The Canadian Taxpayers Federation performs an important service by diligently flagging government waste at all levels, but it has made an error in criticizing the city’s support of public golf courses.
Yes, the operations should be subject to scrutiny, and yes, the six courses can be better managed — that’s probably true of many of the endeavours the city is engaged in. But to call for the sale of the city’s public golf courses because they collectively lost $2 million over three years is rash.
The very purpose of government is to provide services that taxpayers either require or desire. So while the city-owned golf courses may not turn a profit, that’s true of most of the amenities the municipality provides — swimming pools, hockey arenas and libraries among them.
“It’s very difficult for the city, I think, to continue to raise property taxes on struggling families and businesses, while subsidizing people to golf,” says Colin Craig, the taxpayers federation’s Alberta director.
“That’s a hard pill for a lot of people, who are struggling right now, to swallow…. Their property taxes are going up, and part of the reason why, is because the city’s losing money while subsidizing people to golf. It’s time for the city to take some definitive action on these money-losing golf courses.”
Craig is correct when he points out property taxes have increased more they should have in recent years, but worrying about a $2-million loss in a budget that tallies up to billions seems misguided, especially when it’s understood public services aren’t going to generate a profit.
One wonders why the group doesn’t query subsidies for swimmers, skaters and readers, but balks at supporting Calgarians who want to enjoy a few hours on the links. Perhaps it’s because of the perception that golf is a rich person’s game, but the purpose of the public courses is to ensure Calgarians have access to venues that are affordable.
Where the federation is helpful, is when it refocuses attention on the way the golf courses are managed. It’s a given that the courses are an asset to Calgarians, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers shouldn’t demand value for money.
The city should look at outsourcing the operation and maintenance of the facilities with the expectation of trimming costs and creating a strtonger incentive to eke out a profit. But to sell off the green space, as the taxpayers federation advocates, would be a mistake.
Calgarians aren’t so shortsighted.
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