O'Keefe Ranch still on hook for debt to City of Vernon as council OK's increased funding

O'Keefe must pay debt

O’Keefe Historic Ranch may be in the red and in need of repairs – but it will still have to repay its debt to the City of Vernon.

The ranch's request for loan forgiveness stirred much debate around the council table on Monday.

The O’Keefe Ranch & Interior Historical Society sought to have its debts written off, including a $70,000 loan from the city and $112,000 in insurance bills the city fronted.

After much conversation, councillors agreed to not write off the debt.

The ranch won't have to pay the $182,653 by the looming due date of March 31, but the amount will remain on the city's books. A new repayment schedule has yet to be determined.

The insurance portion of the debt repayment has already been pushed back from Dec. 31.

Coun. Kari Gares agreed with the ranch's request to have the debt forgiven, saying at the end of the day the buildings are city responsibility.

Councillors lamented the ranch's perennial financial struggles and annual requests for money. The city owns a large portion of the assets on the ranch.

But, they agreed it is an important historical attraction and that the ranch is a hub for events.

Coun. Kelly Fehr noted the ranch is not a recognized heritage site.

Coun. Akbal Mund said he’s frustrated that council keeps giving money, yet the funding "clearly isn’t working."

He reminded council that the money comes from taxpayers.

Councillors agreed with Mund’s frustrations and agreed that they need to come up with a business plan for the ranch going forward.

Council asked staff to conduct building condition assessments to look at the "viability" of continuing to support the ranch.

The ranch had said several of its buildings need "urgent" repairs, with the cost being unknown.

Council agreed to continue to fund the ranch for 2023 to the tune of $50,000, and to fund the ranch's request for an additional $100,000.

The funding will be coming out of the city's 2022 surplus.

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