About four dozen golfers and other audience members packed Monday’s City Council Finance Committee meeting about the future of the city’s three golf courses.
The city is having these discussions because of declining interest in golf, the toll the drought has taken on the courses and the toll the courses have taken on the city’s general fund budget, which primarily pays for public safety.
The general fund provides a subsidy to the three courses; it is expected to be nearly $783,000 in the city’s current fiscal year.
The committee members – council members Jenny Kenoyer, Bill Zoslocki and Mayor Garrad Marsh – recommended the full council hold a community workshop within a couple of months so the city and the public can talk about the issues and develop potential solutions.
Modesto has two 18-hole golf courses – Dryden and Creekside – and the venerable nine-hole Modesto Municipal Golf Course, where several generations of Modestans have learned to play the game. Muni would be the course most likely to close if the city were to pursue that option.
The city could use Muni for softball, baseball and soccer facilities if it were closed. The city also is considering such options as forming a partnership with other groups to take over the full cost of running Muni.
Committee members, city officials and audience members engaged in wide-ranging discussion that included such issues as what essential services Modesto should provide its residents (just the basics such as public safety or should it encompass recreational opportunities), what it can afford to do, and the role the golf courses play as the city tries to promote itself as a tourism spot for the region.
The committee also recommended that the council approve a new two-year contract to have KemperSports continue to manage the Creekside and Dryden courses and have ValleyCrest Golf Maintenance continue to maintain the three courses. The First Tee of Central Valley – which helps young people build character through golf – manages Muni for the city in lieu of paying rent.
The new contract is expected to reduce the general fund subsidy by about $200,000 over the two years. The city could cancel the contract before the two years.
Marsh said the new contract makes sense because if the city decides to close and change the use of a course or pursue other options, it could take as long as two years to implement that decision.
The meeting also featured a discussion on roughly $2.9 million in deferred maintenance at the courses. Audience members asked why some of that maintenance was not performed in previous years when the golf courses were in better financial shape.
The meeting featured some verbal sparring between Marsh and former Mayor Carmen Sabatino, who is one of four candidates challenging Marsh in the November election.
Sabatino said that in previous years, when the golf courses’ finances were in better shape, the city used some of that revenue to trim trees throughout the city. Marsh said that was absolutely false, and Sabatino accused Marsh of calling him a liar. Marsh said he would take his statement back if Sabatino could produce a budget document to substantiate his claim.