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State audit criticizes Niagara County Golf Course for its handling of cash payments

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Golf Course, for which the County Legislature soon may seek a private manager, was criticized in a state audit released this week for its handling of cash payments.

The State Comptroller’s Office said that not all the money received by the golf course was deposited in the bank in a timely fashion and that the Legislature and the County Treasurer’s Office were lax in their oversight of the activities of Golf Director Thomas L. Yaeger.

Yaeger was allowed to set the prices for players on his own – the Legislature should do that, the audit said – and didn’t record all his transactions properly in the course’s point-of-sale system.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said in a response letter to the Comptroller’s Office, “The county intends to develop a written policy safeguarding cash receipts.”

Since 2002, the course on Davison Road in Lockport has been set up as an enterprise fund, meaning that it is not part of the regular county budget and is supposed to pay for itself with no tax revenue applied to it.

But the course has not turned a profit since 2012, according to county budget data, and Yaeger said Wednesday that he expects the 2015 figures, which are not yet complete, to show another loss. He said that the course once had a fund balance to cover the losses but that it has been exhausted.

In 2014, the Legislature lent the golf course $140,025 to build a new maintenance shop. The money came from the county’s general fund balance, or surplus, and is to be repaid over a 10-year period at 2.15 percent annual interest.

Yaeger said that bank deposits are done daily during the golf season but that in the off-season, when things are slow, “We might make a deposit every week or every couple of weeks.”

But by comparing deposit records for the summers of 2014 and 2015 with the transactions recorded in the course’s point-of-sale system, the state auditors found 34 checks totaling $22,445 that were deposited but weren’t in the system. Those included payments from Robert Soemann, who has a contract to operate the Sandtrap restaurant at the course.

Advertising is allowed on tee signs for $375 a year, but Yaeger said he let some sponsors pay $200 in cash and $175 in gift certificates that were offered as prizes in golf tournaments. The audit said that there was no evidence of anyone ever approving such noncash transactions and that records were inadequate on the use of the certificates. Also, a golf cart vendor was paid in cash from the cash drawer, the report said.

In all, cash receipts not recorded in the county system totaled 4.8 percent of the course’s revenue in 2013. In 2014, the figure was 2.8 percent, and in 2015, it was 3.6 percent.

Yaeger said the number of rounds played at the course peaked at about 30,000 a year in 2010. Since then, usage has been sliding, to about 25,000 rounds played last year. “In general, golf is going down,” Yaeger said.

A resolution to seek proposals from private firms to manage the course was introduced in the Legislature last month, and was sent to committee for study. At the time, Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-Lockport, said the county did not plan to sell the course.

“They’re just worried about the golf course costing the taxpayers money,” Yaeger said.