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Salt Lake City golf fund approaching $1 million deficit

FILE — A golfer plays the Glendale Golf Course in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 17, 2015. Salt Lake City's independent golf enterprise remains deep in the red, and when the mayor's newly appointed golf director indicated on Tuesday the fund may need tax
FILE — A golfer plays the Glendale Golf Course in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 17, 2015. Salt Lake City's independent golf enterprise remains deep in the red, and when the mayor's newly appointed golf director indicated on Tuesday the fund may need taxpayer investment to become viable, City Council members were not receptive.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's independent golf enterprise remains deep in the red, and when the mayor's newly appointed golf director indicated on Tuesday the fund may need taxpayer ihelp to become viable, City Council members were not receptive.

It's an issue that City Council members have tried to confront for a decade before it came to a boiling point several years ago, when the city hired a national consultant for advice and course closures were suggested as the best answer.

Under former Mayor Ralph Becker's administration, the Glendale and Wingpointe courses were slated for closure, but when Biskupski took office she pledged to conduct her own analysis of the city's golf system in attempt to avoid any unneeded closures.

Even though City Councilman Derek Kitchen acknowledged that he hasn't spent nearly as much time on the city's ongoing golf fund issues as other council members, he said Tuesday's discussion was the most "frustrating" issue for him ever since he began serving on the council last year.

"It's a good thing I don't have hair because I'd be pulling it out right now," he said. "I just can't have another conversation about golf when there are so many other important issues in our city."

Nonetheless, the City Council spent more than an hour with the city's golf director, Dan Dent, in a mid-year briefing on the enterprise fund, six months into its fiscal year.

As of November the golf fund was more than $630,000 in the red, and if the trend continues, the mayor's administration expects the fiscal year will end with a $1 million deficit, according to a council staff report.

"It just makes me really nervous to have these kinds of numbers," said Councilwoman Lisa Adams. "Why are we in such a bad spot in the first six months of this fiscal year?"

Dent said a combination of factors have contributed to this year's deficit, including lower-than-projected revenue returns and some "unfortunate" circumstances that added to increased water costs.

He said a new demand pricing structure — with discounts on slow days and higher prices on busier days — resulted in lower revenue returns, while a water line leak in 2016 went unnoticed at Wingpointe for two months and resulted in more than $170,000 in water bills.

According to the council staff report, the golf division staff plans to request a general fund subsidy to cover unanticipated water costs.

Dent also told the council that without an investment from the city's general fund to help improve facilities or generate more marketing strategies, he will likely be forced to cut costs either through labor or course closures.

Council Chairman Stan Penfold and council members Erin Mendenhall, Charlie Luke and Kitchen all said they were firmly against providing any subsidies from the city's general fund.

"For a decade, (golf staff) kept coming to the council saying, 'We need money from the general fund,'" Mendenhall said. "I'm telling you clearly, don't come to us asking for general fund money, we're not going to give it to you."

Councilman James Rogers urged Dent to pursue private partnerships to change Salt Lake City's golf model.

"I don't think anybody wants to shut down golf courses, but we just want to make sure we are in the black," Rogers said.

Penfold requested Dent come back before the council sometime in March to present an update.

In an interview after the meeting, Dent said he appreciated the council's feedback and plans to provide a list of options for the council to consider.