City defends cuts to O’Keefe Ranch

Some Vernon politicians are defending their decision to reduce funding to O’Keefe Ranch.

On Monday, Coun. Mary-Jo O’Keefe expressed concern that the 2011 budget only allots $138,000, plus $12,000 in insurance, for the city-owned historic site when the operators had requested $184,500.

“They felt council didn’t understand its request and was misinformed on the issues,” she said.

However, Mayor Wayne Lippert insists council had to look at the city’s overall financial situation.

“The intent of council was to manage the budget for everyone,” he said.

“If council didn’t believe in the ranch, it would have been cut off altogether.”

Coun. Patrick Nicol also stands behind the budget process.

“We looked at a number of areas in the budget and this one was not the hardest hit. These are tough economic times,” he said.

“The Vernon taxpayer has been very forthcoming in supporting O’Keefe Ranch.”

The city budget also trimmed staff for bylaw enforcement and the RCMP’s reception counter.

“There are some real public access to service issues,” said Leon Gous, chief administrative officer.

“The $150,000 of the budget (for the  ranch) is more than we are giving to the airport.”

O’Keefe, who was absent for much of the budget process, believes the loss of $30,000 could cost the ranch either its manager or its marketing staff.

“As they gain the ability to increase revenue, we are saying we’re not giving you enough staff to do it,” she said.

“If they don’t have a manager, they can’t make applications for (government) grants.”

According to O’Keefe, there has been significant progress in improving ranch infrastructure and an RV park will open this year to generate revenue.

“They are doing a lot to move towards self-sufficiency,” she said.

Council has decided to sit down and consider its goals for the ranch, while a meeting will also be held with the O’Keefe Ranch and Interior Heritage Society.

“These sorts of facilities are rarely self-sufficient so we should have discussions on our ongoing commitment to that asset,” said Coun. Shawn Lee.

Lippert believes there may be a need for the city to determine whether the society is the best way of operating the ranch.

“If the model is not working with the society, maybe we need to change that model,” he said.

“They’ve got accustomed to coming to the city. The lease only calls for funding of $10,000 a year.”

 

Vernon Morning Star

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