Letter to the Editor

Golf course drains taxpayers

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dear editor:

Is the Desert Canyon Golf Course Mountain Home's Sacred Cow?

In this time of economic challenges, government agencies at all levels are making tough choices to manage budgets. Even here in our little town, we've recently seen examples where the city council had to reduce or eliminate funding for the museum and the youth center.

Some support these decisions and others do not. But, in my opinion, there is one issue all taxpayers might be able to agree on -- we are getting duped into subsidizing low greens fees for golfers at the Desert Canyon course! Let me explain.

The Desert Canyon Golf Course is owned by the city. Whenever the levies are tallied for our annual tax bill, the operating expenses for the golf course are included in that process. Somewhere in the mid to late '90s the ruling class determined if we had an 18-hole golf course instead of nine, we could entice more businesses to the area. So without putting this decision on a ballot for the taxpayers to decide, a bond was purchased, the additional holes were built and we now pay roughly $207K/year against that bond. It will be paid off in the year 2021.

Combining the bond payment with the operating costs of the course and payroll expenses, the city spent roughly $550K of our tax dollars towards the golf course in the last fiscal year. Of course the golf course does charge money for people to use it, so some of those expenses are offset. The golf course generated revenue of approximately $530K in the same time frame. So we only lost $20K....not bad in economic terms!

Yet, as the City Council looks for ways to manage our city's budget, the golf course (which routinely operates in the red) is overlooked time and again. I think it's time we know why that is.

So why do I claim we're subsidizing low greens fees? Because I know what it costs to play 18 holes here. And I know what it costs to play 18 holes at other courses in southern Idaho. I called the golf courses and asked. The average greens fee for playing 18 holes of golf from Twin Falls to Nampa is $27. Desert Canyon charges $15. The highest (of the 12 courses I contacted) was Banbury and their fee is $39. I thought Desert Canyon was likely the lowest, but the course in Gooding only charges $12 -- but they only have a nine hole course. Desert Canyon is the next lowest.

In my opinion, our tax dollars are being wasted. The city's leaders know this "business" continually runs in the red. It doesn't have to, though. It could make a profit. The fees could be raised from $15 to $20-22. The manager's contract could be performance based. Produce or move on!

Some people I've discussed these options with worry that an increase in fees could drive away current or future customers, ultimately causing the course to be even more in arrears.

I doubt that would happen. Golfers will play golf. It's not like they'd complain because they have to pay $7 more in green fees, load their clubs into the old car and drive 50 miles to the next course (at almost $4 gallon for gasoline) to pay greens fees that are the same or higher than here. They will complain, yes. They have a sweetheart deal right now. But with an increase in fees, if they can afford to play golf now, they can still afford it at $22.

In this year of elections, I think we should have an answer from incumbents or their potential replacements: Why does the city continue to put money into Desert Canyon, knowing that it's losing money, yet cut or eliminate budgets in other entities that have proven to be non self-sustaining?

When the candidates come knocking on your door, maybe they can let you know.

-- Mike Ingram