selling either of these assets (golf course - ski hill) at our last Economic Development Committee meeting but have requested that council declare surplus and acquire a professional to do a proper appraisal which would also include operations."

In response to an inquiry from ElliotLakeToday, the mayor has clarified his comments, saying the article itself was not inaccurate but reactions to it appeared to be based on inaccurate assumptions.

The following is his full statement in which he explains what he was referring to.

I believe anyone with concern, prior to contacting the media or splashing inaccurate information on social media should have taken the time to watch both the council meeting in which council deliberated the unsolicited offer to purchase the golf course which was denied by council and also the Ec-Dev Standing Committee meeting where members received the report from Mr. Antunes and discussed the next steps and purpose. Neither staff nor council is “targeting” the golf course or ski hill. The current recommendation that is coming to council for March 14, 2022, is:

  1. that council declares the golf course surplus, gets a professional appraisal of land and assets and
  2. turns down any current offers for the golf course.

It was also stated by staff that the purpose of this is to obtain real figures and values for the course and assets not only for the awareness of council and the community but also for proper insurance figures. This is not something that can be done locally as there are no comparables. Council has been clear that they currently have no interest in selling this asset but still would like to have an accurate picture of its value.

Currently, the city has a management contract for the operations of the golf course with Retirement Living, which both the board and Council have clear oversight of. Retirement Living does a fine job of the management aspect however the course has averaged a cost to the taxpayers of about $150,000 yearly (Insurance, Taxes, Capital Expenses) even with the last few years of positive earnings.

It has been noted that private sector-owned golf courses across the country have the ability to invest more capital in upgrades, beautification and marketing than municipally-owned courses which can attract more tourism and membership.

This is due to tighter municipal budgets that span a vast variety of community needs... Once again, no, there is no current plan from our council to sell at this time that I am aware of.

Comments made that the Mayor and Council do not have the right to sell these assets are completely wrong. As a member of council, you have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers which requires complete financial oversight. As we always look at the best interests of our community in health, safety and well-being, this does include physical activities, recreation, arts, culture and facilities.

If council has the ability to minimize the financial burden on its ratepayers while still maintaining the same offering then it is in our purview to consider alternative solutions like the private sector, especially if the offer would see increased value to the community.

The negative comments and misinformation that was spread about the offer to purchase the golf course left my phone and email going off all weekend along with that of other councillors. Unfortunately, the concerns came from rumours that the course would be no more, turned into perhaps housing or closed to be used for another purpose, which was not the case.

After councils deliberation on the offer, I had many of the same people calling and messaging that did not realize the reality of what was actually being offered nor the yearly cost to them.

Again that being said, I fully support my council's decision on this matter and personally would like to know what the real value is because I’ve heard the rumours myself that it is anywhere from $1 million to $9 million... This is a huge gap that needs to be narrowed down.

On the point of the ski hill, 90 per cent is on city-owned land. Although the majority of assets had been purchased through fundraising and donations many, many years ago, the financials are clear that there is about $680 K worth of assets and (of that) $387 K, about 60 per cent is city-owned.

As the majority of the assets have surpassed their depreciation time frames and the city covers insurance to the tune of $25 K a year, it is in the best interest of the taxpayers that we know the actual value of the land and assets, including the clubhouse that will require updates to meet accessibility standards and potentially a building condition assessment report for future planning.

Again, if the city wants to sell the property, legally we could, it is not the call of any one individual (including myself or the hill manager) but this is not the case, no one has mentioned a sale at any meeting. What becomes of greater concern however is the complete lack of oversight that the municipality has in this area as there has been no council-supported management plan, contract or agreement with the ski hill since 2016.

The municipality has covered major capital expenses, minor repairs, insurance, and audit reserve, which averages out to $107 K yearly if drawn over a five-year period of tax dollars to an outside organization. Yes, we respect the volunteers who are involved and also appreciate and want to keep the ski hill as a source of winter recreation, but I also remember a time when events were held year-round at the hill, that generated additional income and entertainment.

From my knowledge of happenings over the last few years, we have had an unchecked management, not city staff, pick and choose who they allow to rent the property and what events they personally deem fit to host on the property, rather than staff or council. From my knowledge, there is no succession plan that would make anyone feel comfortable about future management or lift operations when we see retirements being planned.

These issues are very real and need to be addressed in the near future so we can see the continuation of the ski hill for generations to come. This is something that myself, council and staff are committed to, but again, this requires dialogue and a proper management contract.

Neither the golf course nor ski hill can be compared to city-owned and operated facilities like the pool, Collins Hall or Centennial Arena, these have complete oversight from council and are staff operated including programming and long-term asset management plans. That being said, many communities have YMCA which alleviates financial burdens on host municipalities.

The city does provide yearly grants to non-profit organizations like the Food Bank, Maplegate and the Ren’s Active Living Centre as a part of community well-being, but nowhere near the cost or losses from the ski hill or golf course so they should not be compared like apples to apples. The city has in the past and will again in the future offer affordable rental spaces for arts groups and social groups in city-owned facilities like the Civic Centre had hosted, not free, but affordable.

What should have happened in this case is, if anyone had a concern, don’t believe the social media rumour mill, watch the meeting, contact staff or contact a member of council to get the real answers. None of us mind answering to our community members, but it is quite difficult dealing with angry taxpayers that got their misinformation from the gossip page. We are here for all residents and don’t work on behalf of only a few.

Mayor Dan Marchisella


About the Author: Brent Sleightholm

As a reporter, Brent has covered everything from amateur and professional sports, to politics, entertainment, police and courts, to human interest stories and government issues
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