When trying to determine a course of action it's always good to see if the particular strategy you're contemplating has been tried before and if so, how it ultimately worked out. In the case of the FW Tax District bonding plans for upgrading access to the clubhouse and golf course infrastructure there is in fact a precedent.
During the mid-80's problems arose when the developer tried to sell the golf course without giving the residents the "right of first refusal". The resident group ultimately won a sum of money in a lawsuit but decided that rather than spend what they had received to purchase the course they would float a bond for a million dollars and finance it over 20 years. The Master Association offices were also built with this money.
At the time FW consisted of 600 units with roughly 30% resident participation in golf. Even with that relatively high percentage of residents involved with golf, the non-golfing residents had to be persuaded to go along with paying off the golf course with a portion of their taxes. After receiving promises that there would never be an assessment for the course and being told that taxes paid to the newly formed Tax District could be written off on their income taxes, the bond vote passed by a slim majority.
And how did that work out? Well, for most of the twenty years whether you played golf or not an average of $100 a year of your district taxes were going to pay off the debt. As for operational expenses the golf course itself was self-sustaining with enough paying members to keep it that way.
And then came the 2000's. By most estimates the number of golfers actively playing the sport dropped by almost 10% in the first ten years of the 21st century. This ultimately had an effect on golf participation at FW. By 2005 membership had dropped to 13.4% of residents and the golf course was losing its ability to pay for itself. In that year the proposed tax district budget had $68,500 earmarked for sand traps, tree removal and repair of irrigation on the course. (They had also approved $20,000 for a new outdoor bathroom the year before.)
And how did the non-golfing residents respond to this? It gets interesting. 2005 also happened to be the year the bond was finally paid off and most thought that the $100,000 a year going to the bond would now go to making improvements such as additional sidewalks and other upgrades to the overall community.When word got out that the tax district was going to spend $68,500 (plus $20,000 for the bathroom) a resident committee did their best to remind the community that golf was supposed to be self-sustaining and not supported by resident condominium fees or district taxes. They urged residents to vote no on the budget.
They did not prevail, however; the board convinced residents that the golf course was the thing keeping property values up at FW then, and folks continue to believe it to this day, three years after the real estate bubble burst in 2009. (The opinion of outside brokers at present, however, is that a failing golf course and increasing fees actually lower property values.) In the years that followed the Golf Club continued to lose members and other golf related expenses were charged to the non-golfing residents of FW through association fees.
Finally, in 2009 the Ad-Hoc Select Committee to Study Golf revealed that the Golf Operation had lost money in five of the six previous years yet still came to the conclusion that the only feasible use for the golf course was just that, a golf course. It wasn't feasible to lease it or use it as a tree or wind farm. The open space option was ruled out because it was deemed to be more expensive than operating the golf course. Selling it was not even mentioned. The committee's final recommendation was basically to have residents support the course until someone came up with a better idea.
And that brings us to today. Golf membership has declined steadily since 2005; resident golfers number around 100, roughly 9% of total residents. The board held focus groups in 2011 to see what residents thought were important to the long term health of FW as a community. Many things were suggested, but one thing came through loud and clear: residents overwhelmingly want the golf course to be self-sustaining. They don't want to continue supporting a golf course that is losing money, especially since they are not the ones using it.
Now, in 2012 the tax district's solution to the problem is to float two bonds totaling $4M, half of which will go to replace the irrigation system on a golf course that in ten years could have a dozen members for all anyone knows. There was no feasibility study or cost/benefit analysis done to determine if this is money worth investing. No one knows for sure what the future holds for Golf Club membership. One thing is for sure, if the bonds pass we will be locked in for twenty years just like the folks from the mid 1980's. And how did that work out for them? Depends on who you are.
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