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Hay River Ski club in financial peril

The Hay River Ski Club (HRSC) says keeping up with operations costs may not be possible during next year’s ski season if a traditional, permanent source of funding from the GNWT isn’t soon restored.
The Hay River Ski Club’s volunteer organizers say the GNWT should provide a permanent, long-term source of funding for it continue to be able to pay for operations. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

The Hay River Ski Club (HRSC) says keeping up with operations costs may not be possible during next year’s ski season if a traditional, permanent source of funding from the GNWT isn’t soon restored.

Chuck Lirette the club’s trails and facilities director and biathlon coach said in a news release last week that the club’s operations have heavily relied on NWT Lotteries money for decades, however since about 2014, he says the GNWT Municipal and Community Affairs has been clawing back control of that money.

The eight-member club of volunteers say they have been left to scramble to fundraise or seek other grant funding opportunities.

“Being a volunteer organization, it is simply not feasible for the HRSC to take on fundraising towards our annual operational budget in addition to being responsible for maintaining the trails and facilities and providing a wide variety of recreational and sporting programs,” Lirette explained. “It may be impossible to continue offering these services to the residents of Hay River and the NWT, and the very existence of the HRSC may be at risk.”

Lirette said that being a lottery retailer in the past has allowed the club to bring in almost $34,000 annually for operations costs: items like electricity, heat and water. It has ultimately allowed the club to develop its programming and youth athletes to be a first-rate organization for the NWT.

However changes to the Western Canada Lotteries Act in 2016 meant that non-government organizations (NGOs) could no longer be lottery retailers and that organizations like the ski club could not generate monies through lotteries for operations.

“In 2014, the GNWT started the process of taking control of lotteries in the NWT and ‘excluded non- government organizations as being retailers as administering the lottery’ because it ‘could result in tax implications for these organizations,” Lirette said.

“What started as concerns over a tax liability in 2014 has now resulted in the total loss of the operational budget for the HRSC.”

In 2016, the club was one of six organizations across the NWT to begin receiving funds under a five-year Legacy Retailer Grant Program from the department.

Those five years were up last year before MACA introduced a one-time Non-Government Organization Stabilization Fund which Lirette said will get the club through to the 2022/23 season.

“After that, it is very questionable if we can operate at all,” he said.

Jay Boast, spokesperson for MACA said NWT most sports organizations self-fund.

“The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) does not provide core funding to any community-based sport organizations directly in any community in the Northwest Territories,” he said. “It is important that funding is approached consistently and with fiscal responsibility in mind across the NWT.”

Boast said MACA recognizes the importance of the club in Hay River and that is why it came forward with the “one-time only” stabilization fund contribution agreement after the five years. The deal provides the club with $50,827 to be split over two years with $33,655 to be provided in 2021-2022 and $16,827 in 2022-2023.

Once that money runs out, as an NGO, the club can apply for various pots of money that are available through MACA like any other sports organization that self-funds, Boast said.

Hay River MLAs

Both Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River North and R.J. Simpson, MLA for Hay River South said in emailed statements on Aug. 30 that they are strongly in support of Lirette’s efforts.

Rocky said he strongly supports the ski club’s efforts to secure more stable, long-term funding and encouraged residents to write MACA Minister Shane Thompson on the issue.

“The importance of the Hay River Ski Club is felt far beyond the borders of Hay River - as it has developed superior class athletes throughout the NWT in various events while hosting Arctic Winter Game Trials and events,” he said. “Over the years the club has been operated strictly by local volunteers who have put countless hours into ensuring buildings, equipment and trails are maintained for use during the winter by its 250-plus members.”

Simpson added that the benefits to investment also lead to mental and physical betterment, limits the need of people to use health care services and is a therapeutic exercise for people in the justice system.

“The amount of funding we are discussing is minimal to the overall GNWT budget, (and) it baffles me why the powers to be cannot see the benefits,” he said.

Simpson said there should be an examination as to how the club lost its lottery retailer support in the first place and if the status could be returned again.

“We must ask the question, can we revert back to the way it was?” he said. “This question will be put forward to the department to determine if the ‘tax implication’ reasoning was real or just a way for the GNWT to control lottery proceeds. It is important to note that everyone has to take some responsibility in keeping the Hay River Ski Club alive, including the Town of Hay River, Indigenous Governments and the GNWT, all of whom should want a healthier lifestyle for their children and residents.”

R.J. said that as a young person he drew personal benefits from the club and saw how the facility developed quality athletes and the community.

“The benefits to Hay River and the NWT far outweigh the operating costs and there is no doubt that the club is worth investing in,” he said.

“I spent a lot of hours at the Ski Club when I was growing up and I want to ensure that youth continue to have to opportunity.”