NIAGARA FALLS – When it comes to the Hyde Park Municipal Golf Course, the two sides are entrenched: golf aficionados support the course while others who are more interested in the bottom line say it costs too much to run.
The City Council did raise the rates for golf earlier this month, but clearly it may not be enough. Should the city get out of the golf course business?
Frank Soda, a former councilman and member of the city’s finance advisory board, says yes. He has lobbied the board to cut the cord on overspending casino funds on general fund expenses. The golf course at 4345 Porter Road was singled out as a loss leader by Soda, who told the Council about the deficits the course was incurring at meetings last month and again this past week.
He said the course was once self-sufficient but currently operates at a $500,000 annual deficit with more employees and fewer players.
He said that, as a member of the City Council in 1998, one of the last votes he took was to raise taxes, but he said the city was able to balance its budget without an infusion of $12.5 million in casino cash.
“There was no casino cash in 1999 and that budget was balanced,” Soda said.
But he said he also voted against raising golf fees because at that time the Hyde Park Golf Course had a surplus.
He said the cost to run the golf course in 1999 was $640,281 and revenues were $817,620, a surplus of $177,339.
However, in 2016 the golf course is projected to cost to $1.134 million to operate, with projected revenues of $644,500, which would lead to a deficit of $489,500.
The numbers are clear said Soda, who said the expense of operating a municipal golf course has increased by 77 percent since 1999, but revenues have been reduced by 22 percent.
“In business terminology, the golf course is definitely a loss leader,” he said.
Soda has called the city “junkies,” plugging casino cash in their arms to make up deficits.
On Feb. 8 he said the golf course is a recreational activity that very few people use and every single property owner has to subsidize.
“Why don’t you charge what it costs to play golf?” Soda asked at the February meeting.
After the City Council raised rates at the beginning of March, Soda was back again, explaining just how big the deficits are.
Allan Leo appeared before the Council as well this past week, speaking on behalf of a group of golfers.
He called the Hyde Park Golf Course an asset to the city that is a “pleasure to play.”
Leo said rates have not held steady, but have been rising for each of the past three years. He said the statement that the golf course loses $500,000 every year is troubling, but suggested infrastructure costs, such as the repair of a new roof on the club house could be part of the costs.
Leo said the course is used regularly for tournaments,
He said some of the increased rates penalize golfers, charging a much higher rate for weekend use with a golf cart, and appear to be illegal and discriminatory.
Leo called the increased annual rate for handicapped golfers, which rose from $600 to $850, “substantial.”
Increased rates approved earlier this month raised season passes by $50, which are now set at $475 for resident passes and $700 for resident seven-day with golf cart. Non-resident rates were set at $600 to $750.
Soda blamed the losses in revenues at the golf course on a declining and aging population and a younger generation that no longer is interested in investing a good portion of their day to playing on the golf course.
Is it a quality-of-life issue? Soda asked the Council.
He answered his own question saying he disagreed. He noted that spending on the library fund has decreased with spending $600,000 below what was budgeted spent in 1999 and overall spending in the library fund is below what the golf course fund.
“Where do think you improve your community’s quality of life in the library or on the golf course? said Soda.