March 16, 2012

Plan would raise green fees on city golf courses $1 a year

A dollar-a-year increase in greens fees over four years is the centerpiece of a revised plan to financially stabilize the city’s five municipal golf courses.

A dollar-a-year increase in greens fees over four years is the centerpiece of a revised plan to financially stabilize the city’s five municipal golf courses.

The city park board plan will go before the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.

It seeks to increase greens fees a dollar across the board in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, essential moves to pay down debt and make the city’s courses financially stable in an era of declining use, City Manager Robert Layton said.

“The pro-forma (financial projections for the golf courses) doesn’t work without it,” Layton said.

Layton said the debt service fund has been used to make up almost $4 million in shortfalls in course earnings. With a rate increase, “we’ll be in a better position to improve the courses and pay off their debt,” the city manager said.

Each yearly dollar increase is expected to generate an additional $135,000 for the golf fund, according to city documents. Coupled with projected 2 percent annual increases in rounds played — the anticipated result of a new golf marketing plan launched by the city — the fund should be able to cover $1.3 million in existing debt payments through 2015 and reduce debt by $2 million through 2020.

The park board also recommends forming an eight-person advisory committee charged with studying privatization of the five golf courses. However, the board recommends keeping the golf courses under city control.

Layton, along with council members Jeff Longwell and Janet Miller, say the city remains open to privatizing the golf courses, but any decision will await the advisory committee’s study.

There’s disagreement over how far city staff has progressed in exploring golf course privatization.

Rod Nuckolls, a local golf professional who operates Willowbend Golf Course, told The Eagle last week that he was invited last fall to submit a proposal to operate the courses. Nuckolls said he’s “extremely interested in being involved” if the city opts to privatize five courses “with potential.”

“The exact potential is yet to be determined until they get into the process,” he said. “We don’t have access to all the information.”

Layton said no formal proposals have been sought, but Nuckolls did submit a “broad brush” informational package for research purposes last fall at the request of city parks officials, who wanted to study potential private operations models for the golf courses. Other managers contacted for information include Kemper Sports, which manages Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton.

“That was a while ago, last year,” Layton said. “It was clearly stated at the time those were not competitive proposals. There’s nothing on the street on this right now.”

The park board recommendations come nine months after the city’s budget deliberations identified financial problems in the golf fund, sparking a series of public meetings last fall and a two-hour debate at the Feb. 14 council meeting that ended with no resolution.

Former council member Greg Ferris’ objections to the rate increase during that meeting — over Layton’s deficit concerns for the golf fund — led council members to ask for another park board review.

Ferris said Friday that he hadn’t had time to review the park board’s latest proposal.

“I guess I’ll be saving some money then because I won’t be playing as much golf,” he said.

The city’s golf program has been unable to meet its debt obligations since 2004, which led Layton to propose closing a course. The courses have been profitable, making $180,000 in 2010, but haven’t made enough to pay the debt obligations, which center on a $3 million balance from a golf revenue bond to build the city’s newest course, Auburn Hills, in 2001.

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