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Golf no longer scores as big issue
Debate swings from cantankerous to almost non-existent
CVB GOLF3-4-19-10
The view from the clubhouse’s second floor balcony overlooking the Manteca Golf Course - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
Golf might be a gentleman’s game but its accompanying politics in Manteca historically have been more cut-throat than orderly.

The political infighting that dominated at least four council election cycles reached a crescendo after the two-story clubhouse was built 21 years ago at a cost of $2.2 million. That coupled with bad blood lingering from the bruising recall of three council members in 1982 set off a political firestorm that raged uncheck for at least eight years.

During that time period:

•Golf pro Alan Thomas came under repeated attack for allegedly sheltering what critics claimed was hundreds of thousands of dollars from his mail order business operated out of the golf pro shop from being included in  the calculation of rent owed to the city. The same critics believed Thomas had a “sweetheart of a deal” with his contract. When city reports stated neither was true, critics contended it was only because the outcome was tainted by the then council majority’s views on the golf course.

•The clubhouse was routinely assailed as a Taj Mahal with some saying it elevated the municipal golf course to country club status but without the restrictions while others called it a colossus waste of money.

•Previous councils, out of fear of being ripped into by course backers at election time, avoided green fee hikes even when Thomas himself said they were necessary to provide the city with adequate money to maintain and protect the municipal investment.

•A blue ribbon committee appointed by the council delved into the golf pro contract and city financials and met 10 times requiring the expenditure of $15,000 in staff time and resources reaching three clear - but non-unanimous conclusions: the golf pro’s contract was fair, the men’s bathroom at time looked like a pig’s pen and should be better monitored, and the restrooms out of the course were not handicap accessible.

•The 1986 council’s dream of having a clubhouse with a high profile restaurant was criticized out of the gate by opponents who brought in a commercial real estate broker who said it would never work as it couldn’t snag necessary high volume business due to its location and parking.

•The initial city effort to secure a restaurant contractor ended with that individual pocketing money from the city issued checks for various pieces of restaurant equipment which led to criminal charge s and a successful prosecution.

•The second restaurant contractor left the city saddled with close to $30,000 in unpaid bills before walking away. It wasn’t until Frank Guinta took over the food services both in the snack bar and on the second floor that has a full-service bar that the city had a reliable partner plus one that was able to provide food and service that attracts patrons despite the golf course being off the beaten path in terms of accessibility and traffic.

•Spirited debates erupted over the years about whether it was better to privatize the golf course, sell it out right, have the city take over all operations or keep on its current course.

Today the golf course barely shows up on the political radar screen with a municipal election just 86 days away.

Last week, the city inked a contract with Thomas that will keep him in place through at least Dec. 31, 2017. He’s been Manteca’s contracted golf pro since 1976. The new contract reduces basic rent but gives Manteca cut of golf cart fees and driving range fees on top of their 90 percent cut of green fees. As a result, as play increases municipal revenue will grow.

There are still areas
of disagreement
The general animosity over the course started fading away as the final payoff neared on the 1994 capital lease with Maryland National Trust. The final $225,000 payment on the $2.2 million obligation was made last month.

The final payment on the 1978 project that cost $800,000 to add the second nine holes, built the tennis courts and expand the parking lot will be made in 2013. That yearly debt payment is $52,000 with 20 percent of that amount being paid by the parks fee account

The two debt payments once represented 22 percent of the golf course’s annual budget that is set up as an enterprise fund where users through the payment of green fees plus lease payments from the golf pro and food cession contracts fund the operation.

There are still several areas of contention but the debate has been anything but vocal.

•There is some disagreement over the fairness and accuracy of the city’s blanket general administration and overhead charges that were suspended in the 2007-08 fiscal year. So-called cost recovery charges put in place by former City Manager Bob Adams at one time were charged as a blanket 20 percent to enterprise funds such as the golf course, garbage, sewer and water service.

•A $155,000 contribution from the general fund equal to the recreation benefits the golf course provides to Manteca citizens is made each year. Backers of the contribution notes all other recreation is subsidized to a degree by the general fund plus the amount is based on receipts lost to the golf course through reduced green fees for senior citizen and youth play.

•Outstanding annual loans from the general fund over the years needed to balance the golf fund account averaged $140,000 in years they were made. The total due the general fund as of June 30, 2009 is $1.3 million. There has been no indication of how the city expects the golf course to repay the general fund that is under stress due to drops in property and sales tax. The general fund underwrites public safety among other services such as parks and streets.

The City Council late last year hired Economic Research Associates to evaluate golf course operations.

Independent report
on golf course
The Manteca course – while losing play like other courses in the Northern San Joaquin Valley – has been tops among rounds played for three straight years among 14 golf courses.

Manteca’s elected leaders wanted to arm themselves with “independent” assessments so could decided what to do with Thomas’ contract that originally expired in 2012 so they could decide what the best direction was for the city to take.

The council used that report that was presented to them in February as the basis for negotiations that led up to the new contract issued last week.

The ERA report notes that “privatization of the golf course, maintenance function often results in cost savings. However, in the case of Manteca Park, given the recent salary concessions by city employees, and the value of capital improvement work performed by the city maintenance staff, potential savings from privation is reduced substantially.”

ERA consultant Gene Krekorian concluded that the city’s contract with Thomas and the revenues received by both parties based on the existing contract “are well in line” with other agreements between cities among those operating municipal golf courses.

Other highlights of the golf course report:

•More rounds were played at Manteca in each of the last three years than another course in a 25-mile` radius. Manteca had 68,000 rounds last year or 8,000 more than the closest of the 11 golf courses that the study compare.

•The course provides a quality golf experience at a very affordable price.

•The complex has benefitted from a continuous capital improvement program and construction of a new clubhouse in 1989. As a result, anticipated capital improvements over the foreseeable future are modest and manageable.

•Cart, range, merchandise, as well as food and beverage revenues – given the play levels and positioning of the course based on rates– are at or are well above average.

•The annual maintenance budget including clubhouse repairs and supplies for the 2008-09 fiscal year was $962,500 or almost $100,000 below the approved budget.

•The course had a net operating cash flow of $294,900 before a $155,000 Parks and Recreation subsidy from the general fund is factored into the equation.

•The number of courses within a 25-mile radius has gone from five in 1990 to 14 today.

•Play at Manteca has fallen only 10 percent compared to the average of 20 percent at other golf courses due to its rate pricing structure.

•Short- and mid-range capital improvements that are needed are expected to cost $545,000 in 2009 dollars. They cover improvements to cart paths, the lakes, parking, driving range, on-course restrooms, clubhouse improvements, irrigation system course features, and course improvements along Crom Street.

•It would be prudent to build in a $50,000 to $75,000 capital improvement reserve today for the improvements.

The elimination of debt in 2013 means the golf course won’t be operating at a loss if revenues and expenses remain unchanged from last year’s levels.

That is being factored into a number of difference scenarios involving possible adjustments to rates.