VERNON - Cut funding could mean the loss of 146 years of Okanagan history, Vernon's O'Keefe Ranch manager says.
In response to Vernon city council's decision to gradually reduce funding from $150,000 in 2016 to $50,000 by 2018, general manager Glen Taylor sent out a release asking the public to "stand up and say no."
Council's decision came after a core services review which identified areas where the city was spending more money compared to other similarly sized municipalities. O'Keefe Ranch stood out.
"It's unusual for a city to be tasked with maintaining a historic site," Coun. Mary-Jo O'Keefe says.
The ranch was donated to the city years ago, and has been receiving around $150,000 a year to support operational costs. Taylor says $129,000 alone is required for things like taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance.
"If we closed down, the city — as the property owners — would have to pay that regardless," Taylor says.
Since the city announced its cutbacks, Taylor says other funding sources have dried up as well. The Heritage Legacy Fund is refusing to support building restoration unless the owners show ongoing financial commitment to the site.
"We're in a hard place," Taylor says. "Should we reduce services and staffing? We've already done that for a number of years to the point we're running on a skeleton crew."
"Worst case scenario, we have to close our doors. I'll do everything I can to avoid that."
The city wants the ranch to look at ways to become financially self-sufficient, but Taylor says it's easier said than done. While certain events — like summer camps and corn mazes — might be lucrative, they might not gel with donors' visions for the ranch.
"We could lose funds from the council for the arts if they're afraid we're turning (the site) into an amusement park and losing the integrity of the ranch," Taylor says.
Over the past 25 years, Taylor says 75,000 students and over 625,000 guests have visited the ranch. And when tourists aren't touring the grounds, they're eating in Vernon restaurants, shopping downtown or staying in local hotels.
"Over the last few years, Greater Vernon has lost tour buses to the region. We need to collectively get together and show what we can offer," Taylor says. "We can't afford to lose O'Keefe Ranch."
Coun. O'Keefe sympathizes with the ranch, and hopes a solution can be reached where municipalities, the province and the federal government come together to support the site.
"They (at O'Keefe Ranch) couldn't work harder. They shouldn't be punished. No one wants to see it go to wreck and ruin... But should Vernon taxpayers be the only ones paying for it? It's a hard situation."
Taylor is urging the public to call their local politicians and ask them to reconsider their decision. He also invites people to become Friends of O'Keefe by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the report for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250) 309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
This story was corrected at 8 a.m. Sept. 5 to say that funding is being reduced to $50,000 in 2018, rather than $10,000 in 2016 as previously reported.