Wednesday, March 5, 2014

looking at the golf course

My column this week, to be found in the Smyrna AM at the end of your drive, is about the Smyrna golf course. It just so happens that the golf course and the Town Centre is the subject of FOX 17 Waste Watch.

The Waste Watch video is alright, but they do perform a little sleight of hand trick and throw big numbers out by adding up several years of budgeting. It is good to get a whole view of the subject, but it does make an issue more monstrous for the viewer.

The problem is that I’m not sure how much a problem it really is. I understand it loses money. I suspect that the town baseball diamonds, and soccer fields also do not make enough to cover the cost of running them in tip-top condition. Do we look at the town greenways and wonder if we should make them the first ‘toll’ walkways in Tennessee? I see little $.05 automated security bars scattered about that will not rise unless you drop in a nickel.

Right now a lot of people are suffering tunnel vision as the budget season approaches, and due to that nothing looks more horrible than the golf course. It is an easy target.  As the town manager said in the video “The town manager also points out the city gives breaks to civic groups, non profits, and military members at the town centre and doesn't charge school teams and other kid organizations to use the golf course.    He says they'd all be priced out of private facilities.”

I’ll admit that if Smyrna had another golf course my tune would be different. I would view it as unfair competition against a private business…but we don’t. Because of the lower prices we can have at the golf course many activities that would be prohibited due to cost at other sites.

One item that the Waste Watch did not do, that is a GIANT oversight in my opinion. The Waste Watch people did have a balance of views on, but they did not show a balance of prices. It would have been simple to find out the prices of a round of weekend golf at the Hollingshead run golf course for a mid week and a week end and compare the prices side by side.

So I went and checked out the prices and compared them for you.

Weekday rates
18 Holes (walking)
$26 Cedar Crest Golf Course
$25 Smyrna Golf course ($25 Green Fee)
18 Holes plus golf cart
$34 Cedar Crest Golf Course
$37 Smyrna Golf Course ($25 Green Fee/$12 Cart Fee)

During a weekday trip Smyrna has a dollar savings if you walk, but the rental of the golf cart puts Cedar Quest slightly ahead with a 3 dollar savings.

Weekend rates
18 Holes (walking)
$32 Cedar Crest Golf Course
$28 Smyrna Golf Course ($28 Green Fee)
18 Holes plus golf cart
$40 Cedar Crest Golf Course
$40 Smyrna Golf Course ($28 Green Fee/$12 Cart Fee)

Smyrna seems the place to go if you wish to stretch your legs as you save $4 for 18 holes. The prices are the same for ones that need carts.

I did not take the time to break down the discounts offered by Smyrna to seniors and it “doesn't charge school teams and other kid organizations”. I have to admit that I had a niece on one such kid organization and she enjoyed it greatly, and likely would not have been able to participate if the prices were higher. I actually just remembered that fact as I was writing this column.

So what does the prices between a public funded and a public golf course say. Not sure. No one price blows the other out of the water, so unless you plan on running up prices, you have to make big cuts elsewhere.

The golf course issue is NOT going away, but the answers are not easily to see. 


Mary Miller said...

The point is, our taxes are being raised every year and the money is being squandered on these two, and are losing millions. Don't bring up the kids ball fields...that is not the question here. We are not talking about them. That was the same lame excuse they wanted to throw at us when we complained at the meetings about building more parks...they always bring up kids to put a guilt trip out there. We don't NEED more parks and we don't NEED a golf course that is costing millions. At this rate it will never end. People are suffering right now. They, as myself, are having a hard time making ends meet. Gas prices have destroyed this country, and it all trickles down to the average American. This is a time to stop spending...not spend more. The average person living in Smyrna is not benefitting from this golf course. It may be time to let it go...or at least TRY to figure something out. All our council knows is raise taxes. It is a shame that they are there to do what is best for the citizens of Smyrna...and instead they take the lazy way out and do nothing.

Elliott said...

Mary, let's look at perspectives, you are complaining about a department whose budget is $1.3 million per year (which accounts for 4% of the entire Smyrna general fund budget). I'm not a golfer, but the fees Smyrna is charging look to be reasonable in comparison to Cedar Crest. Government is not in the business to make money. Obviously, they should be trying to break even - but in most situations, that never happens. The golf course is losing between $350K and $400K per year, but the town makes up for that in other departments and the total operating budget (not including capital projects and debt service) has always been in the black - not the red. That's pretty amazing considering the economic downturn that we've been going through.

Think about it this way, for a $200,000 home in Smyrna, you are paying approximately $38 a month in property taxes. Think about the services you are receiving for that $38 a month: Police, Fire, Planning, Engineering, Codes, Parks & Recreation, Traffic Court, General Sessions Court, Street maintenance, Public Library, Golf Course, Town Center, Cemetery, and support services for those departments. Overall, it's a bargain. It's a whole lot cheaper than Cable TV!

Mary Miller said...

Elliott...they are losing $400 a year??????????/ Just listen to that.....$400 a year!!! That money could be spent on much more needed things. They should not be involved in anything like a golf course that is losing that kind of money. If it were something that pertained to saving a life or something that was not for entertainment....I would say maybe..but $400K a year for a golf course...then they want to increase taxes by 50 percent?????????????? That is ridiculous, honestly it is.Why would anyone want to lose that much money in a business???? They are using the citizens of Smyrna's money and they have no right to waste it like that. Thanks for trying to explain it, but I see it differently>

Mary Miller said...

I meant $400K A YEAR

Elliott said...

My point is that you're not looking at the whole picture. Yes, $400K is a lot of money, but they make up for that with the entirety of the budget. How much in revenues does the Parks & Recreation Dept. make? How much in revenues does the Street Department make? How much in revenues does the Police or Fire Depts. make? It doesn't matter because all of the general fund revenues go into one giant pot of money to fund ALL city general fund services. You can't just pick one department out and say they should be self-funded - it doesn't work that way. The tax proposal as I understand it was to increase the fund balance to help pay for the big projects that are coming down the road - projects that will hopefully make Smyrna better. It's still a bargain at $38 per month!

Mary Miller said...

But Elliott..that is still money wasted whether they make it up somewhere else or is still wasted. To say they cut other things so they could "waste" and lose money somewhere else, especially for something that is not necessary is crazy. THat money could be used on things we need. Or how about this...stop raising taxes to fund the golf course that is losing money. I guess we can agree to disagree. Over and out..

Anonymous said...

Elliot, just a little more is sometimes just a little too much. Everything is more these days. Gas, food, soc security deduction from the paycheck, cost of insurance, electricity in a cold winter all going up. So I think it reasonable when people find it hard to swallow that the city wishes to deepen its collective pot on the shrinking pots of its citizenry. If things were better overall no one would notice the cost and would love to better the town, but now may not be the best time. Respectfully, the big picture...

Anonymous said...

How many city employees play for free at the golf course? How many city employees but from the golf pro shop below cost? How many city employees eat at the Town Center?
This is just more perks for city employees. If the Town Council gives more to the city employees, they will get more votes from these people.
$400K is too much to lose at any golf course. You will find that the manager of the golf course makes a lot of money plus benefits.