The toboggan hill at the Couchiching Golf and Country Club could be closed to the public if city council doesn’t kick in funding.
Ed Novosky, president of the club’s board of directors, wrote to council recently to request the city provide $5,000 per year for as long as the hill remains open for public use.
The municipality and the golf club have an agreement that sees city staff look after maintenance in the winter, which includes erecting and taking down fencing. The city also covers insurance for that area of the property during the winter.
That agreement is set to expire Nov. 20, and “any further agreement or extension will be contingent on the City of Orillia agreeing to the above requested funding,” Novosky wrote.
He told OrilliaMatters closing the hill to the public is “absolutely” a possibility if the funding request is denied.
“I’ve got pressure from our shareholders over the years,” Novosky said, adding they are asking why the city isn’t contributing more to a popular amenity that is available to the public.
“It’s iconic. People have been using it for 100 years,” he said. “We just felt the city should be providing some level of support.”
During budget talks in 2019, council turned down the club’s request for $12,000 in annual funding. Novosky wrote he was “surprised” to learn at that time the city had a $5,000 annual budget for maintenance of the hill.
“This was surprising as our experience indicates that approximately one hour is spent erecting a safety fence with no other actions taken pertaining to the hill. As we all know, budgeting and actually spending are quite often two different things,” he wrote. “I was then further surprised by Coun. (Mason) Ainsworth's comments suggesting that if the current contract was signed and not contingent on funding that there was no reason to give any consideration to our request and subsequently voted against it.”
Staff said at the time the budget covered maintenance, signage, inspections and erecting snow fencing.
It would make sense to provide funding because the city has “treated (the hill) like a park,” Novosky said, noting it was advertised as an attraction in Orillia’s winter events guide.
“It’s a city park for five to six months,” he said.
It would help the club with other costs, too, including what the club pays for water and hydro year round.
It’s also a timely request, Novosky wrote in his letter.
“During this unprecedented pandemic, all businesses have been faced with the difficult task of dealing with closures and restrictions which have significantly influenced their ability to survive,” he wrote. “Although we applaud the initiatives undertaken by the city such as the downtown patio program to assist restaurants and bars, we unfortunately are not located in the downtown and (are) unable to take advantage of such initiatives.”
The request was referred to upcoming budget deliberations for council’s consideration.
“We’re not trying to be contentious,” Novosky said. “We’re just trying to resolve this.”