Township looking at taking on park
The Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls is looking at taking on the operation of Caliper Lake Provincial Park, which was one of seven that did not open this year due to budget cuts within the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
“In their wisdom, they [MNR] decided it wasn’t operable because it was operating in a deficit,” noted Coun. Jerry O’Leary, indicating it has been losing money for the last five years at least.
“They had suggestions for cost-savings, in conjunction with the operation of the park in Sioux Narrows,” Coun. O’Leary explained, citing the municipality took on the operation of that park 14 years ago and probably has spent a little over $500,000 in subsidies over that time period.
One of the cost-saving measures presented was a payroll deduction.
“Given that payroll is such a large percentage of the overall park expenses, a significant cost-savings can be achieved by pooling staff between Caliper Lake Provincial Park and Sioux Narrows Provincial Park,” the presentation noted.
It stated one manager and one maintenance person could be shared between the two parks while keeping the other maintenance person at 100 percent.
It suggested it effectively would reduce the overall maintenance staff by 25 percent.
The proposal also recommended reducing the number of student workers from four to an average of three—four during the peak of the season and two during the rest of it.
“The single manager could be compensated more for the increased workload of running two parks,” the presentation indicated.
“Volunteers could be solicited to help fill the shortfall of the reduced staff.”
In speaking with an MNR rep, they were told there may be an opportunity to obtain funding to pay students through programs offered by the provincial or federal government.
Or they could push the MNR to continue to fund the students through the existing program.
The cottage owners also offered ideas for possible revenue opportunities, such as a boat launch/mooring fee, an Internet café, coupons for area merchants, optional resident garbage and water fees, and seasonal rentals.
They suggested these ideas could bring in more than $11,000 in revenue.
“If incremental revenue opportunities prove successful, they can be replicated at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park for additional financial benefit to the township,” the group noted.
“Overall, there is an opportunity to operate both Sioux Narrows Provincial Park and Caliper Lake Provincial Park at roughly the same cost as operating Sioux Narrows alone.”
Coun. O’Leary said the township did discuss with the MNR in the spring about operating Caliper Lake Provincial Park.
“We offered to operate it on the condition that they give us the park,” he recalled.
“Needless to say, they would not part with the land. Because we don’t like spending a lot of money on stuff that we don’t own.”
So council will be looking at the operation of Sioux Narrows Provincial Park because it’s costing the township a lot of money to keep it open, possibility $50,000.
“In all, you are looking at approximately $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to subsidize the operation of the parks,” Coun. O’Leary said.
“The question is whether it’s affordable and whether it is a wise decision, and that has yet to be decided by council.”
He noted the township’s planning officer has been asked to prepare a business plan for both parks so council can make an informed decision.
“A decision has to be made reasonably soon,” Coun. O’Leary stressed.
“It’s unfortunate that Caliper did shut down,” he noted. “The decision to shut it down came out of the blue. We weren’t prepared for it.
“Normally, once you shut something down, it’s really hard to resurrect it again.
“But we will be looking at both parks and hopefully can make an informed decision in September or early October,” Coun. O’Leary continued.
“We are not going to look at either one in isolation.
“We have to look at both parks because they do contribute to the economy and we are driven by the tourist industry,” he remarked.
“But do they contribute enough to warrant the expense?”
Coun. O’Leary indicated the other dilemma council has is that they provide services.
“We don’t jump in and bail out failing businesses . . . but we will muddle our way through all of this.”
He also said the group that approached the township believes this is the only option to re-opening the park at Caliper Lake.
“The municipality can always decide to close the park after a few years of attempting to operate it if it proves to cost more money than expected,” the presentation concluded.
“Once the park is decommissioned, and the facilities are removed, it will be cost-prohibitive to re-open it.”