There is something profound about the absurdity of taxpayers subsidizing expensive recreational activities. While some people may balk at funding welfare, education, even clean air and safe food initiatives, Ventura officials seem to have a particular indifference to costs covered by taxpayers by continuing to write off expenses when it comes to the two city-owned golf courses. Now, due to debt service payments on earlier renovations, the city is paying roughly around $500,000 annually for these golf courses. With interest in the sport floundering compared to a decade ago, the city seems destined to cover the costs just to keep these courses open.
As reported in our feature this week, “Money pits, The risky game of sustaining municipal golf courses,” as well as featured national news articles on golf over the last several years, it has become clear that interest in the game of golf has declined considerably. For Ventura, it’s especially concerning after sinking $17 million into both golf courses in the mid-2000s and debt service payments that are set to balloon to $2 million annually by 2025. But getting clarity on the issue of what Ventura taxpayers are on the hook for is rather confusing. City officials created a report, a “Golf Course System Evaluation,” which was presented to the City Council on June 5 that seemed to reveal a sudden influx of cash flow, despite downward trends:
“Annual debt service, following debt refinancing, is scheduled at about $480,000 per year for the FY2018-FY2025 period, increasing to about $2 million thereafter, with the debt scheduled to be fully amortized by 2038.” — Page 16
“… the annual subsidy is projected to decrease from $548,000 to an average of about $200,000-$300,000 per year over the next five years. There is no immediate way to significantly reduce further, or eliminate, the subsidy.” — Page 23, referring to the $548,000 the city paid for fiscal year 2015-2016
Understanding exactly what the city will have to pay to keep the courses open is unclear. But as annual revenue and golf round numbers show a declining trend, we are left wondering if Ventura officials will just continue to “kick the can down the road” and pass the responsibility off to future leaders. While it was discussed that one of the courses may be turned into a water treatment facility, there didn’t seem to be any sense of urgency. But we think there should be.
The city of Oxnard still sees revenue from its River Ridge Golf Club though the rounds and revenue in the last couple of years have not kept up with city projections. Given that, it seems inevitable that Oxnard will be subsidizing it to keep it open in the near future. Ventura County-owned golf courses, however, are faring better, according to Greg Berman, General Services Agency deputy director — that is, for taxpayers. While the county did subsidize between $225,000 and $250,000 on renovations for one of its courses, declining participation in rounds and revenue fall on the lessees who manage the golf courses and do not rely on public funds. Further, when the county was on the hook for renovations, county officials ensured that such costs would not fall back on the county in the future with newly signed contracts.
As we wait to see what Ventura officials will do to veer its golf courses from an even worse burden on taxpayers, we encourage city residents to speak up about keeping one or even both open at their expense. Further, in Oxnard, we can only hope that elected officials and city executives see the writing on the wall and look for ways to avoid placing this recreational amenity on city residents who are already encumbered with higher costs (wastewater rates come to mind) to maintain their quality of life. As for the county, it seems as though proper planning procedures are in place to avoid exponential costs on the taxpayer and the private firms invested in running these courses need to be prepared for an uncertain future. While we understand these golf courses serve as a respite to area residents and also employ any number of locals, serious consideration and action as necessary is a must when it comes to simply making all pay for the simple enjoyment of hitting a few rounds by a mere fraction of local residents.
On another note, we can’t help but wonder if there might be a better use of these massive property-consuming courses, such as affordable housing. Time to think about rezoning, perhaps?