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Suburban golfers may pay more

Suburban golfers who tee off at city courses might face higher fees than first proposed under a plan that would use the extra money to hold the line on fees charged to Buffalo residents.

The idea was raised Tuesday by a city lawmaker as officials from the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy met with the Common Council.

The head of the conservancy raised concerns that if nonresident fees increase too much, it will deter some suburban golfers from using the courses. About 30 percent of all users live outside Buffalo.

Citing the need to increase fees to cover maintenance costs at city-owned golf courses, the conservancy has proposed increasing the costs of season passes by nearly 14 percent for city residents and 27 percent for golfers who live outside Buffalo. The passes would cost city residents $210, while suburban golfers would pay $235. Last year, when Erie County was still managing city parks, all golfers paid $185 for seven-day season passes.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said he might propose a plan that would hold fees in check for city golfers, while imposing even bigger increases on suburban users. Kearns noted that under a part of the city code in effect before the county took over the courses, Buffalo could charge nonresidents $285 for season passes.

"If we need to make up additional revenue, let's make it up on the nonresident side instead of punishing Buffalo residents," said Kearns, who headed Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting.

Five of nine Council members told The Buffalo News that they are amenable to at least reviewing Kearns' plan. Council President David A. Franczyk stopped short of endorsing the idea, but he believes there's justification for going easier on Buffalo users.

"I want to protect the city residents as much as possible," said Franczyk. "City residents can't even use some of the parks and beaches that are in the suburbs."

Ellicott Council Member Curtis Haynes Jr. said it's important to study fee "elasticity" before final decisions are made. Haynes said data must be reviewed to determine whether an even larger fee increase for suburban residents might cause a significant decline in the number of users.

This is precisely the fear of Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president and CEO of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. He said that while city golf courses remain the "best bargain" in the area, raising fees too high could be unwise.

"If we overprice the out-of-city residents, they just won't come," he said.

The Council will likely vote on a new set of golf fees at its March 30 meeting.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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