Council, board discusses future of golf course

OSAGE CITY—The Osage City Council has been weighing options for the future management of the Osage City Municipal Golf Course.

The city has steadily increased subsidies of the golf course since accepting ownership of the course in 2014. Under current management by the Osage City Country Club Board of Directors, the city has contributed almost $27,000 in the city’s general, around $10 per resident, in facility repairs, insurance, utilities and a $16,000 loan for a new mower. The board has repayed $2,000 of that over the last two summers.

“Our understanding is we’re not going to get that back, because they’re hurting for funds,” said Katie Hodge, city treasurer.

In an Oct. 7 letter to the city, Gordon Worthing, board president, outlines the courses dire straights. Worthing outlined a three-year projection of expenses for the course, with revenue shortfalls ranging from $50,000 to $126,000 over the next three years.

“We cut out as much as we could this upcoming year,” Worthing said.

Worthing said the worsening conditions of the course have already led to a reduction in membership. During the Oct. 25 meeting of the Osage City Council, he noted a steady reduction in income, from $133,000 in 2000 to a projected $113,000 this year.

“That gives you an idea on where we’re at,” Worthing said. “I’m sure fertilizer hasn’t gone down. Grass seed hasn’t gone down.”

The city has three options – continue to operate the course under a board; assume complete management of the course, or lease course management to a private entity.

Rod Willis, city manager, has been in discussion with Mike Mallery, co-owner of the Great Life golf courses in Ottawa and DeSoto. Mallery had planned to attend the Oct. 25 meeting, but cancelled earlier that day, citing other engagements, but discussed details of managing the course with Willis.

“He feels it would take about $50-75,000 subsidy,” Willis said. “If the city would be willing to continue to provide utilities and maintenance on the building, plus $50-75,000 year subsidy, they would be willing to operate the course for a three-year term lease, to see if it would work.”

Mallery had told both Willis and Gordon he felt the population base was insufficient to support the course, and needed improvements without subsidies.

“They would be rejuvenating the fairways and greens during that three years,” Willis said. “The advantages, from the conversation today, if Great Life operated the course, that $50-75,000 would be operating the course. That’s equivalent of one full time employee.”

Willis said the cost could be more if operated solely by the city.

“You’re looking at two full time employees, plus part time, versus the equivalent of one full-time employee, from the cities standpoint,” Willis said.

Hodge presented figures detailing the city’s projected involvement. She said that a $50,000 subsidy would raise the parks and recreation budget from $450,000 to $500,000 annually, an increase of $18 per resident.

If the city management raised that cost to $150,000 annually, that budget would raise to $600,000, an increase of $69 per resident, or $224 in total.

By comparison, the city spends $317,000 annually on streets and $480,000 on its police department, including grants and state aid.

Willis said due to the recent state-implemented tax lid, a mill levy increase would not be possible without a public vote. The next available election would follow the next budget, drawing out the process more than two years.

“If we could subsidize for the next few year, or do the Great Life thing, we could put it on the people,” said Bruce Schoepflin, council member. “If it doesn’t pass, closing the golf course isn’t on us, it’s on the voters.”

Hodge said temporary funding could be drawn from the utility funds, reducing each fund around one to two percent annually.

“If you do utility funds, if you do water fund, those rates are set by contract,” Willis said. “Increases in those rates only allow very specific items to go in those increases, and one of those items is not a golf course.”

Corey Linton, parks and recreation director, spoke to the city at the Oct. 11 meeting, where he said the department currently lacks the manpower to operate the course. He noted similar sized cities, such as Lions and Ellsworth in central Kansas, operate courses through their recreation departments.

Lions, he said, had a budget of $100,000 in its first year of operating a similar nine-hole course.

“Their initial budget projection was low, because needing to get new equipment, needing to upgrade the course itself,” Linton said.

Dale Schwieger, council member, noted that with the inclusion of the courses profits, the cost would more closely resemble the subsidy requested by Great Life. Several members of the council were also reluctant to commit to subsidies from private management of the course.

“Great life looked at it, and said based on capacity, they wouldn’t buy it,” said Rob Rowe, council member. “$150,000 a year could fix Market Street west, could fix holiday and the sewer systems. There are golf courses everywhere. It doesn’t look like a profitable thing for the city, and to rob other budgets, when we have deteriorating infrastructure.”

Jeanette Swarts, council member, suggested looking into if other courses were being leased in the way Great Life offered to the city, for comparison. Schwieger said that while the course had just 60 members in the city, the benefits extend past those that use the course directly.

“When we take away economic benefit of the course itself, for the schools to have a golf tournament here, people are spending money here,” Schwieger said. “They’re buying food, they’re doing all the added benefits as well. That’s a percent, that’s not paying our taxes to help pay for things. If you don’t have that little bit, you have to make that up somewhere else.”

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