Conner’s email, sent to local golf club members, starts off by congratulating winners of a recent golf tournament. He then switches to addressing the city’s funding for the golf course.
“As most of you know the city has lowered the amount of funding it will give to the golf course beginning July 1,” Conner wrote. “Their fiscal year starts then and they have decided that we only need $25,000 to operate with, I guess any more than that would cut into the pool’s 3/4 of a million yearly allotment.”
After reading the email in its entirety to councilmen Monday, Hillman asked: “What do the rest of you dumb politicians think about that?”
In his email, Conner also directed golfers to vote on the Tribune’s online poll, which asked: “How should the Powell golf course make ends meet?”
“Please take a minute to vote for the city to continue funding for the golf course that they own,” Conner wrote.
Respondents to the online poll gamed the system this week. Typically, a Tribune online poll draws less than 200 respondents. By Tuesday, responses climbed into the thousands. At press time Wednesday, the poll had 26,798 responses, with the vast majority favoring “More city money.”
In the 2012-13 budget approved Monday night, the Powell City Council committed to providing up to $50,000 toward the golf course. Of that, $25,000 is unencumbered money toward operations and up to $25,000 is matching funds that must go toward paying off the golf course’s debt.
The city owns the 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and some other buildings, but an independent golf board manages the facility’s operations and budget.
“I think we’ve worked hard, to try to fund the golf club, and when something like this comes out — pardon my French, but well, I’m not going to ...” Hillman said, clearly upset as he cut his comment short.
“It’s like cutting off your kid’s allowance and he comes back and bad mouths you — you might cut him off a bit more after he does that,” Mayor Scott Mangold said later.
Hillman suggested surveying the community again, this time asking, “Do we need a new manager at the Powell Golf Club?”
Conner said Wednesday he stood behind the email that was meant to congratulate winners from the weekend tournament and let golfers know about funding cuts.
“I don’t have any regrets,” he said.
Councilman John Wetzel, who serves as a liaison to the Powell Golf Club Board, reminded the council Monday night that the email was sent by one person, not the entire board.
“I’m not defending the statement, but when you use the term ‘they’ — I can guarantee you that’s not a board-approved communication, but that’s a single individual who sent out an email to the members, probably not appropriate, obviously,” Wetzel said. “He is a paid employee of the course, and he is not one of the administrative bodies of the course.”
The board reiterated Wetzel’s comments in a statement Wednesday while also echoing Conner’s frustration with the city’s funding decrease.
“We, the golfers, are frustrated with the funding cuts,” wrote Susan VandenBoom, the board’s secretary, in a statement for the board. “The progress that we have made on our debt in the last year was extremely promising, and we had hoped to be able to work in conjunction with the city in the upcoming year to continue that progress through the normal stipend from the city and the support of the matching funds program.
“Obviously, budget cuts across the board have made the upcoming fiscal year a challenge for a number on entities, and we just hope to be able to maintain some of the momentum that we gained with the support of our members, local businesses, individuals and the city of Powell.”
During the 2011-12 fiscal year that ends June 30, the Powell City Council awarded the golf course up to $50,000 in matching funds toward the debt. That money was in addition to $62,250 approved earlier in the year, bringing the total funding for the year to $112,250.
Mayor Mangold clarified Monday that the email misrepresented the amount given to the Powell Aquatic Center.
“In fairness, the three quarters of a million dollars — we don’t spend that much money on our aquatic center,” Mangold said.
City Administrator Zane Logan added that the aquatic budget is around $680,000 for the fiscal year 2012-13, but added that there’s also revenue to account for, not just expenses.
“There’s two sides of the equal sign when it comes to budgets. It sounds like that’s only speaking to what the appropriation is, not to the revenue,” Logan said. “There’s no argument that the pool costs money, but there is a revenue side to that.”
The aquatic center’s revenue is estimated at $330,000 for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. The pool’s budget deficit is expected to be around $350,000, Logan wrote in his annual budget message.
Councilman Jim Hillberry said the email alludes to the “Powell Golf Club” — a private course. When Conner congratulated golf winners earlier in the email, he referred to “PGC men” and “PGC lady golfers.”
“I think that first paragraph, that first sentence, says it all and what we have been talking about for the last two or three years. That it’s talking about PGC, which to me, I believe is Powell Golf Club,” Hillberry said.
“We are not an exclusive club, though some community people try to convey that stigma,” the golf board wrote in a statement. “We don’t turn people away ... we are not ‘upper class.’ We’re the small engine repair guy, the advertising salesman, the small business owner, the fixed income retired grocer, the teachers, etc.
“We want the community to experience what the game of golf can give them and their families. Golf isn’t a game for the ‘rich’ like it used to be.”
Board members also said out-of-town golfers praised the Powell Golf Course at last weekend’s Wyoming State Golf Association State Stableford Tournament, which drew the largest participation since the tournament’s inception.
“We had golfers from Gillette, Wheatland and Casper who had never played this course before and appropriately called it the ‘secret golf course in the state.’ They never knew this ‘jewel’ existed,” board members wrote. “We have a great product that was truly showcased this past weekend.”
Councilman Hillman said some people in the community have indicated that golf is more important that other recreation.
“I’ve heard stories that we should quit mowing Little League baseball fields, we should quit mowing Babe Ruth baseball fields, we should quit mowing American Legion baseball fields, we shouldn’t take care of soccer fields, so we can give the golf course more money.”
Mayor Mangold said that he talked with other city leaders at the recent Wyoming Association of Municipalities meeting, and other cities also are cutting funding for their golf courses.
“These are entities that have a fifth-penny tax, where they do have some luxury to offer a little bit more to their golf course. If you look at the city of Cody, they couldn’t afford to give them as much as they did last year, and they cut back on it again,” Mangold said. “Maybe it is a luxury at this time.”