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Council rejects RotaryLinks grant application

Last Updated Jan 28, 2020 at 10:33 pm MST

PHOTO. RMWB Council chambers from the interim location at the Syncrude Athletic Park Clubhouse on Jan. 28, 2020. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood.

RMWB Council voted to reject a motion to provide funding to the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray.

Mayor and councillors voted 6-2 to deny the grant request from the local club for capital and sustaining funds.

The total ask from the Rotary Club was $3,488,115 to complete and help operate the RotaryLinks golf course.

Club members attending the council meeting in the gallery immediately left council chambers, visibly shaken by the decision.

Golf course

Administration presented its report on the club’s grant request.

RMWB Council remarked their surprise that no delegates from the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray came forward.

They provided three options: Reject the applications, approve the one-time sustaining grant of $488,115, or approve the $3-million Community Capital Grant and one-time grant.

Despite initially asking for $500,000, the maximum amount a one-time grant may offer is $488,115.

As for the Community Capital Grant, the $3-million would complete the club’s 9-hole RotaryLinks golf course, turning it into an 18-hole course.

However, as a 9-hole course, the administration found RotaryLinks is not sustainable.

In the club’s five-year budget, the administration found the golf course would accumulate a projected deficit of $1,787,736.

Also, the Municipality provided subsidies to a competing municipal asset, Miskanaw Golf Club, which lost 50 members in 2019 from 2018.

Councillor Verna Murphy, who introduced the motion not to provide funding, said it was a tough decision to make.

“To invest more money at this time just didn’t make sense if we’re already subsidizing Miskanaw, and we’re seeing [Fort McMurray Golf Club] increasing their fees as well. So, the reality of it is we just can’t support the ongoing infrastructure with golf courses.”

Murphy said she would devote her time in Council to supporting core services.

A third 12-hole family golf course called Vista Ridge would be in operation by summer 2020.

Councillor Stroud said providing the funds would give RotaryLinks an “unfair advantage”.

Tough decisions

However, Councillor Allen voted against the motion to reject the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray’s applications.

Allen said he wanted to grant capital funding since it doesn’t impact the Municipality’s goal of reaching a 5:1 tax ratio.

“We do have an opportunity to help and assist in completing a project that would help it to be more sustainable in future, and we already have significant investment in it. I just hate to see that investment go away.”

In 2015, RMWB Council provided the Rotary Club with $6,217,000 to develop the golf course in its current 9-hole state.

Allen recalled in 2006-12 when demand for tee times in Fort McMurray was high and difficult to reserve.

“When times were good and things were busy up here, we had so much activity and demand that you couldn’t get a tee time anywhere. So it was more of a hindsight issue, because are we going to be in that same position in 2025?”

He commented on how a similar situation with hindsight and twinning of Highway 63.

With regards to reaching the 5:1 tax ratio, Murphy said Wood Buffalo had $182-million cut from its budget over the last two years.

She added spending decisions may get tougher over the next ten years.

“As long as we’re trying to provide the same level of service, and not increase those taxes we’re going to [take] a hard look at what we’re spending, especially with Capital [grant funding].”

Without funding, the administration said the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray may not open its doors in 2020.

No Rotary Club members present at the meeting were available for comment.

Energy Corridor

RMWB Council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to endorse a resolution from Strathcona County.

Written by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the resolution asks the federal government to look into establishing a national energy corridor.

The FCM resolution also asks Ottawa to consult with provinces, municipalities, and Indigenous groups.

Part of the resolution calls on amendments to or the repeal of Bills C-48 and C-69, should a corridor materialize.

Now passed, the motion authorizes Mayor Don Scott to write a letter to Strathcona County endorsing the resolution.

The next RMWB Council meeting is Feb. 11, 2020.