Columns: Ledgeview Restructuring Only Part Of The Story

By Mike Archer. For those who want to continue to have a low mid-range golf course on top of Sumas Mountain the restructuring announced Wednesday which will allow Ledgeview Golf Course to stay open is good news.

It is also good news for Abbotsford taxpayers who have already seen their councillors bail the club out with their friends’ and neighbours’ money to the tune of $125,000. Other failing businesses should be so lucky.

The private sector golf courses who must compete against the publicly supported golf course are probably still wondering why they aren’t as favoured by the City of Abbotsford as Ledgeview. It is becoming a much too familiar refrain in Abbotsford as the City continues its unyielding plan to provide private businesses with public money* to either do the Parks & Rec Department’s job or compete with other, established private businesses.

The restructuring, announced by Ledgeview Golf Course Society interim president John Hambley on Wednesday, has been a painful ordeal for the Society and no less so for Abbotsford taxpayers who lost $65,000 in forgiven rent last year and provided $50,000 in capital improvement grants.

If Abbotsford taxpayers are going to continue supporting the Society it will need to do more than solve its financial problems. Hambly told the Abbotsford News that six of the former directors of the course have resigned and a new board is in place.

Hambly also said General Manager Chris Hood’s contract was not renewed in December and that he will not immediately be replaced.

Abbotsford taxpayers are effectively shareholders in the golf course, or at the very least creditors and landlords. Taxpayers have bailed out the club, forgiven rent and will be asked for a lease extension from the City.

It stands to reason that City councillors who are entrusted with taxpayers money should look long and hard at the whole idea of continuing to allow/support what is effectively a private golfcourse for the wealthy and the connected.

Some hard questions remain:

Ledgeview Golf Course Photo

Ledgeview Golf Course Photo

1) Were the former directors required or even asked to be jointly and severally responsible for the debts of the Society … or at least the portion owed to their friends and neighbours – the taxpayers of Abbotsford?
2) Will the taxpayers ever get a proper, public accounting of where the money went?
3) What did the former directors spend it on?
4) How did the Society manage to slip into such terrible financial shape in the first place?
5) Will taxpayers ever be paid back the $50,000 grant and $65,000 in forgiven rent?

And, for that matter, who were the directors who allowed things to get so out of hand in the first place. We know Dave Holmberg has always been involved with Ledgeview and, other than using his position in Abbotsford’s elite to argue for a taxpayer bailout and state, in no uncertain terms, that Ledgeview could not be allowed to fail, what was his contribution to the failure?

How did Ledgeview lose so much money on the sale of liquor – something that few businesses or individuals in history have ever managed to do?

Dave Holmberg - the man behind the scenes

Dave Holmberg – the man behind the scenes

Though it is certainly true that there are special circumstances and complications surrounding the public/private ownership of the Ledgeview Golf Course, it is nonetheless a perfect example of why taxpayers should not be involved in subsidizing, bailing out, or financially backing private businesses.

The financial arrangements which have left Abbotsford taxpayers on the hook for the bad business decisions of the owners of the Abbotsford Heat are the most blatant example of the reason the BC Community Charter prohibits municipalities from investing in or supporting private business.

The City of Abbotsford’s propensity for finding ways around legislation which prohibits it from doing what it wants aside, Council has a perfect opportunity to make up for its bad judgment in the past and stop funding private businesses which compete with established taxpaying businesses by deciding not to give $17.5 million to the YMCA for a new recreation centre.

The fact that the Parks and Recreation Department under the leadership of Mark Taylor has not been able to do its job over the last decade and a half is not a reason to give $17 million to someone else to do his job. It is a reason to hire a new Parks & Rec Director.

* (The land on which the golf course sits was left to the City of Abbotsford as a legacy with the condition it be kept and run as a golf course. It is managed by the Ledgeview Golf Course Society).

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