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3 different perspectives on golf finances
golf course
Mantecas golf course will be without a golf pro on Aug. 1 unless the Manteca City Council makes a decision on who to award a contract to on Tuesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The 2022 Manteca mayoral race teed off Tuesday night.

The discussion on the municipal golf course — its future and financial considerations — gave a clear insight of where the four most likely contenders are coming from.

There was Mayor Ben Cantu — who at one point astonishingly kept insisting  the golf course’s financial woes over much of the past three decades was the result of golfers subsidizing other city functions — hammering home his point staff was under estimating future expenses and failing to raise adequate revenue.

There was Councilman Dave Breitenbucher who dismissed the lengthy discussion that surpassed an hour in length “as a waste of time.” His bottom line argument is staff knows what they are doing and council members do not have an expertise grasp on the nuances of running a golf course so therefore council should essentially stop meddling with details and get out of the staff’s way.

Council members Charlie Halford and Gary Singh were seemingly channeling the X-Files “the truth is out there” mantra. They weighed the report and data staff and consultants prepared and pushed successfully to adopt some recommendations on green fees and direct staff to tweak the suggested monthly pass hikes and return with options.

The discussion took off when Cantu did the math on a proposed annual $150,000 capital improvement project reserve set aside and compared it to a list of identified $3.7 million in projects needed at the golf course over the next 20 years to keep it playable.

The rate of $150,000 over 20 years would generate $3 million or $700,000 less than what the city anticipates it will need to spend in the next two decades.

Cantu then doubled down arguing the identified needs would likely cost more than $3.7 million.

The mayor then pointed out the rate increases as proposed would keep the city’s green fees “way below” what nearby municipal golf courses charged for monthly passes.

As for the $2 a round increase for most individual green fees the council majority put in place Tuesday Cantu remarked, “$2 doesn’t even pay for a can of beer (at the golf course).”

Staff defended its proposal to increase individual green fees this year and delay pass fee hikes until 2023. They noted the city had substantially hiked monthly passes last year.  Cantu pointed out even so Manteca’s passes were still $6 to $56 a month lower than at nearby municipal courses.

Staff also noted during the pandemic Manteca has refrained from “gouging” golfers as they implied Modesto and Stockton did by jacking up prices. Manteca was rewarded with a surge in rounds played that led to what may arguably be its first legitimate golf course surplus ever of $272,000.

That assumes, of course, Manteca has finally refrained from creative bookkeeping over the years that various councils and senior city management teams employed for general fund raids to prop up the golf course appear smaller than they were.

Golf pro Jeff DeBeneditti — the man responsible for much of the heavy lifting that has all but eliminated the need to use red instead of black ink to track the golf course’s annual maintenance and operations costs — noted the danger in suddenly making huge jumps in green fees.

While several council members included Singh noted it is clear based on feedback from golfers about the good condition of the course compared to the competition plus Manteca’s lower fees that the city is shortchanging itself through its rates, DeBeneditti stressed the danger is too high of large rate hikes at once scaring off golfers and reducing rounds played that have been key to the financial turnaround at the course.

That prompted Halford and Singh to still push for pass rate hikes to make sure the city has adequate money coming in to help assure the future playability of the course. But instead of going for several years and doing it all at once, they preferred an incremental approach on an annual basis.

Halford even opened the door on what was the third rail of Manteca politics — outright golf course subsidies from the general plan.

Halford said he likely would support an annual golf course subsidy to “a small degree.”

Halford said the golf course isn’t like other city parks “because I can’t go throw a Frisbee on the golf course” and if he did “they’d probably call the cops.”

Manteca’s general fund for years sent $155,000 to the golf course fund to make up for reduced rates for senior and junior play. That was in addition to covering year end deficits.

Part of the political wars over “subsidizing” the golf course using general fund money is the direct result of the city’s efforts in the late 1980s to quell a loud groundswell of criticism about the plan to build a country club style clubhouse for $2 million.

The city argued the clubhouse would pay for itself by becoming a highly sought after dining location with a fancy sit-down restaurant in the second floor. To prove their point they started describing the golf course as an enterprise fund.

Enterprise funds by design are supposed to be fully supported by user fees and not rely on general fund subsidizes. That is how the wastewater, solid waste, and water operations are set up.

City staff Tuesday had the courage to finally say it is supposed to be like an enterprise account as much as possible but it isn’t an enterprise account per se. That is the most honest picture the city has painted of golf course operations in 30 plus years. Whether it takes the wind out of the sails of the argument the golf course is somehow freestanding and there should not be mooching off the general fund has yet to be seen.

As for the clarion call by Breitenbucher that staff knows best, Halford poked a small hole in that when he got them to admit in repose to an inquiry that the financial analysis of the golf course operations didn’t include unfunded pension liability.

Two other things are worth noting.

Someone finally mentioned the use of the bonding process to tackle much needed work such as a $1.7 million antiquated irrigation system that is seen as a linchpin to sustaining and improving the course’s health.

A member of the audience expressed support of bonding for Manteca’s needs but that the irrigation system should be weighed against other pressing concerns such as a long overdue police station that is adequate for current and future needs as well as being secure.

The other thing is why do consultants the city hires keep tossing in a municipal golf course in Fresno to compare Manteca fees with? That point was brought up by a council member as well.

Given very few people in Manteca or a nearby community are going to drive over two hours down Highway 99 to get in a round of golf and drive back in the same day it would make more sense to include nearby private courses that Manteca golf course actually competes with.

The golf course — of course — is just one recreational want the city needs to address so that there are amenities for the growing community and that the financial resources of the city are there to build, operate, and maintain.

Anyone for tennis?


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email