I waited patiently to give my input at the budget meeting last night and by the time I got to stand in front of the microphone a lot of tired people had left and the rest of the tired people's eyes looked pretty glazed over. The meeting lasted more than an hour and a half and several people were so incensed that they had spoken two or three times before I got up to speak. So if you were one of those who left early or one of those that wish they had, here's what I had to say. It's a true story.
Clubhouse North Lounge, April 19, 2012
I can vividly remember being in this room almost seven years ago waiting to vote on a controversial tax district budget that contained $68K for capital improvements to the golf course. The year was 2005 and the twenty year bond that was taken out in 1985 to buy the golf course was about to be paid off, leaving us, we thought with extra money to use for upgrades to the common areas, like new sidewalks and perhaps even a fitness center in the clubhouse.
Actually when I first moved to FW 13 years ago sidewalk was a dirty word and I don’t mean because people spit on them or dropped their gum there. A lot of residents here didn’t want sidewalks constructed and if you said something about it they would tell you that if you wanted to walk you should join the golf course. I guess they were recruiting members in those days too.
As it turned out, instead of the $100K being made available in 2005 for uses that benefit the entire community, the board chose to spend at least some of the money on the shining jewel of Farmington Woods: the golf course. There was quite a backlash to this. A group was formed that passed out flyers urging us to vote NO and on the night of the budget vote this room was packed.
But alas, the energy put forth by the opposition to the budget was for naught and it passed anyway. Rumor was that the golfers had their friends sign a pledge to vote for the budget. That seemed too preposterous to be true, but it was never determined whether it was or wasn’t.
Now we’re sitting here seven years later talking about budgets again and the conversation is still about the golf course and the club house and how far in the red they will be this year. An ad-hoc committee was formed in 2009 to study the golf situation and come up with alternatives, if any. The report revealed a couple of things and came to one particular conclusion: first, that golf both here and most other places locally were in trouble. Membership was falling. Now we know it’s a worldwide problem according KPMG.
The other thing they decided was that the course was a benefit to all FW residents and as an amenity like pools and tennis courts should be supported by them whenever membership numbers were too low for them to support themselves. There are currently 89 resident golfers. We probably should thank them for their financial support; but they might want to think about thanking us for supporting their recreational endeavors.
In the end the committee came to the conclusion that until golf operations could pay for themselves the community should use condo fees and district taxes to help support the course whenever a shortfall occurred. Because the problem wasn’t going away any time soon they were emphatic that the problem and possible solutions should be addressed yearly to be certain we were headed in the right direction.
It’s 2012, we’ve had three budgets since that report was written and we’re reviewing our options, one of which is to float bonds that if both pass, would keep us indebted for another 20 year period. (I call it a 20 year “debt sentence”.)The golf course and clubhouse are still losing money, but we are asked to believe that if we just spend more, things will get better. It’s not gonna happen.
I talked to the owner of an area landscape company yesterday who is very familiar with the golf business; his father ran Farmington Country Club and he himself worked in the golf industry for 15 years.
Bottom line, according to him: private golf clubs are in a death spiral in this area. Farmington Country Club has 190 members and courses have declared bankruptcy in New London (which ironically enough floated a $4M bond for improvements a year before they went under), Bloomfield, and in Woodbridge there were two.
The town of Woodbridge bought Woodbridge CC in 2009 to keep developers from building track homes and overwhelming their school system. But now they’re trying to trim $2M off the $7M they financed so that ironically enough they will have funds to make improvements to their schools and the police department. They have Billy Casper Golf running the operation; using golfing fees over the last three years they have so far only managed to pay off the dept service.
Do you really believe that a small government entity, whether a condo association or a tax district can run a golf operation efficiently enough in these economic times to break even without coming back to the well every year for more and every 20 years for even more? According to my sources in the golf industry that’s called “free money” and it’s too tempting to pass up.
If you really want this to continue, it’s also a free country, VOTE YES. I plan to vote against the bonds and the budgets, but if your side wins, I believe in democracy and I guess myself and others that think like me will just have to suck it up and go along for the ride.