Before the Manteca City Council wastes $20,000 on an analysis to determine how to end the financial bleed the golf course has on the general fund, they should do taxpayers a favor and have “the talk.”
Just like misfires on downtown, bold talks about expanding the library and building aquatics centers, as well as repeated promises to improve North Main Street and teasing the public over and over again as if they were Lucy pulling the football away at the last second as Charlie Brown goes in to kick it, the golf course funding has been an ongoing train wreck.
To be clear, Interim Finance Director Stephanie Beauchaine is absolutely correct that the city needs to look for strategies to make the golf course to be as self-sufficient as possible as well as being able to address capital improvement needs.
But, in the words of Mayor Ben Cantu, this is a “political will” issue.
Or more precisely what is the bottom line of the current council when it comes to their willingness to change current golf course funding policies?
The golf course for close to three decades has not been bringing in revenues to meet expenses.
But is this really bad government? Do the fees charged for other recreation programs such as swimming lessons and open pool use cover the maintenance and capital improvement of the swimming pool or just the operational costs of the programs such as instructors and city hall overhead? The same goes for tennis, youth softball, tiny tots soccer, adult basketball, and even recreation programs conducted in city classrooms.
None of those program fees factor in replacement of the building or playing fields or the maintenance costs beyond what it may be to pay staff for prepping a facility for use.
It would be nice to know if the council is willing to eliminate the perennial $155,000 general fund subsidiary for junior and senior play before they spend $20,000 and reach the conclusion that every other council has when confronted with an outside financial analysis during the last three decades and decline to do so.
Of course, we don’t know what an outside analysis will come up with exactly. But rest assured it won’t be better than the one conducted in 2017 that examined all four possible operational models and concluded the city was going to “lose” $300,000 plus a year no matter what.
The council may also want to have a round table discussion on what the function of the golf course is from their individual perspectives before seeking requests for proposals to squander another $20,000 from the general fund reserves that could easily pay to do significant improvements to the right south bound lane of Spreckels Avenue before Moffat where pot holes keep popping up.
The mayor, as an example, is all over the board when it comes to the golf course.
During his unsuccessful 2016 campaign to secure a seat on the City Council he pushed a proposal to convert the existing golf course into a community park and replace it with a new course east of Highway 99.
Then last year, Cantu during a council meeting pushed for the city to make the golf course more of a country club by investing more money to make the clubhouse and such more appealing.
In case anyone is wondering, the decision more than 30 years ago to create the current two-story clubhouse that is a notch or two above most municipal course clubhouses and a dozen or so notches above anything in the region is what started the golf course enterprise fund woes.
The business model was for the second floor restaurant to generate lease payments and increased golf use to retire the $225,000 annual debt to the Maryland Trust Co. that the clubhouse construction incurred. The debt was retired in 2010.
City leaders were warned at the time by commercial real estate experts they were not going to lure upscale or chain restaurants to open on the second floor because of the Union Road location was too far off the beaten track to attract a sustainable lunch and dinner demand from non-golfers and non-special event gatherings. But bureaucrats knew best.
The restaurant sat vacant for nearly a decade. Then the city inked the first of two deals from hell. The first deal, thanks to non-existent city oversight, left the city holding the bag for over $30,000 in bills the operator ran up in the role they assumed as a “partner.”
A year later they landed a restaurant operator again. By then the equipment was determined to be inadequate. So the city cut checks to the leasee to essentially redo the kitchen.
This did not go well. Besides a sizable PG&E bill they walked away from the folks they signed to run the restaurant pocketed a large chunk of the checks for new equipment. Criminal charges were pursued.
If it wasn’t for an honest and hardworking businessman in the form of the late Frank Guinta who stepped up, the second floor would have been a complete loss.
The bottom line is the “great idea” of a grandiose clubhouse sucked up general fund money to retire the debt given the restaurant for close to 12 years never lived up to even 1 percent of to its potential. The clubhouse restaurant rent payments the city received never come close to covering the annual $225,000 lease payment for the clubhouse.
At one point a decade ago a previous council “wrote off” $1.1 million plus in debt above and beyond the junior and senior play subsidy that the golf course was supposed to repay to the general fund.
The council might also want to chat about whether they would want to charge seniors accessing senior center programs to pay to replace roofs, remodel bathrooms, out in new floors and such the next time around given that is no different than capital improvement projects needed on both the golf course and clubhouse.
A case can be made that those that use the senior center can ill afford such a cost. There is a reason why it is common for cities to subsidize parks and recreation facilities to varying degrees using general fund money.
The golf course might not fit exactly into such a case, but before the council starts shoveling out another $20,000 they might want to come 100 percent clean as to what they are willing to do in a broad sense.
Councils — including this one that is no different than their predecessors in terms of follow through as they have demonstrated several times with the most egregious example being their North Main Street traffic flow promises — can secure all the “virgin eyes” on the issue that they want whether it is new department heads or consultants.
But if they never will be willing to change how they view the golf course or accept the financial cost for having one, why go through the exercise and waste yet another $20,000?
Unless, of course, all this is about is appearing to be “different” than those councils that went before them who only spent a third of that amount on a study four years ago.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org