Mayor Ralph Becker was a consultant before he became mayor of Salt Lake City. Consultants are canny people. They listen to what their clients want to achieve and provide elaborate rationalizations as to why and how what their clients want makes sense. Consultants are in the business of making sure there will be more consulting jobs in the future.
I mention this background in light of the consultant-driven effort to purge Salt Lake City of one, two or possibility three of its public golf courses. The consultant mayor formed or commissioned at least three studies about the status of Salt Lake City’s Golf Enterprise Fund. Each report was spun to say golf is dying, golf can’t be sustained and we need to close one, two or three courses.
Having worked at each level of our system of government (city, county, state and federal) I have come to a few principles which if followed allow for sustainable decision making. First principle – Listen to the people, once they are informed of the facts. Second principle – Don’t rely solely on "professional judgment" from consultants. Third principle – Be transparent in your planning, designing and implementing your policies.
In the consultant’s world the first principle is bowed to by "public hearings" where the public each gets two minutes or less to express themselves. In the case of Salt Lake City golf, the public’s only chance to speak was at a few City Council meetings where each speaker was limited to two minutes. In the Consultant’s world the second principle is really considered the First. In other words, listen to us, we are the experts. The third principle of transparency is too often defined by where you are viewing the process from.
From the public presentation, the estimated deficit to the Golf Enterprise Fund (GEF) is $500,000 annually. One solution is simply to charge $1 more per round played, and the deficit nearly disappears. Further, we need to examine the various incremental savings on the expense side of golf, and/or chances to increase revenue on the revenue side.
So what can be done with Salt Lake City golf? First, run it like the Enterprise Fund it was meant to be. Let the golf professionals and superintendents operate the golf shop and range on a commission basis, which would compose a portion of their salaries. Potential savings between $125,000 to $250,000 (15 percent to 30 percent deduction from present administrative overhead of $815,000). If it were truly an Enterprise Fund, the golf professionals and on-course employees would operate the concessions as well.
Allow for different fees for various age groups, time of day and day of the week. Set a target to increase revenue by $250,000 annually, approximately $30,000 per course.
Use courses during the winter and non-golfing hours. Winter use would be cross country skiing (weather permitting) and sleighing. That could increase funds (deducting personnel and equipment expense) by around $100,000.
Create walking trails for use during off season or non-golfing times to which dogs on leashes would be welcomed guests.
Expand the use of volunteers at each course. Volunteers are used at public parks and lands with significant cost savings, e.g. State Parks and BLM/Forest Service volunteers.
Stop cross subsidization by the Golf Enterprise Fund for other parts of City government. Conduct a time/use study to see if SLC golf actually receives a benefit from Information Management Services, City Attorney, Airport or the Mechanics garage. Water is the largest expense item. The following actions would more than make up the purported deficit:
• Immediately switch to non-processed water at Mt. Dell, Bonneville, Forest Dale and Nibley. Projected savings $400,000 annually.
• Immediately switch to gray water at Wingpointe, Rose Park, Glendale, Forest Dale and Nibley. Projected savings is $275,000 annually.
• Water bill for 2013 was $1,351,673. Cut in half would be a savings of $675,000, allocated $400,000 savings to (a) above, and $275,000 to (b) above, recognizing there will be investment costs and this savings would have to be realized over a five- or ten-year period.
Run golf like the enterprise fund it was envisioned to be and by which it ran successfully for more than sixty years. Most importantly, listen to the people, not the consultants. Come to the City Council meeting July 29 at 7 p.m. in Salt Lake City Hall.
Patrick A. Shea is a Salt Lake City attorney and an associate research professor of biology at the University of Utah.
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