Calgary

Finance committee delays decisions on golf course operations, Magliocca expense claims

City councillors were torn on a proposal to privatize the city's golf course operations on Tuesday and voted to put the issue before full council in March, citing issues that included a lack of interest from the market.

Low market interest has councillors split on privatizing municipal golf course operations

The proposal, which seeks to find private operators for the municipal golf courses, is projected to cost the city $750,000 if approved. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

City councillors were torn on a proposal to privatize the city's golf course operations on Tuesday and voted to put the issue before the full council in March, citing issues that included a lack of interest from the market and union challenges.

Some councillors want to explore if the city is able to save or earn money by finding private operators for municipal golf courses. 

A proposal to do so aims to eliminate tax-funded operating support for city golf courses by 2022 if approved.

In 2020, however, no tax money went into the city's golf courses, which turned a $420,000 profit for the city, and the privatization proposal is projected to cost the city $750,000.

Council's finance committee also heard that there seems to be little interest in the private sector — and a request for proposals drew no successful bids.

"We did an expression of interest that failed. We looked for a consultant to help us and that failed," Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said to Greg Steinraths, a regional manager in charge of golf operations, who presented the proposal.

"And as a former consultant, let me tell you, to not actually bid on easy-money work like this — that's pretty shocking to me, that you didn't even have any bids on it, because consultants were worried about the outcome of the work here."

Proposal a 'bag of bricks,' Carra says

The lack of market interest was enough to deter Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who represents Ward 9.

He said that given the lack of response from the private sector, and the current state of the economy, he would be content to see city council abandon the issue.

"We're working against ourselves here," Carra said. "I'm happy to do whatever needs to be done to tell our administration to take this bag of bricks and to just put it down, and to stop trying to carry it up a very steep and a rough trail."

Labour related issues were also presented as possible challenges — for example, a management contract could raise the possibility of union challenges, while contracting out core activities poses regulatory risks including successorship rights.

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell stated she would vote against the proposal, while Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he did not support the idea after confirming it would use city reserves to take funds away from capital projects.

"It seems like, at least based on the conditions today … this is probably not a direction that we would want to proceed on at this point," said Farkas, who represents Ward 11.

"At this time, it would not be wise for this committee and council to proceed with this, knowing what we do."

Coun. Jeff Davison said he would like to refer it to administration, which was approved.

Council will now discuss whether or not to go ahead with the idea at its next meeting in March.

If approved, the transition from public to private operators would be completed in 2023.

Magliocca decision delayed

City Council also delayed conversations surrounding Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca, and whether he owes taxpayers another $1,200 for meals and drinks that he claimed while entertaining other officials.

The finance committee was supposed to discuss the matter on Tuesday, but instead voted to have the city's chief financial officer, Carla Male, review it.

Magliocca has already paid back more than $6,200 for expenses he should not have claimed, and was asked to pay back $2,700 last fall for air ticket upgrades that he charged for.

However, the city hasn't commented on whether he has paid that back, and Magliocca is refusing to comment.

A report is expected in March on the current round of expenses the city says he should not have claimed.

With files from Scott Dippel

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