“One of the things that has been asked before is what the golf course is doing to help themselves, instead of just going to the city and continuing to ask for money each year — to see that they’re actually doing some of the work,” Mayor Scott Mangold said.
Following a dreary season that dampened its revenues, the Powell Golf Club is facing a projected shortfall of $55,000 this year, according to Greg Toland, golf board president. To get in a better cash flow situation, Toland said the golf board wants to break the cycle of borrowing money from the next year’s budget. Last month, the club asked the city for $55,000 in additional funds.
Money raised through fundraising will go toward this year’s shortfall. Councilmen stipulated that 25 percent of the total amount raised must be used on the club’s outstanding debt of roughly $250,000.
The city owns the 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and some other buildings, but the independent golf board manages the facility.
The council reviewed the golf course’s proposed 2012 operating budget of $410,000. Next year’s budget is lower than the current one and has been trimmed down to the bare essentials, Toland said.
However, facing stagnant cash flow and haunting debt, councilmen and Toland questioned the golf course’s future.
“We don’t have much to cut ... we’re not out there just taking money and throwing it away,” Toland told the council. “I guess you have to decide, do you want a golf course? Because I’m not sure how we’re going to run it.”
“I know we want a golf course ... but we want one we can all afford,” Councilman Don Hillman responded.
Toland noted that other Wyoming cities fund golf courses to a much higher degree, citing Worland’s $225,000 contribution. In response, Hillman said others, such as Cody, have reduced golf course funding.
Thermopolis and others are in Powell’s position, wondering how to fund their golf courses, Mangold added later.
The mayor questioned whether the city should begin operating the golf course.
If the city provides the full $50,000 match, it will bring this fiscal year’s total contribution to $112,250; the council approved $62,250 for the golf course in the budget, which took effect July 1. (That includes $2,250 toward the irrigation tax.)
Councilman Jim Hillberry, who voted against both motions Monday night, said he was unsure about the city’s annual support, questioning the request for $70,000 from next year’s budget.
“There’s a point of no return. At some time, you’re going to have to accept that point and say, ‘It’s over, guys,’” said Hillberry.
He compared the situation to farmers who have to give up their operations.
“I think this entity is right close to that situation, because I can’t see it being carried on for a number of years, because this council and the city is not going to have the funds to keep paying for ‘a dead horse.’”
“I disagree,” Councilman John Wetzel responded.
During Monday’s meeting, Wetzel said the proposed funding plan aimed at solving financial problems over the long haul.
“It’s going to require the 10 people on the board to raise money, it’s going to require the community to dig into their pockets, it’s going to require the city to come and help solve the problem — it’s a community-wide solution,” Wetzel said.
He noted the city’s annual support of the Powell Aquatic Center, parks and baseball fields.
Wetzel called the golf course “an important part of your community. Whether you utilize it or not, it’s part of economic development.”
Proposed $70,000 for next year defeated
Last month, Mayor Mangold tasked a special committee with looking at the golf course’s $55,000 additional funding request. The committee included: Councilman Wetzel, council liaison on the golf board; Councilmen Don Hillman and Myron Heny; city staff leaders Zane Logan and Gary Butts; and golf club leaders Toland and Gary Shampeny.
In addition to this year’s shortfall, the committee also addressed what the course will need next year. The estimation of $70,000 was meant to help with the budget planning process, Wetzel said.
Wetzel made a motion to provide $70,000 out of next year’s budget in addition to matching funds of up to $50,000.
With a 4-3 vote, the council defeated it. Councilmen Floyd Young, Wetzel and Myron Heny voted in favor, while Hillman, Hillberry and Eric Paul voted against it. Mangold’s nay vote broke the 3-3 tie.
Without knowing what the Legislature will provide for cities or the condition of the economy, Mangold said he couldn’t support a commitment of $70,000 from next year’s budget at this time.
“I don’t want to go on record as saying we’ve already promised them $70,000 when all of the sudden we have some emergencies coming out of our general fund. I can’t do that,” Mangold said.
He asked Wetzel to reword his motion to only include matching funds “so that we know, the citizens of Powell know that the golf course is actually going out and doing some work and trying to raise funds on their own.”
Wetzel made a new motion to only provide the matching funds up to $50,000. Mayor Mangold and Councilman Paul changed their votes to support the new motion, and it passed 5-2. Councilmen Hillberry and Hillman voted against it.
While it was originally Hillman’s idea for the city to match raised funds, he wanted 100 percent of the city’s match to go toward debt reduction, he said. Without that stipulation, he couldn’t support the motion, Hillman said Tuesday.
No one on the council asked Monday night where the matching money will come from out of the city budget. In an email to the Tribune on Tuesday, Mayor Mangold said the money will be taken out of the city’s general fund, but didn’t specify how it will impact this year’s overall budget.
Tension over golf course rates
During Monday’s meeting, councilmen and a local resident also voiced continuing concerns over the Powell Golf Club’s rates.
“Some of the comments I’ve been getting are, we’re paying the golf course to be a country club, where the prices have made it somewhat exclusive for the common people to go golfing, or they’re going over to Lovell now,” Mangold said. He added that he realizes the golf club faces a big hole dug by past leaders.
Toland said the golf club wants to break that stereotype of a country club, but faces budget issues that have made higher rates necessary.
“There’s not one person on our board who wouldn’t love for that thing to be cheaper,” Toland said.
Several years ago, the golf board approved new membership rates that at the time tripled previous rates. Golf leaders have found fewer people paying more results in better profits than more people paying less.
Toland said the golf course would be willing to reduce its rates. He asked the council to name a lower rate, but also asked whether the city would be willing to cover losses the golf course could incur with reduced rates.
In addition to membership promotions, the golf club offers a Monday rate of $35 for the full 18 holes, driving range and a cart. Daily rates are never higher than the weekend peak of $59, Toland said. Through a promotion, annual family memberships are $950 with a cart and driving range, he said.
On Monday, Gerry Barton of Powell told the council he loves to play golf, but hasn’t played since moving to Powell because it’s too expensive.
Barton said he was told the daily rate was around $70 a day, but Toland said that was incorrect.
“I got some bad information, and I would have probably went a few times had I known that,” Barton said.
He said golf should be affordable for senior citizens and low-income residents rather than just upper class residents like doctors and lawyers.
Councilman Heny said in response that he, too, is a retired and on Social Security. But low-income residents find ways to pay for various forms of recreation.
“If you’re interested in something, you find a way to pay for it,” Heny said. He added that he pays $108 per month toward a senior membership at the Powell Golf Course.
Barton also cited last spring’s city survey that showed most respondents did not see the golf course as a top priority for special funding.
“Now, all of a sudden, give them some more money. I don’t understand that,” Barton said.
Barton said when councilmen support more funding for the golf course, it’s like a personal agenda rather than following what taxpayers said they wanted in the city survey.
“I don’t believe that’s fair at all. And I believe in golf courses, I love golf, but I’ll tell you what, if it’s not feasible, why do it?” he asked.
Fundraising to begin
While several ideas have been discussed to raise money for the golf course, Toland said Wednesday the board hasn’t had a chance to finalize a plan yet.
Toland said board members will explore different avenues to begin fundraising. The club has until June 30, 2012 — the end of the city’s fiscal year — to raise the money.
“I think it’s going to be hard to raise that money, but I hope I’m wrong,” Toland said.