With a "financial gun to its head," the Salt Lake City Council inched closer Tuesday to finding solutions to the city’s troubled golf system, which stands to lose another half-million dollars this season and has racked up $23 million in deferred maintenance.
Council members ruminated for two hours outlining a general philosophy that ultimately could guide them to close more of the city’s courses. They previously had decided to shut down the Jordan River Par 3 nine-hole course at the end of this season.
Wingpointe looks to be vulnerable because the Federal Aviation Administration is demanding that the golf fund pay a steep rent increase.
Although the council’s ad hoc golf subcommittee forwarded suggestions to close Forest Dale’s nine-hole course and Glendale’s 18-hole course, no decisions have been made, said Council Chairman Charlie Luke.
"We can say we don’t know what we’re going to do yet," he said. "There is a lot of misinformation out there ... but we have made no decisions."
The Golf Enterprise Fund is independent of the city’s general fund and set up to be self-sustaining. The eight-course system earns about $8 million a year in green fees and cart rentals. But that revenue has not kept pace with expenses for more than a decade.
Beyond considering closures, the council also may boost green fees and even borrow money.
On Tuesday, the council determined to set a 10-year time frame to catch up with all maintenance and make the system financially self-sustaining. But, Luke said, the decisions to meet that goal should be made this year.
The council also decided to base any closure decisions on revenue per round of golf at each course, as well as which courses were declining in rounds played, among other things.
Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall supported such a dual analysis, saying, "when your back is to the wall with a financial gun to your head, you have to look through as many lenses as possible."
The council further agreed that it would consider rezoning private land around courses as way to raise revenue. Specifics of such a plan were not spelled out.
Bonding to raise revenue is a possibility, Luke conceded, particularly if the independent Golf Enterprise Fund were to sell courses to the city as open space. If the fund were to do so, he explained, the city probably would issue general obligation bonds for the purchase.
"We didn’t want to sell off golf courses for onetime money," said Councilwoman Lisa Adams, who is a member of the subcommittee. "But we are hemorrhaging."
Beyond that, the golf fund may need to borrow money to become sustainable, whether land is sold or not, said Councilman Kyle LaMalfa.
"The deferred maintenance is so vast,"he said, "that there is no way to catch up without borrowing."
Luke said the golf discussion will continue in July. No date has been set.
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