Two nagging financial questions have been attached to Manteca’s golf course for more than a decade. The questions are simple and the right answers are even simpler.
First question: Should Manteca’s general fund continue to subsidize golf course fees for seniors, youth, and the military?
The answer: No.
Second question: Should the golf course have to pay back an accumulative $1.4 million “loan” made from the general fund over a number of years?
The answer: No.
The question of subsidizing green fees is really a fairness issue. If there are no breaks offered to seniors or youth partaking in Manteca’s numerous other recreation programs ranging from swim lessons and tiny tot basketball to guitar lessons why should subsidized discounts be extended to a specific class of recreation enthusiasts who play golf?
In both cases tax dollars – more specific, hard-to-come-by general fund tax dollars that support such services as public safety – are the issue.
The various recreation leagues and classes aren’t taking a penny in general fund money this year. Those who access the programs are covering the costs. Not true for the golf course that relies on a $155,000 subsidy of play costs.
Granted, the golf course is an enterprise fund. So it would be perfectly legal for the club pro in concert with the council that approves green fees to continue to offer discounts based on age and military service just as they do now for the time of play. It would be without the use of the $155,000 general fund subsidy.
Having said that, the subsidy for green fees shouldn’t go away until after 2013 when the final debt service payment is made for the golf course clubhouse. Once debt related to creating the course and its amenities is dispatched, there really is no excuse left not to treat golf the same as other recreation programs where the city policy is clear: Those who access recreation programs must pay their own way.
The question of not requiring the repayment of the “loan” is also a question of fairness as well as honesty.
A close look at the wretched political history of the golf course shows a $102,600 jump in so-called “cost recovery charges” from 2003 to 2005 to what was $252,000 in 2005. That included a $38,000 jump from 2004 to 2005.
The theory behind cost recovery was that other departments should be compensated for services provided to enterprise fund accounts such as sewer, water, refuse collection and golf. That sounds fair enough.
But how it was implemented is anything but fair or even honest. The golf course has its own maintenance staff and budget. That means the $252,000 in 2005 – part of the years the so-called “loans” took place – reflected the cost for the recreation department and city administration to support or work on the golf course plus water, sewer, and refuse collection charges.
What made that $38,000 jump even more curious in 2005 is the fact the No. 1 cost to the golf course from other departments – water – should have gone away. That’s because the golf fund paid to have an on-site irrigation well put in place that was exclusively tied into the golf course irrigation system. Surely when you cut major expenses your cost recovery charges shouldn’t go up substantially.
It points to the real rub. It is against state law to have an enterprise fund robbed for the purpose of supporting the general fund. The city hired a firm with accounting expertise to determine what the right charge was for cost recovery assignments to the enterprise accounts including golf. It was a thick document. In the end, instead of having each account reimburse the general fund for exact costs, the city went ahead and imposed a blanket 20 percent cost recovery charge on all enterprise accounts.
The city had ulterior motives. The general fund back in the late 1990s when the cost recovery charge was first pondered and put in place was in precarious shape. It was before the building boom and the economic retail expansion took place in Manteca.
The lack of political courage to hike other fees or to cut back general fund services at the time made it easy to use the political whipping boy of the day – the golf course – to be bled for money to help the general fund.
Much of the “loan” from the general fund was to cover excessive charges assessed to the golf course to “subsidize” the general fund.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209-249-3519.