Golf course gets budget scrutiny

Two speak during budget public hearing
Jun. 04, 2013 @ 04:24 PM

What to do with Winding Creek Golf Course was on the minds of two men Monday.
Jason Varner and Barney Hill, who both commented on the city’s proposed $38.1 million 2014 budget, offered their views on what to do with the city-owned, 20-year-old course after the city pays off construction debt this summer. The two men were the only speakers during a public hearing held June 3.
Varner, an insurance professional and former city council candidate, wants the city to save what had been an annual debt payment in a capital fund.  All other suggested alternatives for the money will not work, he said.
The budget projects $661,000 in golf course revenues with a $1 per round increase effective July 1. The total operating budget, including debt service, will be $782,000. The 2014 debt payment is $64,000.
Some city officials have suggested building  a fund for a new police headquarters station once the city pays off the Winding Creek debt and two sets of bonds for sewer improvements in three to four years.
“You can’t build a police station without going into debt and it would not be right to do that,” Varner said.
Varner also did not like other suggested ideas for savings, including cutting the property tax rate and water and sewer fees.
“Renters who are 55 percent of the city’s population would be excluded,” Varner said.
Hill, an outspoken government watchdog, favors selling the 165-acre Winding Creek. That would save the  $600,000 a year the city spends on the course and the sales price would be a plus.
“The debt is paid. You should get out while the getting is good,” Hill said. “It is wrong for the city to be in the golf business.”
After refinancing the golf course in 2003, city officials faced heavy scrutiny from people who thought the $6 million of taxpayer money should be used for other services and projects.
“The poor have been subsidizing those who play golf,” Varner said. “We should treat everyone equally.”
Varner and Hill agreed that council should not use any savings to hire an economic development consultant. Representatives of Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting, LLC, recently made a presentation to council. The firm offered to help form an economic development strategic plan for about $70,000.
Hill suggested that council let the free market work things out.
“You contribute $50,000 a year to economic development now,” Hill said. “Why not trust the invisible hand that Adam Smith wrote about? You can have that for free.”
Varner said a consultant would be “another bureaucratic position.” He suggested saving the money for a capital reserve.
Proposed 2014 Budget
Fees: Per round fees at the city-owned Winding Creek Golf Course would increase $1 per round under Thomasville’s proposed new budget. The water and sewer rate is slated to increase by about 3.59 percent in line with the city’s current rate study.
Taxes: The property tax rate stays at 56 cents per $100 valuation. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $560 a year.