Sifton ponders economic development opportunity

If a prime recreational property was on the market and if it was next door, would you want your municipality to become the owners of that?

That is a question that the Rural Municipality of Sifton is planning to ask their ratepayers about a potential $9.5 million investment opportunity. A public hearing was to be held on Feb. 18, to discuss purchasing Oak Island Resort property, but that has been postponed. A new date has not been set.

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Chief Administrative Officer for Sifton Lon Turner said in a statement: “Due to the level of interest – both positive and negative - in the proposed purchase of assets of Oak Island Resort by the RM, Council is postponing the public hearing until the COVID-19 Code Red restrictions are lifted.”

Turner explained that the hall capacity is restricted to 25 per cent. “We’ve got to be masked, chairs six feet apart. We’re going to get more direction from our local health region and make sure we are doing everything according to COVID restrictions.

“This will allow for an unrestricted level of attendance, minimize health risks, and provide ample opportunity for an appropriate discussion involving all interested stakeholders.”

Discussion about the property began back in November 2020, after a ratepayer pointed out the real estate advertisement to Reeve Cyril Druwe. The property includes the golf course, campground, marina, farmland acres and residential properties.

In an interview, Turner pointed out that municipalities often own recreation properties. That’s nothing new. In fact, Sifton owns the golf course on the edge of Oak Lake town.

While many rural municipalities and towns are offering $10 lots or tax breaks to bolster their population, tax base and to bring economic activity, Reeve Druwe says purchasing a turn-key recreational property could fit with Sifton’s economic development plans. But that depends upon several things, including how ratepayers feel about it.

In January of 2017 Oak Lake Community Development Board held a public meeting to “re-vitalize local businesses and stop the bleeding of precious services.”

Since then, Druwe says that different ventures including a hog barn, were investigated. Some saw an intensive livestock operation as a negative for the local watershed.

The resort is a turn key project, already a part of the tax base, that’s up for sale. “We’d be one of the best to manage it.” said Druwe.

Due Process

When the public meeting does get off the ground, the CAO expects to present a business plan. In the mean time, the RM plans a mail-out survey as well.

The decision-making process includes a public hearing and approval for the loan.

The hearing gives ratepayers a chance to submit their ideas in writing, to speak and to listen. The Manitoba Municipal Board will review the minutes from the meeting. The Board takes into account what they see as the municipality’s ability to service the proposed loan and from that they make recommendations.

A by-law for the borrowing and repayment schedule would require a second and third reading by Sifton Councillors. If it passes third reading the by-law would be sent back to the Municipal Board for final approval.

Water quality and favourable weather go hand in hand with a recreation location. Turner said there is a fundraising committee and funds are building to provide an aeration system for the beach water.

He says the marina is “excellent”, aside from some ongoing upkeep. The golf course has continued to be a destination course and the restaurant building there is a good building.

There’s a potential to more than double the camping area as well.

He admitted that floods and droughts can affect the lake-based resort negatively. “We can’t predict the future.”

Druwe isn’t willing to push ahead without the ratepayers. He said council isn’t going to move on the resort purchase without the public behind them. “Ratepayers have a right to say. We’re listening.”

At this stage, the RM has entered into a non-disclosure agreement with the seller, Four Seasons Island Resort. There is information on the RM website.

© Virden Empire-Advance