Fred Millner — a persistent observer at City Council meetings who sometimes rubs people the wrong way when voicing his opinion — is on to something.
Why not sell the Manteca Golf Course?
Staff got ahead of the game essentially having the City Council rubber stamp their decision to have a marketing consultant analyze the golf course and set the stage for replacing longtime contract golf pro Alan Thomas with another golf pro they hire directly or secure the services of a company to do the same thing.
The real study that is needed is whether taxpayers — and golfers for that matter — should entrust the city to keep running the golf course.
Let’s be perfectly honest, shall we? The problem has never been with the golf pro or the restaurant/concession operator — at least not since the late Frank Guinta and his son John took over the food service. It has been — and will always be — bonehead political decisions.
Start with the clubhouse. Check out other municipal golf courses. There is a reason critics called it a Taj Mahal. Cities tend to have basic services such as snack bar and restrooms for public play. Not Manteca. They wanted to make a statement. And they did.
It was a $1.1 million (interest not included) statement that contributed to cash flow problems from the day the last nail was hammered. The city’s attempts to play in the private sector of the restaurant business failed before they even started. And when they couldn’t get a tenant to open a restaurant, they did what councils have historically done — they hired a consultant to tell them what several taxpayers who happened to be businessmen including the then president of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce had already told them — it is a horrible, horrible location for a restaurant. Tucked away from Union Road off the beaten path it isn’t the place to build a dinner trade let alone a lunch crowd independent of the golf course which is what was intended. Essentially they did not have a business plan in place before they spent and financed $1.1 million.
Eventually they got two back-to-back operators in place that literally ripped out expensive kitchen equipment when they left as well as owed the city for more than four months in back rent and water bills before they folded up shop. Let’s see you try to do that. With one of the tenants after the city agreed improvements were needed they advanced them checks — in excess of $30,000 — to do the work. They pocketed the money instead. At least they were prosecuted.
Then the city was approached by an honest man who had a sense for business — Frank Guinta. Nearly a decade after the clubhouse was completed it had a restaurant although primarily for events only since it is a horrible location for a dinner house unless your goal is to go bankrupt.
The early 1990s brought big cash flow issues on the golf side as well. Then City Manager David Jinkens like clockwork when budget time rolled around recommended the council take a serious look at raising green fees. Each time a council majority led by the late Bill Perry railed against such talk noting there was an election coming up and it would upset golfers.
That set into play more than $1.1 million in “loans” that the council eventually forgave.
There is also the issue of the annual $155,000 — the equivalent annual salary and benefits of a police officer or two plus street maintenance workers the council takes from the general fund — to subsidize reduced senior play and high school golf play. It’s amazing how other public golf courses can offer discounts without tapping their general fund.
It’s been a joy listening to staff and elected officials over the years justify the play subsidy. They like to say the city subsidies other recreational endeavors by providing baseball fields and such for youth. But let’s compare apples with apples. If it is illegal for the city under state law to subsidize recreation programs such as tiny tots baseball and guitar classes for kids whose families are poor and can’t pay the class fees prompting the recreation department to partner with a non-profit foundation to raise money for scholarships so those kids can participate, then how is it legal to subsidize the fees of golfers of any age?
The golf course — unlike other enterprise funds such as solid waste, sewer, and water — isn’t covering the cost of other department services they use such as the finance department. This is easily $65,000 plus a year charge that has been “suspended” for a decade.
Let’s be brutally honest here. The city can’t run a golf course in terms of making it pay for itself. They’ve proven it. So why would anyone on the current council just want to continue the same old, same old given the city faces a multitude of other pressing needs it can’t fund.
The golf course has a list of deferred maintenance and upgrades needed that will go way past the $1 million mark over the next 10 years or so. By 2027 the $155,000 subsidy and the suspended $65,000 cost recovery charge will come total $2.1 million.
The golf course will cost the general fund close to $310,000 a year if not more if the city keeps it.
Save the course — and taxpayers a lot of subsidies — by selling the golf operation to a firm that knows what they are doing when it comes to managing money and golf courses.