Saanich council divided on approval to hike Cedar Hill golf course rates
By Kyle Slavin – Saanich News
If you plan to hit the links at the Cedar Hill golf course, expect to shell out more money come April.
Saanich council voted Tuesday night to support a rate increase for pass-holders and green fee players to help reduce a massive $820,000 deficit facing the course and clubhouse.
“This motion allows us to get started,” said Coun. Susan Brice, one of five council members – including Mayor Frank Leonard – who supported the increase. “At this stage, I think the goal for all of us is just keeping a happy golfing experience at an affordable rate.”
But the heated budget meeting, a continuation of one that began on Feb. 7, saw 30 speakers address council on a number of concerns, many who feel a happy golfing experience won’t be achieved with these approved changes.
For pass-holders, that’s because they’ll have to pay more to get less.
Council supported a $68 increase to $1,418 for a full annual pass, which allows pass-holders to play on the weekends. A restricted pass will increase by $37 to $1087, and holders can only play Monday through Thursday.
While last year’s full pass allowed a maximum of 120 rounds per year, this year’s more expensive pass would only allow for 90 rounds annually. There are restrictions on how many rounds pass-holders can play each week, and how many can be played in the summer.
“We’re not opposed to paying more, we’re opposed to getting less,” Cedar Hill Golf Club president Val Mieras said after the meeting. “And this is not going to increase their revenue because a lot of our members may just choose not to purchase the pass.”
Green fees will also increase by $5 this year, and $2 each year in 2013 and 2014.
Closing the restaurant at Cedar Hill golf course, which happened last Friday, will have a $98,000 impact on this year’s operating budget. But when the entire course – including golf and food services – is operating at an $818,000 deficit (including debt) in 2012. Saanich projects the course to earn $1.37 million this year, while it runs at a cost of $2.09 million.
Tuesday night’s meeting, held at the Garth Homer Society, with more than 150 residents in attendance, saw council split 5-4 on the decision to increase fees.
Four councillors, who told the News earlier this month that their in-camera decision to close the golf course restaurant was a “mistake”, having not consulted with the public, opposed the fee increase and instead opted to attempt to start a consultation process before making any more decisions. That failed.
“I want to know everyone who wanted to provide input … has the opportunity to do that,” said Coun. Dean Murdock. “Considering fees in isolation seems counter-intuitive. … It gives us a very small snapshot into a much larger picture. Where’s the business plan?”
Coun. Nichola Wade garnered support from three of her fellow councillors and the mayor to approve the fee increases, then subsequently begin consulting with the public.
“It’s like talking to a wall,” Mieras said. She, along with other members of the golf club, have been invited to ‘stakeholder meetings’ with Saanich management over the last couple months to provide input on the changes.
Since the get-go, she says there’s been strong opposition to the “pay more, get less,” and she feels like the golf course’s loyal customers are being ignored.
“You are not the only people that are in charge. This belongs to all of us,” said Patricia Houston, who lives on Tracksell Avenue right next to the golf course. “We not only contribute money, by way of taxes, we contribute a sense of community. You need to consult with us, as members of this community, when things are in trouble.”
“Silence is deafening,” Camrose Crescent resident Kevin Moore told council, upon asking for anyone in the 150-plus-member audience to applaud if they supported the decisions council had made with regards to the golf course.
Coun. Vicki Sanders, who along with Murdock and councillors Judy Brownoff and Vic Derman didn’t support the motion, said the decision-making has been done “hastily and ill-informed.”
Mayor Frank Leonard reassured the unhappy crowd that, as part of the approved recommendation, council will monitor how the changes are impacting the financial situation at the golf course.
“If this isn’t working, we need to find out quick,” he said.
Coun. Leif Wergeland, who along with Wade, Brice, Leonard and Coun. Paul Gerrard supported the motion, said decisions need to made by looking at the bigger picture. “We cannot do things in piecemeal. … I have to look at the whole budget.”
Mieras said she’s concerned that council’s approval to increase fees without starting the consultation process beforehand will drive business away.
“We have a lot of rethinking to do with the club now. I don’t want to lose the passes with a knee-jerk reaction and say ‘don’t buy them (out of protest).’ I don’t know what the result’s going to be,” she said. “I don’t want to lose the club – we’ve been here 60 years, and we want to be here another 60 years, but right now I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”