SS Sicamous in dire financial straits
The SS Sicamous is sailing through some deep red ink, facing the prospect of not being able to open for the 2011 season and the possible dissolution of the society elected to guide her.
Most of the SS Sicamous Restoration Society board members indicated at their annual general meeting Tuesday that they will not stand for re-election, including board president Jake Kimberley, who stepped down from his position. He charges that the City of Penticton requested he resign before they would release the annual grant funding for the SS Sicamous Restoration Society.
“I am also submitting my resignation at the request of city council so that the 2011 grant funding be forwarded to the society’s 2011 operating funds,” Kimberley told the board of directors in his resignation letter.
Calling it a “vindictive” move on the part of the city, Kimberley said it was just part of the ongoing lack of support the city has shown for the century-old tourist attractions on the southwestern corner of Okanagan Lake. The current board voted to delay elections, instead reconvening their AGM on April 27 at 7 p.m.
“If they can’t find directors in the next month, it’s going to have to dissolve,” said Kimberley.
Currently, the society has drawn on $43,000 of their line of credit, which the bank froze in January.
Mayor Dan Ashton said the city did not request Kimberley’s resignation. Instead, he said council’s stance is that they need a business plan from the society before they are willing to continue the funding.
“They needed a plan to come forward and not ask for money that was dedicated for fencing and security,” said Ashton, adding that both the city and the society have a fiduciary responsibility to use tax and donated funds responsibly. “What is your plan of operation? That is what we need from them.”
Ashton is referring to $35,000 that was dedicated in the city’s 2009 budget to fence off the Sicamous. Kimberley said the society’s plans to create a park around the boat no longer includes the fence; the society requested the city transfer $20,000 of it to their line of credit, which would re-establish their relationship with the bank and take the board through its current financial problems.
“I am very upset that Mr. Kimberley would point the finger at the City of Penticton for being the downfall of the operation of the Sicamous. A person that lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw rocks,” said Ashton, adding that he is also frustrated over the situation.
Previous years were fruitful for the Sicamous and the city has supported it, said Ashton, but there have been concerns over the society’s financial reports last year.
“It has nothing to do with Mr. Kimberley whatsoever. In my opinion, the city should not continue to support a society beyond our normal means,” said Ashton. “There have been issues over there that have to be addressed before they come to the city asking for additional funding.”
As it has been for other groups that rely upon tourist dollars, the past year has been a difficult one for the society, said Kimberley, especially as they had to deal with legal costs related to union certification as well as cost overages and accounting problems related to the 2010 summer musical, 18 Wheels.
In a report to the board, the new president, Jim Cooper, said that although the board was informed in September that the musical showed a profit of $4,100, investigation showed that it actually lost about $8,000.
“Reasons for this are several: the gate was poor and the costs of production were greater than they needed to be,” Cooper said in his April 12 president’s report. “Once some of the true costs of this were evident to the board, a board direction was given to outsource any such productions in the future to avoid financial risk.”
Cooper has been invited to speak with council at their April 18 meeting about what can be done to keep the Sicamous operating. Kimberley sees two options, the first being to dissolve the society. The other option is to keep the boat closed to walk-on traffic through 2011, but hire an event planner/manager who would be paid by commission to book events on the boat.
“The clear problem with the musical was that we were putting the society’s money at risk,” said Kimberley.
With a union in place, though, keeping the boat open to tourists all day would not be feasible.
“It would only be open for events,” said Kimberley. “We can’t afford to hire three or four people to work the hours the boat needs to be open.”