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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 1:24 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Council Votes to Outsource Greens Maintenance for Santa Barbara Golf Club

The council also votes to consolidate and refinance debt over a 20-year term and increase marketing efforts to get more players on the course

The Santa Barbara Golf Club has seen play declining since the 1980s and has been operating in the red for three of the last five years. On Tuesday, the City Council voted to outsource greens maintenance in the future, refinance debt and increase marketing efforts.
The Santa Barbara Golf Club has seen play declining since the 1980s and has been operating in the red for three of the last five years. On Tuesday, the City Council voted to outsource greens maintenance in the future, refinance debt and increase marketing efforts. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Barbara City Council will start using contractors for greens maintenance at the municipal golf course instead of city employees, a move made to help the struggling enterprise fund’s bottom line.

In a split 4-3 vote Tuesday night, council members decided to outsource that maintenance work starting in 2016, which is expected to cut down on the $950,000-per-year price tag for greens maintenance staff salaries and benefits.

That includes 11 full- and-part-time employees and four hourly employees, many who are near retirement age, parks and recreation director Nancy Rapp said.

Savings are estimated between $200,000 and $425,000 per year, and that should be significant enough to “put the golf course in the black for good, barring a catastrophic drop in play,” Councilman Dale Francisco said.

“We cannot continue to pay twice as much for greens maintenance as any other golf course in the area, it will go out of business," he said. "Because this council — I hope — will never support using general fund money to keep an enterprise fund afloat.”

His motion got enough for a 4-3 vote victory, but Councilwoman Cathy Murillo asked others to reconsider, calling it a “very drastic change” in staffing policy.

Santa Barbara’s municipal golf course, the Santa Barbara Golf Club at 3500 McCaw Ave., has seen play declining since the 1980s and in the meantime, other courses have set up shop on the South Coast to provide healthy competition.

The Golf Fund is an enterprise fund meant to be self-sustaining, but it has been in the red for three of the last five years and is on track to do it again this year.

To deal with that, the City Council on Tuesday approved a boost in marketing money to bring in new players, outsourcing greens maintenance to save operating costs, and refinancing debt.

Golf Fund reserves are dropping as the money’s used to make up for these deficits and the fund could bankrupt entirely in the next 12 to 18 months, Rapp said. The fund will use $64,000 in reserves to break even this year, leaving it at about $300,000. The recommended amount is twice that, parks business analyst Mark Sewell said.

If the golf demand keeps dropping, the city’s general fund — which pays for services such as public safety, parks and recreation, and public works — will end up subsidizing the Golf Fund in huge amounts. The general fund could be subsidizing the golf course by $150,000 in 2018 and up to $1.5 million by 2021, according to city staff.

Murillo suggested the golf course should be a general fund service, but other council members spoke firmly against any general fund subsidies.

The Golf Fund has a $2.1 million budget, $1.1 million of which is salaries and benefits and the other high costs are supplies, water and debt service, Rapp said.

Public speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting were generally in favor of the refinancing and moving to a contract basis for maintenance staff, asking the City Council to keep the Golf Fund as a self-sustaining enterprise fund.

“It needs to remain sustainable and meet capital needs,” Beebe Longstreet said. “When you look at the fact that they haven’t paid off the clubhouse that will probably need to be replaced before it’s paid off, we really need to do some deep planning on this.”

Cynthia Goena, a representative of SEIU Local 620, asked the city to keep city employees as maintenance staff, saying a contract is “shortsighted” and could cut down on the service quality.

The City Council also voted to consolidate and refinance the Golf Fund’s debt over a 20-year term, so the $1.2 million amount will be paid off in 2036 instead of 2022. Early payments will be smaller but it won’t help restore reserves if players don’t show up in larger numbers, according to a staff analysis.

It will add about $40,000 in interest costs to the debt, which is still paying off a clubhouse renovation from the 1980s, Sewell said.

The City Council approved doubling the Golf Fund’s marketing budget, to $50,000 for next year, to encourage more players at the course and work on a better reservation system.

“I don’t think we’re going to market our way out of a national trend,” Councilman Randy Rowse said.

If the city could increase the number of rounds played by 3 percent a year it would help, but not much. According to a staff report, greens fees revenues increased by more than 10 percent last year but the fund still had to use almost $70K in reserves to break even.

Santa Barbara’s municipal course has lower fees than other public courses on the South Coast and is still one of the busiest local courses with more than 60,000 rounds played each year, Rapp said. Playing 18 holes costs $40 on the weekends for adult residents and $36 on weekdays. It’s more for non-residents and less for members.

Other 18-hole public courses in the area include Rancho San Marcos, Glen Annie Golf Club and Sandpiper Golf Club.

At Rancho San Marcos, a round of golf will cost $60 for Fridays-Sundays for tri-county residents and $50 during the week.  

Glen Annie has similar prices, with $52 rounds on weekends and $42 rounds on weekdays for residents, and Sandpiper charges the most with $90 rates for Fridays through Sundays and $70 on weekdays.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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