By Chad Ingram
There will be a 25 per cent discount for entry to the Dorset tower property this summer, with the tower itself remaining closed to the public amid the continuing COVID-19 crisis.
During a March 4 meeting, councillors had discussed how big a discount should be given for entry to the property, given that its main attraction will remain closed for the season. Parks, rec and trails director Chris Card has indicated the social distancing and sanitization requirements that must be adhered to during the COVID-19 pandemic would too difficult to maintain on the tower structure itself.
It was decided the township’s emergency operations centre, tasked with making operational decisions for the township amid the pandemic, that a 25 per cent discount should be instituted, During the March 4 meeting, some councillors had suggested that discount should be as high as 50 per cent, given the tower itself would be closed.
Expenses for the property’s operation will remain the same, with the same staffing contingent hired for the season, and paid-duty police officers and a security firm hired to control traffic along Highway 35 during the peak of fall foliage, which attracts thousands upon thousands of people to the area.
“It was felt that the full financial picture should be seen by council,” Card said during an April 1 Algonquin Highlands council meeting, reiterating that operating costs at the tower property would remain the same.
A report from Card showed those costs are approximately $270,000, with most of that expense typically offset by tower revenues, including season passes and vehicles passes to the site. The report indicated a 25 per cent reduction in admission fees would result in a deficit of more than $50,000, and that a 50 per cent reduction would result in a deficit of nearly $90,000.
Any operating surplus that might be accrued during the year is traditionally put toward projects at the property.
“Seeing the amounts of money … I’m maybe wondering about somewhere in between,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, suggesting perhaps a 35 per cent discount be considered.
The majority of council was fine with sticking with a discount of 25 per cent.
“There’s still lots to do at the tower, just because you can’t go up the tower,” said Councillor Julia Shortreed, referring to the park property the tower is located on, and its Peek-A-Boo Rock lookout over Lake of Bays.
“Ultimately, we’re talking about a buck or two for most people,” said Councillor Jennifer Dailloux, supporting the recommendation for 25 per cent.
“The onus to make it appealing to visitors falls to Algonquin Highlands taxpayers, and I’m not sure that’s fair,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt, who’d supported a discount of 25 per cent throughout discussions.
The tower property is scheduled to open May 17.