Modesto won’t swing budget ax at golf course

kvaline@modbee.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— Modesto will give Dryden Golf Course more time to get out of the rough and will look elsewhere for savings to close an $8 million to $9 million budget shortfall in its $113 million general fund budget over 28 months.

The City Council’s Finance Committee decided Monday to postpone for a year any recommendations to the full council on closing Dryden. The decision was based in part on the promising results shown by KemperSports, the national golf management company that took over operations of Dryden and the city’s other 18-hole golf course, Creekside, in mid-October.

The city made the change because it was dissatisfied with performance of FM Golf, the previous firm that managed the two courses. FM was operated by Sue Fiscoe, who had been Modesto’s longtime golf pro. The city’s third golf course – the nine-hole Modesto Municipal Golf Course – is managed by the youth golf nonprofit The First Tee and the Del Rio Country Club Foundation.

The city is budgeting its golf fund to end the current fiscal year June 30 with a deficit of $665,000, with revenues of $2.38 million against expenses of $3.04 million. The golf fund had a deficit of nearly $565,000 in the previous fiscal year. Golf fund deficits have become the norm in recent years.

Nearly $500,000 of the deficit is for the annual debt payment for building Creekside about two decades ago. The city issued the debt in 1993 for 30 years and will pay it off in nine years.

The general fund has subsidized the golf fund, but city officials say that cannot continue. The general fund pays primarily for police and fire services and makes up roughly one-third of the city’s $344 million operating budget. While the operating budget’s two other funds are in better shape, general fund revenues have fallen by about $20 million since 2008.

Over several years, Modesto has cut spending, borrowed against other funds and drew down reserves to balance the general fund. But city officials say the borrowing and use of reserves cannot continue after Measure X’s failure in the November election. The measure was a 1 percent sales tax that was expected to bring in about $26 million annually to the general fund over six years.

City officials say Modesto needs to cut as much as $9 million from its general fund in 28 months to bring expenses in line with revenues. The council’s Finance Committee is vetting potential reductions before recommending the council adopt some of them.

Besides looking at cutting the golf fund, the Finance Committee will consider closing, selling or leasing Modesto Centre Plaza – the city’s convention center, closing or selling about a dozen city parks and cutting an additional $1 million from the Police Department’s roughly $50 million budget.

The committee recently recommended cutting about $500,000 from the police and fire budgets in the remainder of the current budget year. Those cuts would be worth about $1 million each over a full budget year. The City Council has not acted on the recommendation.

City officials said Monday that postponing the decision on whether to close Dryden will give KemperSports more time to build on its early success. It also will give the city time to decide whether it makes financial sense to seek proposals from other golf management firms for the continued operation of the golf courses.

KemperSports’ contract with the city expires in about 18 months, as does the city’s contract with Valley Crest, the company that provides maintenance for the city’s three golf courses.

In the 1950s, the Dryden family gave Modesto nearly 65 of the 139 acres for the golf course that bears their name, with the stipulation the land be used for an 18-hole golf course. City officials will contact the family about what Modesto is considering and will determine the value of the city’s land if it were sold.

Councilman Bill Zoslocki also asked city officials Monday to look into whether golfing would increase at Dryden if the city upgraded its outdated facilities.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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