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Lake Country organization at risk of folding

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In Ramara
Feb 18th, 2011
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In preliminary budget, Ramara Township declines to pay into tourism marketing group
By JENNIFER BURDEN The Packet & Times February 17 2011
Ontario’s Lake Country is one township away from being crippled.
The destination marketing organization (DMO) representing Orillia, Rama, and the townships of Oro-Medonte, Ramara and Severn needs financial support from all five municipalities if it is going to survive.
“If one refuses, then it’s all or nothing,” Frank Coyle, chairperson of Ontario’s Lake Country’s board of directors, said.
Ramara Township has already decided not to support Ontario’s Lake Country with the requested $15,000 in its 2011 budget.
“Right now, the council has voted against supporting it. It was a split vote,” Ramara Coun. John O’Donnell said. “I am hoping that some of council will change their mind and support it.”
That decision was made during a pre-budget meeting and is therefore not final. O’Donnell said the final budget vote will take place some time in early April.
Casino Rama, which traditionally contributes $37,500 to Ontario’s Lake Country, has a provision that it will only contribute its share of funding if all other municipalities continue to put in $15,000 shares. If one municipality drops out, the casino will pull its funding.
“That provision has been in place since we joined in 2006. It’s not something new and we have always said it’s an all-for-one scenario,” Jenna Hunter, media relations manager for Casino Rama, said.
In the coming month, the remaining municipalities and Rama First Nation will discuss the pros and cons of lending financial support to the organization during budget discussions. The area mayors, who meets regularly to discuss cross-municipal issues, will then decide whether they will lend their collective support to the organization.
“If one of the townships didn’t feel they were getting value for their money and they were going to opt out, it would spoil it for everybody else,” Severn Mayor Mike Burkett said.
Rama First Nation Chief Sharon Stinson Henry has already pledged Rama’s commitment, but only if all municipalities are on board.
“What the casino injects in terms of funding and support comes out of Rama First Nations coffers, so to speak, as well. In our view, we’re contributing over and above what the other municipalities have to,” Stinson Henry said. “As long as the city and townships support it, we are prepared to support it this year as well.”
New this year is the formation of the Region 7 Regional Tourism Organization (RT07,) representing Simcoe, Bruce and Grey counties. It has received $2.3 million in provincial investment from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
Mark Downing, owner of Fern Resort and member of the RT07 transition team, said if our area wants to see any of that money, it is “imperative” that Ontario’s Lake Country stay intact.
“If Ontario’s Lake Country is not there, it’s going to be extremely difficult for any of that $2.3 million to leverage any of our tourism product,” Downing said.
He added that individual tourism operators, like Fern Resort, do not have the infrastructure and resources to be at the RT07 table and vice-versa — the RT07 doesn’t have the capability to approach each tourism operator individually.
“The (destination marketing organizations) are the channel to that communication,” Downing said. “It’s the middle man that has to be there so that they can then disseminate that information out to their (membership.)”
Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes said knowing that Ramara isn’t planning to support Ontario’s Lake Country certainly has its implications and suggests there isn’t the required collective support.
“I think it’s pretty clear you would have to have all the municipalities involved in this to be able to have the funding there necessary to promote the region. Without all the dollars there, it wouldn’t be significant enough,” Hughes said.
But his council will make its decision based on its own township, despite what Ramara has decided.
“Oro-Medonte will want to look at it from the basis of their own position,” Hughes said.
For example, in Oro-Medonte, only 16 businesses are signed up as members of Ontario’s Lake Country compared to the more than 250 businesses registered with the chamber of commerce. If businesses believe they are getting value for their money, more might become members, he added.
“That’s a bit of a measurement we have to think about. We have to also realize there is value in working together and trying to promote the region,” Hughes said.
Orillia Mayor Angelo Orsi said everybody is entitled to make their own decision and councils have to respect each other. But Ramara’s decision is not yet final and there is more discussion to have, he added.
“Once we’re done deliberating, we’ll see whether or not there will be any reconsideration,” Orsi said.
Orillia’s decision to support Ontario’s Lake Country is still “to be deliberated” and the situation is “under review.”
“We can’t stress enough how important partnerships are and how we all (need to) work together… Things are changing and we have to be cognizant of what’s going on around us,” Orsi said.
For now, Coyle said the situation is a “sit-and-wait” scenario.
Ramara Mayor Bill Duffy could not be reached for comment this week.

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