Taxpayer funds are expected to support the golf course going forward

News 100 greenBy Pepper Parr

May 10th, 2021


This is a little on the long side – important because it points to the way the current city council wants to spend.


Rob Axiak, Manager of Recreation Services was explaining to council that the business model being used to operate the Tyandaga golf course wasn’t working and at the current rate of spending the reserve funds would be depleted in a couple of years.

Rob Axiac

Rob Axiak, Manager of Recreation Services

A different business model was needed.

The Staff Direction the Parks, Recreation, Community and Culture (RCC) department wanted was:

Direct the Director of Recreation, Community and Culture to permanently phase in over 2022 – 2026, a change to the Tyandaga operating model, shifting from the current net zero model to a tax-supported model funded by both user fees and the general tax- base.

If approved this would mean a permanent adjustment to the current operating model and result in the golf course being paid for with a combination of fees and money from the tax payer instead of just fee revenue.

Tyandaga has been described as land developers would love to get their hands on. The 108 acre property could have development potential – however it has a number of streams that would hamper development.

Councillor Sharman told his council colleagues there was a time when some members of council and developers had drawings done up – but it never got past that point

In February Parks staff were tasked to further engage the community regarding both the golf service and public park opportunities. The community spoke clearly of the ongoing desire to maintain an 18 hole golf course, improve basic amenities like cart paths, and enhance the winter park play experience and use of the clubhouse.

tyandaga uses

Survey data

During the Spring, Summer and Fall, the grounds at Tyandaga are primarily used for a multitude of golf related programs which are open, affordable and accessible to all.

During the Winter months, the grounds are transformed into an active public park where people can enjoy the space for a variety of casual play opportunities including tobogganing and snow shoeing. This entire four-season operation is considered a net zero and expected to be funded solely by revenues earned through golf programs and services.

The common consensus amongst Council members as noted in a February 2020 report were:

 We value the greenspace at Tyandaga
 We value having a municipal golf course
 We value having a destination for the community year-round
 We look forward to hearing about additional uses for the Clubhouse
 We would welcome hearing about additional uses on the greenspace for the community to enjoy.

Tyandaga has always  operated under the current net zero operation; they receive nothing from the public purse. User-fee revenues generated from golf are expected to fully fund both the operating and capital cost requirements year-round, including all winter park opportunities.

Uncontrollable factors such as climate change and extreme weather patterns have also impacted golf revenues in recent years. Revenues earned have only been able to cover basic operational expenses with very limited and selected investment in capital.

Councillor Sharman told his colleagues that: “…we should have known about this all along.”

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nissan said he was on board for the change in the funding model – he did say as well that he has never played the course.

City manager  Tim Commisso told council that the location and its problem have been studied for years.  There was a time when the pressure from developers was intense.

Mayor Meed Ward made the point that the existence of the golf course is a benefit to everyone – much like the Paletta operation in the east end of the city.

Sharman later added that “we know the cost of everything but not the value.”

Council was clearly prepared to change the business model. Sharman seemed to sum it up: “‘this is the only way to go”  Hopefully that argument will stand up when it appears in the budget in 2022.

Some ongoing course maintenance and major capital renewal expenses have been deferred .

The net zero operating model for a municipally owned and operated golf course is quite unique to the City of Burlington. Most, if not all other municipal golf courses in Ontario, have some degree of tax-base support. For example, both the City of Hamilton and the City of Mississauga both operate municipal golf courses and are supported by the tax-base.

There are three primary types of operating models that exists within the RCC department presently. They are shown below with some examples of what types of services/assets are associated with each of them.

op model 1op model 2
When comparing Tyandaga to the other net zero locations noted in the chart above, Tyandaga offers recreational activities that the city directly intended for broader community access including youth golf and league play and a multitude of winter park causal play opportunities. Tyandaga is far more aligned with a sport field and public park as opposed to the commercially based net zero operations in the department. The net zero food service locations are commercial tenant-based / for-profit businesses that provide commercial food and beverage services (e.g. banquets, concession, restaurant).

On-the-other-hand, pools, arenas, parks and community centres are all financially supported by the tax-base, with a portion of their costs offset through user fees where appropriate (e.g. rental permits, registration fees and drop-in fees).
The ongoing sustainability of this operation, service and asset, as well as meeting the evolving needs and interests of the community is the basis for why a change to the operating model is necessary.

COVID-19 Impact on 2020 Operations:
Interest in golf has been strong and steady for many years, especially during this past season (2020). With the province wide shut down imposed in late March 2020, the opening of the golf course was delayed by over 6 weeks. When permitted to open, several restrictions were mandated which subsequently limited program offerings. The delayed opening and the limited program opportunities had a significant impact on the course’s ability to generate revenues to its fullest potential.

Through a strategic re-design approach in 2020, dedicated staff, and decent weather, the course saw 28,993 rounds of golf (80% capacity utilization) which then translated into an annual profit of $179,000. Under the current net-zero operating model, $77,411 of the profit was transferred to the vehicle depreciation reserve fund (VDRF) while the balance of $101,705 was transferred to the general Tyandaga reserve fund. Golfers, new and returning flocked to Tyandaga with great interest in participating in one of the first recreational opportunities reopened to the public.

Proposed Operating Model:
Through discussions with senior staff, the proposed new operating model must be guided by a key set of principles. These include:

• Service and Financial Sustainability
• Adherence to Asset Management principles and practices
• Allow for adaptations and adjustment to service levels to meet the needs of the community
• Supported by the Framework for Community Recreation in the City of Burlington (e.g. affordability, play for all ages / abilities, variety, access, etc.) *
• Align with the operating model that is most suited
• Phased in over time to ease the financial burden
• Promote active green space opportunities

phased in RCC 2022-2027

*The proposed new operating model was vetted through the methodology of the Framework for Community Recreation for the City of Burlington. This alignment includes the broad use of the land for a variety of recreational activities, with a focus on the fundamentals of play, ensuring access and affordability is at the forefront of the services provided, meaningful engagement with the neighbourhood and stakeholders, and to maximize use of the property, year round.

The proposed operating model for Tyandaga will look to align the program/service and assets/amenities to a typical RCC model; drawing on both user fees and the tax-base to support. This recommendation will position Tyandaga to be equal to a city pool, arena, sports field, community centre or park.

Phased in Approach (2022-2027)
To support this proposed change, staff are recommending this shift occur over a five- year phased in approach (2022-2027). This approach is recommended to slowly ease the financial burden onto the tax-base over time, as opposed to all at once. This new operating model has three distinct advantages:

rcc spending 3 years

• Sustainability: Both financial and service levels will have a higher degree of certainty and sustainability into the future.
• Growth / Change: This model will allow for new and exciting opportunities to be considered and introduced both for the golf course and for the park without the sole and limited reliance on the revenue produced by golf.
• Asset Renewal: All asset renewal will be planned for using the same asset management principles and practices throughout the city.

The asset will get renewed at the right time and be embedded within the broader capital budget prioritization process when competing for funding.

The phased in approach will begin in 2022, and span over five years into 2027 (2022- 2027). As shown below, there will be three distinct phases, slowly moving expenses over to the tax-base to support. To note for this year (2021), will operate as previously planned and budgeted for, following all COVID regulatory requirements.

Each phase will capture two years of operation with an assessment completed after each phase. Council will be informed of the progress of this process as part of Tyandaga’s annual update. Each phase will introduce financial requirements into the general tax-base. For example, in phase 1, the Golf Operation (revenues) will support the overall operating budget, as well as all fleet requirements, while general capital requirements will be transferred over to the tax-base to support. As part of the annual budget process each year (operating and capital), changes as noted in each of the three phases will be highlighted.

By 2026, Tyandaga will begin to implement a 5% surcharge on user fees which will then fund the Tyandaga reserve fund. This reserve fund will be used to partially support capital renewal needs at the course. This surcharge approach is used presently at pools, arenas and community centres.

rebuilding the reserve

• Fleet is the required equipment needed to maintain the greens. Fleet also includes snow clearing equipment needed to clear the parking lot in the winter months.
• The above model removes the annual ‘Payment in Lieu’ of $25,000 that Tyandaga had traditionally paid the RCC department for management overhead and to simulate property taxes within a net zero operating model.

Programs and Service Delivery during the Phases
Based on feedback heard, staff will look to create new programs and services over the 5 years and look to support some needed capital upkeep and repair.

Climate Implications
Burlington has been experiencing many extreme weather events that have negatively affected the golf industry throughout southern Ontario. The climate crisis directly affects the overall operations, causing later openings and early closures to the golf season which has negatively impacted the overall financial performance.
It has been five years since the City of Burlington received 191 millimeters of rainfall in 8-hours causing significant flooding and damage throughout the City. Since that date, we have consistently received major climate challenges year after year. Flooding, ice storms and draughts to name a few. Most recently, between April 1 and May 13, 2019 Burlington experienced 226 millimeters of rain adversely affecting participation, revenues and expenses at the golf course, a recent trend impacting the golf operation.

The Standing Committee decision:

Direct the Director of Recreation, Community and Culture to permanently phased-in over 2022 – 2026, a change to the Tyandaga operating model, shifting from the current net zero model to a tax-supported model funded by both user fees and the general tax-base, as outlined in recreation, community and culture department report RCC-01-21.

The matter goes to Council where it can be approved on May 18th.

Gazette reader Chris Ariens, posted a comment in the Gazette saying: “Ultimately we’re going to have to scale back on something. As a kid of about 12, the only way I was going to be able to afford to play golf was to get a junior membership at a public course. The pandemic has spiked golf demand as people are looking for any activity which they can do outside safely. Unfortunately the Province has closed golf courses, not because of the danger they pose but because of the bad optics.

“I’d say if we’re going to subsidize recreation, we need to ensure it remains reasonably affordable, especially for young people to be able to learn the game and participate.”

Joe Gaetan adds: “Having lived in Tyandaga for over 20 years, I vividly recall the last time the city or certain councillors decided they needed to look into “what to do” about the golf course. The motive to me at the time and probably still is, was how could the city develop some or all of this land to unlock the financial potential of this lovely piece of green space.

“At that time, the city with involvement of Tyandaga residents, undertook a very in depth and detailed study of the options. Before anybody does anything, they need to resurrect that file and look at all the hard work that was done at the time. There will always be a councillor or two who wants to turn all or parts of Tyandaga into a multi million home development. Pay attention folks.”

In the staff report the Recreation, Community and Culture department noted that the city did use reserve funds to pump $4 million plus into the LaSalle Park Marina.


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4 comments to Taxpayer funds are expected to support the golf course going forward

  • Susan Corrigan

    Seems Paletta had first dibs on putting their name on the former Shore Acres Park. This was in Mac Issac time. I grew up here and when visiting to park the surrounding neighbors said they would have liked the opportunity to donate to the park with their family names being shown. No chance it was a done deal. MMW should be careful who she aligns herself with. Same for Kearns. I remember the bomb wars at paletta from when l was in highschool.

  • Howard

    Glad to see golf being properly aligned with every other recreational activity in this city. Hopefully council actually does buy in when it comes time to vote albeit I suspect some claw backs in the budget process to provide tax relief to the non golfers. What I find head scratching is the absolute lack of advertising dollars from this business community. Maybe a real estate agent or a developer would like to pay for some tee box improvements since that will be the only signage in the foreseeable future on that greenspace. I do think non residents should pay 10% more in membership fees to help balance the equity that local tax dollars supplement. But what do I know, I’m just being rational. 🙂

  • Tom Muir

    I can’t think of a truly better thing to spend our money on than the city’s open space land and the purposes which are multiple.

    The pandemic showed us we need these open spaces, and more.

    Selling even a little will yield a long term pittance for the city, much more for the buyer in development, and mostly, a very bad precedent – “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” – and a even worse mistake – “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”.

    The Provinces Growth Plan, and the Region’s new OP Review call for more than a doubling of population – increase of about 500,000 – by 2051 in Halton.

    Between 2016 and 2051, the projection is for an additional 147,000 ground related units and 48,000 apartment units.

    That would be an almost DOUBLING of the number of ground-related units and the amount of land used for ground-related housing in the Region.This is planning to build sprawl as usual as far as the eye can see.

    Burlington will eventually be assigned a share of that growth, but as far as I can see, they are advocating an intensification driven, high density form, but where is the provision for all the increase in open space, parkland, recreation space, and so on, that is the overall consideration in this story?

    The developments I see being recently applied for currently talk about “nearby, existing parks and open space”, but these were mostly provided for previous development long ago. Are all the new folks all expected to make do with what will be a shrinking per person space?

    And how do you provide additional parks and so on, for say a new population doubling in a Burlington running out of space they say? In the planning, there is supposed to be an allowance of park space for each development. How does this happen for high rise intensity at the Go Train MTSAs? Who pays for what hardly exists?

    I think that Tyandaga needs to be saved for us and our kids and grand kids. Sell nothing. Raise fees such as a Legacy Surcharge. We can easily afford it.

    We don’t need to hobble our responsible city staff with the thankless burden of a real value shrinking of our public spaces supply in the face of increased demand from growth and the changed values and perceptions driven by the pandemic.

  • We too remember this file Joe Gaetan and believe Chris Glenn would too. We were part of the many delegations that insisted Tyandaga supported affordable golf for our young people. Probably the only non-golfers (absolutely none in the family at that time) who were lined up at City Council to protect the Tyandaga programmes. City discussions especially around recreation facililties are like a revolving door. Jack Dennison was the biggest advocate of change – yeah remember he owned Cedar Springs and insisted private be competitive with City Programmes especially for the youth! We must protect our recretation programmes, not just the land they take place on, they are important in terms of mental health, self esteem and much more. We still have a dream of an indoor BMX track and recreation centre down town – we have never lost that vision and are much wiser about wno and what stopped us from bringing it to reality! We just need the right opportunity to bring it back on the table where it belongs.