FOR THE second meeting in a row, council has turned down a request to give a local group money to help it buy the Shames Mountain ski facility from its current owners, the Shames Mountain Ski Corporation.
This time the request, made in the form of a motion by councillor Bruce Martindale at its meeting last night, was for $90,600 with the city being able to secure the money against equipment and buildings on the mountain.
But Martindale was unable to take part in debate on the motion after being challenged for having a conflict of interest.
Mayor Dave Pernarowski said comments made Martindale yesterday morning on CBC Radio would lead people to believe that having Shames operate was good for his McBike bicycle sales and service business.
“I do have comments from council and from the general public that there is a potential conflict of interest on this,” said Pernarowski.
“I don’t sell ski equipment or any aspect of anything to do with skiing,” said Martindale. “I did say it would have an impact on my store and on businesses. Please tell me what council has said.”
Pernarowski re-iterated that the comments indicated that Martindale could have a conflict of interest as he was quoted on CBC as saying that the ski hill was incredibly important to him and that he knew a number of business managers for whom the ski hill business feeds into summer sports.
Martindale said a lot of people knew that the ski hill is important to him and that it’s common knowledge that he owns a bike shop.
Other councillors said even a remote association could be taken as a perceived conflict of interest.
“So I will step out and leave the vote to you,” said Martindale, as he got out of his seat and went out.
After adjourning briefly, council returned after deciding that Martindale’s motion would not stand.
It was re-introduced by councillor Brian Downie and seconded by councillor Bruce Bidgood.
“Shames Mountain deserves some support. It is my view we could do that on a one time basis,” said Downie, explaining that support would be clearly stated to not be an open door for Shames Mountain to ask for money every year and no money would be transferred until specific conditions are met.
One of those would be not forwarding the money until the co-op had raised what it needed to buy the mountain.
“With very little effort, Shames could disappear on us and it wold be a tremendous effort to reinstate it,” said Downie.
Bidgood said that while the city has been spending money on promoting business development, it was time to put money elsewhere.
“I think it’s time to start investing in community assets, the type of things that bring people to Terrace,” he said. “The hill is a great asset. It brings people here and increases the quality of life.”
“With that said, I think supporting My Mountain Co-op is in the best interest of the people of Terrace and I will vote yes.”
Councillor Carol Leclerc noted Shames Mountain has had a troubled financial history.
The facility’s current equipment and lodge was purchased by the Shames Mountain Ski Corporation from the Kitimat-Stikine regional district in the late-1980s when the latter closed down its Kitsumkalum ski hill.
That debt began at $306,000 but ballooned before being written off entirely in 2000, said Leclerc in reciting a history provided her by the regional district.
While Leclerc said she recognized the value of Shames, “as an elected official, I have a fiscal responsibility to make sure decisions are made in the taxpayers’ best interest,” she said, adding she had no hesitation in saying the ski hill should go to referendum at the November election.
Leclerc challenged the co-op to find business backers for its purchase plan.
Councillor Lynne Christiansen said she recognized what a gem the ski hill was but, on the other hand, she couldn’t see spending everyone’s money on something only some people were interested in.
“If we’re going to spend money to get involved, we need to see the whole community [behind it] and need to see it go to referendum,” she said.
“It’s (ski hill) not a good use of taxpayers’ money. I can’t support it but I will support a referendum,” said councillor Brad Pollard.
Mayor Dave Pernarowski agreed the ski hill was an asset but said there were other ways to support it.
“We don’t need a referendum. Everybody in community has an opportunity to step up and save Shames,” he said. “We do not have to use taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers can make a decision today. Maybe what needs to be done instead of asking council for a large amount of money, is maybe to have a different entry point.
“Maybe chip in $25, $30, and it does not have to be $300. Maybe promote the idea of buying a membership and you can win a free ski pass. I’m not able to support it based purely on my belief it’s not appropriate for council.”
The motion failed on a 4-2 vote with Downie and Bidgood in favour and Leclerc, Pollard, Christiansen and Pernarowski against.
The councillors and the mayor voted the same way as they did two weeks ago in turning down a request for $200,000.