Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 3:29 pm | Mostly Cloudy 67º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Santa Barbara Officials Still Mulling Future of Municipal Golf Course

More official discussion took place on Tuesday about how best to put Santa Barbara's municipal golf course on stronger financial footing, but the sticking point remains whether to contract out maintenance, which could save the city $200,000 a year, according to the city's Parks and Recreation Department director.

The City Council's three-member Finance Committee ultimately voted to recommend that the full council consider increasing marketing of the course, as well as refinancing the course's debt.

However, committee members Bendy White and Dale Francisco also supported looking at contracting out maintenance in the future.

Committee member Gregg Hart couldn't agree on that last point, and the vote was 2-1 with Hart dissenting.

The decision will ultimately be up to the City Council, which had asked city staff to bring forward more information about how to bring the course back into the black.

Mark Sewell of the Parks and Recreation Department said that the course's revenue is down by about 10 percent as compared to the same six months in the previous fiscal year.

"We've seen a real decline in the first six months of the year, which we think we can attribute to drought impacts," he said.

The course has reduced the amount of water it has been using, perhaps a bit too much, he said, causing use of the course to decrease.

The course has a total of $1.37 million in debt, which includes the money that was needed for a clubhouse remodel and a loan from the city's General Fund.

The way things stand, the golf course will be debt-free by 2022.

Refinancing the debt is an option, and improves the course's finances in the short term, but wouldn't resolve the long-term outlook.

Sewell said the course was looking to increase its spending on marketing. He noted that courses of similar size spend about $50,000 on marketing each year, while the muni course only spends a third of that.

"We want to make sure we spend it on the right things," he said.

The city has been working on a golf course marketing plan, and enhanced marketing is expected to roll out by spring. The plan should be completed by the end of January.

Staff feels there's a limited opportunity to convert permanent maintenance positions to hourly ones, he said.

"Some of the guys start at 3 in the morning," he said, adding that the staff are "extremely skilled."

There's a 1,000-hour limit on contract employees, which means staff hired under contract could work full-time but only for six months, which creates a challenge for management to hire people invested the long-term well-being of the course.

There's no certainty where the golf industry will go in the meantime, and if the financial picture doesn't improve, the course could siphon anywhere from $60,000 to $500,000 annually.

The golf course currently has 11 full-time positions, but eight of those will be eligible for retirement by 2016.

"Timing is important in that regard," he said, as employment contracts last for five years.

Hart said that he was optimistic about the course's growth ability, particularly with youth programs. And being able to use recycled water this year might be an option to get the course back up to par.

"I think we're just going to have to monitor it," he said. "There's no silver bullet."

White said he is concerned about the potential costs to keep the course operating.

"In my view, the golf course needs to get darn close to breaking even," he said, adding that he's open to contracting out maintenance, although "it's not where I want to go." 

Francisco said that he wants to make sure the course is "financially self-supporting."

"I don't see how we can avoid looking at that," he said of contracting out maintenance. "If that is the only realistic move for keeping the golf course self supporting … it's pretty obvious to me which choice we have to make."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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