Council has put on hold plans to issue a request for proposal for the private management and operation of Muskoka Heritage Place.
Instead, it has opted to apply for funding, through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, for a consultant to evaluate the operation, conduct community consultations and come up with viable operational models for MHP, which would then be presented back to council.
The idea was brought before council at its October 26 meeting by Director of Community Services and Economic Development, Kari Lambe.
Lambe was optimistic that the municipality could secure the seed funding for the consultant and added that the options presented would include corresponding budgets, enabling council to make a more informed decision.
She said if the municipality is successful in acquiring the funding, it could be ready to issue a request for proposal for a consultant at the beginning of March and the consultant would then have a year to come up with operational models. She said if council then likes one of the options presented, a second grant could be available.
“We could actually go back to the Ontario Trillium Foundation and apply for a second seed grant to actually implement that option, that’s again a one year option,” said Lambe, adding that council would then have the ability to apply for a third grant she called a growth grant.
“So within a three year period, and by the end of your term, you’re looking at a hopefully solid operation that you’ve been able to make some positive change (to) with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation.” Huntsville Director of Community Services and Economic Development Kari Lambe
Councillor Det Schumacher thanked Lambe and said continuing to financially support Muskoka Heritage Place has been a contentious issue over the years. He said he was concerned about issuing a request for proposal for the operation of MHP and undermining volunteers who have a vested interest in the facility.
Councillor Nancy Alcock echoed Schumacher’s sentiment. She said she’s also heard concerns from members of the community with respect to the preservation of the asset.
“What I really like in the proposal we just talked about is the commitment to do community consultation because clearly the community cares a lot about this,” she said.
Lambe noted that MHP is already a very lean operation.
“The resources have been stripped back so much that they’re doing everything they can. Even the manager himself is only 75 per cent to Muskoka Heritage Place; the rest is to health and safety for the corporation. So I think at this point I’d be encouraging to pull more resources back into MHP such as Ron Gostlin as the manager being fully directed to MHP,” said Lambe. She added that in the interim, her suggestion would be that the 2016 budget for MHP remain status quo in order to secure a consultant and see what the consultant comes back with.
The facility is getting an estimated $100,000 per year from Town coffers.
Mayor Scott Aitchison said he’s a culprit in nickel and diming MHP over various terms of council. “My hope is that we have a legitimate and serious conversation… with the community about what the future of Muskoka Heritage Place is because if we continue on the path that we’re continuing on, it probably really will fall down on itself,” he said, calling the proposal a great step forward “about a meaningful piece of our cultural heritage.”