Mayor Scott Mangold and councilmen Jim Hillberry and Don Hillman voted against the extension during the Aug. 20 meeting.
With the golf club’s management agreement in limbo, Powell Golf Club leaders said it’s been difficult to sell memberships or raise funds from the community — something city councilmen asked golfers to do.
The extension provides stability for donors who made a commitment for three years, said Councilman John Wetzel.
“If you’re the one writing the check … you’d like to see a little bit of commitment from the city to say, ‘We’re going to let this thing keep going,’” Wetzel said.
The city has approved three-year agreements in the past. Councilmen decided last week to do an annual review to look at fees, debt and other issues. The review will take place each October, beginning this year.
Councilman Hillberry said he favored a one-year agreement to see if the club could increase its marketing and memberships and to see if “the attitude in the community has improved.”
Councilman Myron Heny noted that the agreement is for management of the course and doesn’t make any funding promises.
“We’ll give them what our budget allows for,” Heny said.
Concerned with a downward trend in the city’s general fund reserves, councilmen have grappled with how much money to give the golf course. They also would like to see more Powell residents using the facility, and they worry about public perception.
“The perception in the community is that we are subsidizing the golf course, and that’s why people are talking about rates. I don’t want to micromanage you. I don’t want to tell you who to hire and what your rates need to be,” Councilman Eric Paul said. But in discussions with residents, “they feel we’re spending public money to subsidize the golf course that, in exchange, is keeping the rate too high for a large number of people. I think that’s the origin of this discussion.”
Councilmen have asked for lower rates and an a la carte structure, where golfers could choose between the driving range, a golf cart and greens fees. Currently, the three are lumped together in a daily fee for 18 holes — $35 on Mondays, $49 on Tuesdays-Fridays and $59 on weekends and holidays. Earlier this summer, the golf board set a new rate for Powell golfers who just want to walk. By showing a Powell identification, they can play on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays at $25 for nine holes and $35 for 18 holes.
“We would love to lower the prices. The problem is, if you want us to pay for the golf course, that’s where the issue comes in,” said Greg Toland, golf board president.
Toland said memberships and revenue from greens fees are up 12 percent this year.
“It’s not that we haven’t been making money,” he added. “The problem is that we’ve been carrying losses for years.”
Ongoing debt has forced the golf club to borrow from the next year’s membership sales to get through a season. For the first time in years, the golf club won’t have to do that this season, Toland said.
Along with city matching funds, donations helped pay down around $57,000 of the golf course’s debt this year. About $200,000 of debt remains.
If the club lowers rates and loses revenue, Toland asked if the city would then make up the difference.
“One of the biggest complaints I get from people is that they can’t afford to play out there, so maybe that’s not a bad idea,” Councilman Hillman said, suggesting that could take the place of the city’s annual contributions.
“I just think that’s a heck of a big ‘if,’” Heny said later. “That scares me.”
Wetzel said if you look at the financial history of the club, lower rates have hurt the course.
Jerry Herweyer, a golf board member, told the council, “in an effort not to upset you, but if you take the aquatic center, and the loss you have there, with the same logic, you ought to lower the rates to increase your revenue.”
Stuart Schwab, a Powell resident, said he believes lower rates would help. He said many Powell golfers go to Lovell, because it’s cheaper.
“I can’t afford a membership — it’s very expensive to golf in Powell,” said Schwab. “I hear what you’re saying, but I think entertaining that idea of lowering some prices so people can afford to golf on weekends or nights — I think you shouldn’t overlook that opportunity.”
Schwab is Councilman Hillman’s son-in-law.
Ed Wenzel of Powell suggested lowering the rates for one Saturday or Sunday a month.
Jan Bailey said Powell’s golf rates are actually lower than a lot of places in the state.
“We’re not the most expensive around,” said Bailey, who lives in Powell.
Toland said the club continues to look for ways to trim its $415,944 operating budget and relies heavily on outside donations of time, money and supplies — including an all-volunteer board. The city’s funding makes up about 15 percent of the golf course’s overall budget.
The golf course’s operating budget is lower than most in the region, including some nine-hole courses, he said.
Mangold called it “a beautiful golf course.”
“We’re trying to do our best to help you guys,” he said. “That’s why we talked about the rates and what we can maybe do differently and increasing the marketing.
“But if things don’t change, as far as our general fund is concerned, there’s not going to be any money. It’s going to be gone. And that’s why we’re concerned up here about what’s going to happen with the golf course, and how we can get more people involved,” Mangold said.
“For a town our size, we’re very fortunate to have (a golf course), but it could be coming to a head next year,” the mayor said. “We may be running into some problems, and there may not be any more money whatsoever.”
He said he realizes some towns give more money to their golf courses, but “a lot of those towns have some supplemental income that we don’t have here.”