CLEWISTON — The City of Clewiston will consider borrowing $300,000 from First Bank of Clewiston at an interest rate of 2.5% to go through with the planned purchase of a new fleet of golf carts for the municipal course (among other things).
That item is on the agenda for final authorization at the commission’s Oct. 21 regular meeting. The city has switched its schedule from meeting twice a month — on the first and third Mondays — to now having a workshop to discuss their agenda for once-a-month meetings, on the third Monday. The first one was set for Monday, Oct. 14.
The subject of debate for years, the city’s subsidy of the golf course, has been reduced over recent months but still remains bothersome enough to some for one resident, longtime Planning and Zoning Board member Jerry Cochrane, to stand up and speak year after year at Clewiston’s public budget hearings.
This year, that occasion arrived during the city commission’s late September meeting, during the final public hearing on the city’s fiscal 2019-2020 budget year, which began Oct. 1. During the public comment period set aside for agenda items Sept. 23, he wanted to leave some thoughts with the commissioners for future budget planning.
Breaking down the cost
“I’d like to address the proposed budget in the golf course area. And thank you to the finance director for helping me understand these numbers. Last month during the budget workshop, (one man) got up and made a very emotional plea about why we need to keep the golf course as is, and I don’t take exception to anything he said. I think the golf course is a very important entity to some people in the city. I think it’s used by a lot of people to try and raise money for different organizations. I don’t know where they’d go to if they didn’t have a golf course. And I think there’s some civic pride involved. We’ve had this golf course for 90 years.
“And Mr. Rush (Robby) got up here and explained what they’re doing to raise income, the golf course director. And after listening to everything that was said, I really believe that under the current setup, everything that’s possible to raise money and generate revenue is being done over there. I see places under the current setup to go and raise additional money and decrease the deficit. But under this proposed budget, you’ve got a deficit of $338,221. That’s a pile of money, folks.
“In 55-plus years of paying taxes, I’ve never complained about paying taxes. I complain about where they’re being spent, but I don’t complain about the taxes. We’re a small city, we’ve got limited resources, and we’ve got a lot of demands for money. We’re looking at this golf course, it’s got approximately 60 members as I understand it, and a deficit of over 338 thousand dollars.
“This year we’re projected to have 14,000 players in there, you get the city’s offsetting the cost of each round of golf, is $24.15. I think that figure is a little conservative, but if you go up to 15,000, you’ve still got a deficit of $22.54 for every round. I don’t think that’s a sustainable figure. I think the costs need to be shifted a little bit more to the people that are using it.
“It’s an amenity — a nice amenity. One time I made the statement that there’s not another city in the state that has the kind of deficit on a golf course that the City of Clewiston does. I was wrong. Everybody’s got the same problem, just about. Ninety percent of the municipal golf courses in Florida have a huge deficit and they’re all struggling with it just like we are.
“And … tonight’s a formality but I hope you keep some of these figures I’m giving you in mind when you start putting together next year’s budget in six or seven months. That deficit translated into 1.4 mills. In other words, if we just decided today we were closing that golf course, you could reduce the millage 22 percent. That’s what a financial millstone this golf course has become. And we need to start getting ahead on this … but I hope we can kind of ease into it and do a little bit better.
“If I went over and bought a membership, because of my age, and I golf once a week, play 50 rounds a year, I decide I’m not going to pay the golf cart fee, it would cost less than $20 a round to play golf, but costs the city more. I don’t want to see the golf course closed down — I think it’s a very necessary function — but I think we’ve got to start charging the people that use it a little bit more. Maybe not all at once, over three to five years, (but) if this was a ballot issue, I think you know what the answer would be.”
Mayor Mali Gardner thanked Mr. Cochrane for his thoughts.
The city’s new executive, City Manager Randy Martin, said, “The golf course advisory board actually discussed some rate adjustments this week at their meeting.”
Stay tuned for more discussion at city hall on Monday, Oct, 21, at 5 p.m.