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Letter: An update on financial information related to the Hinton Golf Course

"No one on either council was suggesting that the Town doesn’t need a golf course, or even that locals shouldn’t have some sort of preferential access to it. But we thought selling some of the land was the best way to protect both."
letter-to-the-editor

Dear Editor:

The decision by Hinton council, including me, to sell part of the Hinton Golf Course continues to attract lively criticism. I’m all for accountability, and if I’d decided I was wrong, I’d say so and apologize. But I still believe we made the right call, and to explain why I want to start with a question for critics and, indeed, everyone.

What should a town council overseeing a modest budget and trying to keep taxes down do if the local community golf course gets itself into a financial bind that puts the Town’s taxpayers on the hook for $156,000 a year in payments for 11 years?

One possibility is just shrug and pay up. But I and my colleagues, the 2017-21 council and the current one (2021-25) decided to sell part or all of the course and cut taxpayers’ losses, by bringing in as much as $400,000 in new tax revenue per year from the current golf course hotel/teaching proposal.

No one on either council was suggesting that the Town doesn’t need a golf course, or even that locals shouldn’t have some sort of preferential access to it. But we thought selling some of the land was the best way to protect both.

There is a consistent pattern of decisions by council dating back at least to the fall of 2019 and here’s why it involves this partial sale.

In May of 2017 the Town of Hinton (TOH) approved an Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB) loan to the Hinton Golf Society of $1.5 million for 15 years to consolidate the loans for clubhouse construction and capital equipment. And the Golf Society was supposed to pay for this loan. But it couldn’t.

One of the early indications of difficulties with the loan came in October 2019 when the town approved the transfer of assets from the Hinton Golf Club to the TOH. But the Golf Society defaulted on that loan and their assets were seized. The 2020 Hinton financial statements indicate that the asset transfer was completed in 2020, with the town taking on $1.35 million dollars in golf course debt and acquiring the significant assets of the Golf Society and Hinton taxpayers starting to pay $156,000 per year on the ATB Golf Course Loan.

In addition to the above the TOH helped the Hinton Golf Society out with a conditional advance of between $ 230,000 to $250,000, to be repaid in annual instalments of $50,000.

If the Town had done nothing one possibility that existed was that the bank might have seized the golf course and sold it in 2020. Instead, we’ve run it through an agreement with the Golf Society since, keeping the Hinton course alive. But when you have acquired an asset unwillingly that is costing that much money what do you do?

Well, Councillor Maguhn had a proposal. He made two motions in late 2020 and early 2021 to start moving towards the sale of the golf course. In May of 2021 the previous council voted to undertake an Expression of Interest (EOI) process for the golf course, and on August 10, 2021 an E.O.I. was advertised.

Then the current Town Council approved a sales agreement for part of the golf course lands, and in January 2024 council made a zoning decision on the lands. And the Town is currently working with the project proponent, the Golf Society and Town Council to finalize this project.

At this point taxpayers hold the following significant liabilities: about $1,000,000 remaining on the $1.35 million ATB golf course loan which requires taxpayers to pay $156,000 per year till 2032 and about $51,900* remaining on the golf course operating loan for 2024, which the town holds until the Golf Society pays it off.

We don’t have a choice about whether to meet those obligations. Just about how. And would you have done things differently if you’d been on this or the last council, would you have had all taxpayers, even non-golfers, continue paying for golf till 2032?

I wish we had all the money in the world but we don’t, and all the money we do have comes from you. The solution we found wasn’t perfect, but I still say it was the right one, and if you don’t agree, I ask what you’d have done instead.

Stuart Taylor, Member of Hinton Town Council

*Note: This number comes from the TOH audited financial statements, which includes cash loans to the Golf Society and the finalization of all acquisitions.