Taxpayers supporting too many golf courses, councillor says

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Rookie Coun. Shawn Nason says it might be time to revisit the issue of city-owned golf courses.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/04/2019 (1400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Rookie Coun. Shawn Nason says it might be time to revisit the issue of city-owned golf courses.

Nason (Transcona) said the city’s golf operations don’t generate enough revenue to pay off their debts without relying on taxpayer support, and he said it appears there are too many golf courses in the area.

“We’re operating a golf course and the golf course isn’t profitable,” Nason told reporters following the Monday meeting of the innovation committee. “I want to look strategically at what the best use of city assets are. We’re in the innovation committee, how can we be innovative with the properties we have?”

Golfers head out for a round at Rossmere Golf and Country Club, which leases the property from the city for $1 per year. As well, the city waives half the club's property taxes. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

Nason’s comments came as the committee approved the business plans of its special operating agencies, including golf services.

While the golf services financial report shows it’s breaking even, that’s only possible with an annual transfer from the city’s general revenue fund of $750,000.

The report says that between 2002 and 2017, golf services has accumulated an operating deficit of $9.7 million.

Nason’s questions mirror those raised in 2013, when former mayor Sam Katz and former councillor Russ Wyatt led a drive to privatize the four city-operated golf courses — Kildonan Park, Windsor Park, Crescent Drive, Harbour View — through a long-term lease and to sell the John Blumberg course outright.

There was strong public and union opposition to the plans. The proposal to declare the Blumberg course surplus was successful (though the city has never been able to find a buyer), but the initiative to privatize the four city-operated courses ultimately failed on an 8-7 vote on the floor of council.

Nason said he didn’t have a proposal to bring to the committee or to council at this time but said the financial situation needs to be examined given the over-saturation of golf in the area.

“I don’t have all the answers. What I am trying to do is gather the information in my head and make sound, reasonable arguments as to why we should be going in a certain direction.”

Nason was critical of the leases golf services has with some operators. He singled out the arrangement with the Rossmere Golf and Country Club, for which a lease has the course pay city hall just $1 annually for the city-owned property and requires the city to waive half of the club’s annual property tax bill.

Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) is raising concerns about the city's golf courses, and about a deal with Rossmere Golf and Country Club's lease. (PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

Nason said that while taxpayers subsidize city-owned golf courses, city hall struggles to deliver basic services.

He said he understands that the city-run golf courses are more attractive to seniors and young people because they’re more affordable than private clubs but wonders how many the city should operate.

“Could we, as a city, get away with one city-run golf course, or is it at that point no longer feasible to operate from a management and overhead perspective?” Nason asked.

He also asked whether the city could follow the lead of some privately owned courses and develop some golf course property for residential development.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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