Cristina Sousa

Decision to close golf course restaurant was contrary to staff recommendation

According to documents obtained by the News, Saanich council chose an option that was more severe than what their staff suggested.

The closed door decision to shut down the restaurant at the municipally owned Cedar Hill golf course was made despite a recommendation from staff to give the facility another chance.

According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Saanich’s mayor and councillors chose an option that was more severe than what their staff suggested.

A joint report from the directors of finance and parks and recreation recommended the restaurant remain open, but only at peak times (in the summer and around Christmas).

“Should this approach not prove successful, the next step would be to close the restaurant operation entirely,” read the report, dated Dec. 5, 2011. Keeping the restaurant open in this manner “will determine if the food and beverage operation is economically viable in this location.”

The report first went before council at an in-camera meeting on Dec. 12.

On Jan. 9, 2012, also in-camera, council voted to close the restaurant.

Three other options were presented to council in the report. Each focused on how much Saanich would have to subsidize the course, and each was accompanied by a list of pros and cons for the municipality.

Maintaining the status quo, the report said, would require an $819,000 subsidy in 2012 and would result in either a 0.9-per-cent property tax increase, or a 1.5-per-cent budget reduction for all municipal departments. A partial subsidy of $482,000 would need to be funded by either a 0.5-per-cent tax increase, or a 1-per-cent budget reduction. An outright outsourcing of the golf course and food service would require no subsidy, but could have negative impacts on the golfers and community.

“Adding the financial burden of budgeting for an annual golf subsidy … will increase the difficulty of achieving a reasonable property tax lift in 2012 and shift away from the council mandate for the (golf course) to be self sufficient,” the report reads.

Coun. Vicki Sanders said a very tight budget was the reason the more drastic decision was made to close the restaurant.

“The decisions were based on what we heard during the election – they want their council to be fiscally responsible,” she said.

The changes decided on – closing the restaurant, and not increasing taxes – struck “a balance” between financial prudency and maintaining municipal services, Sanders added.

Coun. Susan Brice agreed. “I think all of us came to the decision that it would not be supported by the public to continue subsidizing the food service aspect of the operation,” she said. “Food service is an area that we didn’t feel would be an essential component to the success of the golf course.”

The News attempted to ask all members of council why they voted to close the restaurant when staff’s advice was to keep it open.

Councillors Dean Murdock and Judy Brownoff said it was part of an overall need to restructure food service at the golf course.

Councillors Nichola Wade and Paul Gerrard said the decision was made too long ago for them to remember why it happened.

Coun. Vic Derman didn’t want to talk about an in-camera decision without consulting first with the municipal solicitor.

Coun. Leif Wergeland did not return requests for comment.

And Mayor Frank Leonard said: “No comment.”

Doug Henderson, director of parks and rec, said no matter the option council chose, “some pretty substantial changes” were going to come.

“For a variety of reasons, (council) landed on one particular approach, and that’s the way we went,” added Paul Murray, director of finance, noting that a variety of options was presented.

The restaurant closed on Feb. 17, and now sits unused most of the time.

What that space will be used for remains unknown for now, but Henderson said it’s a topic that will be considered publicly.

Even with the restaurant’s closure, the golf course is expected to face a $720,000 deficit in 2012. To help offset part of that, the cost to play a round goes up as of Sunday (April 1).

Earlier this year council voted 5-4 to support a plan that will see the cost of an annual pass rise $37 to $1,087 for a restricted pass. A full pass is going up $68 to $1,418. Green fees will jump $5, to $45 on the weekends and $40 on weekdays.

“I don’t think anybody’s expecting a 180-degree turnaround (this year),” Henderson said, acknowledging that the changes will likely keep some people away. “I think we still provide one of the best value opportunities for folks, in terms of golf. It’ll just take a bit of time to build (the business).”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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