It’s time to end Manteca’s annual budget charade.
The municipal budget as fashioned by the city staff and adopted by the City Council — especially in the last several years — is prudent when it comes to the bottom line of expenditures versus revenues and having fairly healthy reserves.
That’s why it is perplexing that elected officials feel compelled to tell a few whoopers to politically sell what they want to do. The most brazen is selling a $155,000 annual subsidy of the supposedly self-supporting golf course as an offset of the impact of lost revenue from reduced senior green fees and play by high school golf teams.
To call it a subsidy, of course, would undermine the myth that the golf course pays its own way and is not a burden on the general fund. That’s the idea behind enterprise funds of which the golf course is one. The city’s three other enterprise funds — sewer, water, and garbage — aren’t subsidized by the general fund, have healthy reserves, and are funded by those who flush toilets, wash clothes, and put their trash out at curbside for collection. Golfers come close but — as they say — it’s no cigar
By continuing to justify the outright subsidy by saying it makes up for shortage in green fees from reduced charges each and every sitting councilman who has ever embraced the charade is saying golfers matter more than the kids of single working moms barely keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table.
That sounds like a wild-eyes accusation at first glance until you look at how the city runs the rest of the Parks and Recreation budget.
The city — as they have been told by legal counsel — can’t have lower fees or no fees for children from poorer Manteca families so they can participate in everything from tiny tot soccer to Zumba classes.
So that poor kids are given the opportunity to participate in recreation programs and classes that could have a profound positive impact on shaping their lives, the rank and file Parks & Recreation staff partnered with community members. They created the Friends of Manteca Parks & Recreation Foundation to raise money to bankroll a scholarship fund to cover the program and class fees of underprivileged kids. The men and women involved and those who support their efforts through endeavors such as the Jim Brown Memorial Swing for Youth Benefit Golf Tournament set for July 15 should be lauded.
As those willing council participants continuing to prop up the lame excuse referencing the $155,000 transfer from the general fund to the golf enterprise account each year, just be honest. Call the $155,000 what it is — an outright subsidy of the golf course.
It needs to be made clear this is not subsidizing golf pro Alan Thomas who gets a cut of all green fees paid in exchange for managing the day-to-day course play. It is propping up the fairy tale that’s been part of Manteca political lore now for more than 30 years that the golf course is self-sustaining. The city has even sold the tall tale by saying they were making “loans” to cover even bigger shortfalls throughout the years and then ultimately forgiving the loans without a penny paid back.
The golf course for whatever reason has been treated like a third rail of Manteca politics over the years by various councils. At one point a previous city manager was told in no uncertain terms not to propose rate increases even though they were needed to keep the course from further dipping into general funds. The reason? It was an election year.
None of this should be taken as casting aspersions on the golf course, the effective and highly efficient city crews that maintain the course or the golf pro. Nor should it be interpreted as an argument to not subsidize the golf course.
The bottom line is call a sacred cow a sacred cow. The council needs to stop lying to Manteca taxpayers and stop lying to themselves.
If not they need to explain how they can subsidize seniors playing golf and not the kids of single moms trying to survive on $10 an hour.
At the same time resist making arguments to justify the subsidy. Yes, the general fund pays for the upkeep of Woodward Park, Northgate Park and Lincoln Swimming Pool where city fee based programs take place that don’t cover the cost of maintaining the facilities as they cover only the actual recreation program offered. People get that.
If the council does decide to go there, then they better be prepared to answer the $17 million question — why aren’t they building on the Big League Dreams sports complex success story?
By building and then turning over the sports complex to a private enterprise to run and maintain, the city is avoiding $17 million in operating and maintenance costs over a 35-year period. That is in addition to getting in excess of $200,000 a year for their trouble from net profits.
The golf course, we are told, needs work. Why not bring it up to the perceived standard then sign a 35-year deal where a contractor pays for everything with the city getting a percentage of the net profit.
With a creative white lie the City Council might be able to sell using the golf course profits to subsidize free and reduced recreation program fees for poor kids without encouraging the wrath of lawyers.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.