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Leasing plan faces hostile vote

Mayor says park conversion an alternative

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Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz

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Facing the defeat of a plan to lease four city golf courses to a private operator, Mayor Sam Katz says it may be more palatable to convert money-losing links into parks.

City council is poised this morning to reject a 20-year deal that would see Ontario's GolfNorth Properties operate and maintain golf courses at Kildonan Park, Crescent Park, Harbour View and Windsor Park. A two-thirds majority of council is required to approve the lease, but enough councillors have pledged to vote in opposition to kill it.

Despite the impending loss, Katz said Winnipeg has already benefitted from a debate about the future of its golf courses.

"There's no win and there's no lose here," the mayor said Tuesday, claiming all members of council are better informed about Winnipeg Golf Services, a city special operating agency created in 2002 to run like a business.

'There's no win and there's no lose here'

-- Mayor Sam Katz

On paper, WGS loses between $516,000 and $1.1 million a year, according to a review presented to council by the city auditor in 2011. For the past three weeks, councillors have been debating how much of the special agency's losses translate into red ink for the city as a whole, because Golf Services transfers money to general revenues every year.

Couns. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) and Brian Mayes (St. Vital) have argued the city has exaggerated the losses by looking at Golf Services in isolation. While no consensus has emerged about the financial state of the agency, Katz said council agrees some of the city's 12 courses lose money.

"You can have a debate about how much money you're losing, but even Coun. Vandal has said, 'OK, so we're subsidizing golf,' " Katz said, suggesting a window of opportunity has emerged to consider options other than leasing or selling golf courses. "If it's losing money, close it down and turn it into more green space. I don't think anyone would object to that."

The prime candidate for such a move would be Harbour View golf course, whose closure has been supported by area councillor Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan).

That isn't on the table this morning, though council will consider a plan to declare John Blumberg Golf Course surplus to the city's needs. Such a vote requires a simple majority to pass, but the future sale of the 81-hectare site in Headingley would require another two-thirds majority down the road.

A straw poll of councillors suggests the Blumberg move may squeak through. Staunch opposition remains to the proposed lease of the four other courses, in spite of an unusual presentation at Tuesday's EPC meeting.

City auditor Brian Whiteside and deputy auditor Bryan Mansky appeared before the committee to re-present their two-year-old review, which advised council to stop operating golf courses due to declining rounds and high labour costs.

Katz said the auditors dusted off their review because they were "extremely perturbed" by comments made about it last week by delegations and wanted to defend their credibility. Whiteside said the idea to present the information arose from a meeting with the mayor.

Vandal called the presentation a last-minute attempt to convince councillors to support the GolfNorth lease.

"We've just regurgitated an audit report accepted by council two years ago. There was nothing new in the report," he said, describing the presentation as a misuse of the auditor's time.

City auditors are in the midst of a real estate audit and reviews of the fire-paramedic construction program, the Winnipeg Police Service and the city's public works department.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2013 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 6:30 AM CDT: replaces photo

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