Taxes can’t prop failing business

News that the publicly owned Cedar Hill Golf Course has been bleeding money has opened up a Pandora’s box.

News that the publicly owned Cedar Hill Golf Course has been bleeding money has opened up a Pandora’s box for residents around the region.

The facility operates at a huge loss covered by Saanich taxpayers, who will eventually have to decide on the fate of Cedar Hill. However, the golf course represents a much bigger issue.

The vast majority of people in Greater Victoria acknowledge that public subsidies are needed to provide recreational facilities in the interest of the greater good.

It’s the reason Peninsula municipalities kicked in for extensive renovations at Panorama Recreation Centre, as well as the growing number of taxpayer-subsidized recreation facilities on the West Shore. One of those is the publicly operated Juan de Fuca golf course, though it is closer to the Oak Bay recreation department’s Henderson pitch-and-putt than Cedar Hill’s full-size course. While none are money-makers, the latter will lose upwards of $300,000 this year – a much harder figure to swallow than the $23,000 the Juan de Fuca course will cost West Shore taxpayers.

Cedar Hill also has a municipally operated restaurant that is pegged to lose an additional $500,000 this year. The restaurant, open for the past 15 years, will stop serving meals on Feb. 18 as Saanich tries to curtail its losses. Retaining this service as a municipal operation makes little sense and it’s expected that the facility will soon be privatized in some manner. Whether the restaurant forces the municipality to re-think its commitment to the golf course itself remains to be seen.

Golfing at the Cedar Hill site has a long history, stretching back 80 years. Saanich has done an admirable job of providing an alternative to more expensive privately-run courses or the exclusive members-only clubs.

For a long time, Cedar Hill served a purpose that was essentially the same as what is offered by skating rinks, swimming pools and leisure centres. These things give the masses access to forms of recreation that, if left to private interests, would be too costly for many. But rec centres, as with parks and public libraries, require subsidies and can’t exist solely on the income from user fees.

However, a recent survey suggests Saanichites rank their golf course as among the least popular recreational service paid for by their tax dollars.

As difficult as it will be for the passionate supporters of Cedar Hill to accept, it’s time for Saanich council to consider whether the pursuit of golf still merits such subsidies.

With so many well-run private courses in the region, there’s simply no reason for taxpayers to prop up an operation if its better days are behind it.