Golf fee increases get first reading during City Commission meeting

City Commissioners will take a first look at proposed golf fee increases during Tuesday’s meeting and likely set a public hearing for Dec. 5.

The Golf Advisory reviewed the proposal in October and recommended that commissioners approve the fee increase.

According to the Park and Recreation department, golf fees haven’t been increased since 2016 and the increase is needed to help offset expenditures relating to operation costs, equipment replacement, capital improvements and debt associated with the golf courses.

City golf courses close for season this week; winter golf begins in November

The fee increases are projected to generate an additional $90,300 in revenue for 2018 and $49,800 for 2019, according to Park and Rec.

The golf course fund still owes the city’s general fund nearly $1 million and City Manager Greg Doyon has regularly mentioned the golf fund as a financial concern.

During budget meetings over the summer, Doyon said “if we don’t resolve that, it’s going to hurt our overall financial health. We’re only able to kick this can down the road so far.”

Since 2009, the general fund has provided $616,921 in direct support to the general fund. The last debt on the golf course was paid off in 2016, but the golf fund still shows a major deficit and still owes the city general fund, according to city budget documents.

During a commission work session this summer, golf manager Connie Caouette told commissioners that the 2016 price increase resulted in the loss of some golf patrons. The cybercard was also eliminated that year and Caouette said more golfers were choosing a single course to play at versus using both Eagle Falls and Anaconda Hills.

Total season revenue has been dropping for several years, according to city data. November to July 2015, total revenue was $317,000; for November to July 2016 that dropped to $241,000 and from November to July 2017, it dropped again to $237,000.

Weather has a major impact on the golf program and the number of playable days each year from 2014 to 2016 was about 220. Through Aug. 15, 2017, that number was 154.

Fewer people are playing in tournaments and Caouette told commissioners in August that “we need direction.”

Commissioner Bill Bronson asked how the golf staff proposed repaying the general fund.

“We’re going to have to be pretty bold in our proposal,” Caouette said. No proposal has yet been presented to commissioners, but Caouette said in August that it was contingent on a new rate structure.

Great Falls is the only Montana city with two municipal golf courses, Bronson said, and at some point, there needs to be a discussion on whether that’s appropriate.

Golf is expensive to operate, he said, “but if you can’t generate the revenue to do it, you have to ask yourself are we doing too much?”

Bronson said he wanted to see proposals about repaying the general fund within the next year, otherwise he said the commission will have to start discussing whether two courses is too much.

Commissioner Bob Jones said he wanted more details and that he wouldn’t look very favorably on any capital outlay for golf without a better plan.

“We need to make a decision…and resolve the debt,” Doyon said. “This is something that’s hanging around our neck.”

The debt affects public safety since fire and police and largely funded by the city’s general fund.

“We need to be realistic about the market,” Doyon said. “I still can’t find a path that justifies having two golf courses” with the current needs and resources.

He said the commission will need to decide whether to write off the debt to the general fund, which would be a “pretty big hit.”

“It’s going to have to take something pretty miraculous,” Doyon said, to recover the golf debt.

The recommended golf fee changes are:

  • Increase season pass fees 10 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019 (excludes junior passes)
  • Eliminate single course season passes for Eagle Falls Golf Club and Anaconda Hills Golf Course and offer only the joint season pass in 2019.
  • Eagle Falls and Anaconda Hills 2018 season pass holders would be grandfathered in and would not be required to purchase a joint season pass in 2019.
  • No fee increases in 2018
  • 5 percent fee increase in 2019 (excludes junior green fees)
  • Anaconda Hills only – children ages 5-12 play free, including cart seat, with a paying adult.
  • Reinstate cybercard, which includes 25 percent discount on green fees, cart rentals, range balls and pro shop merchandise (in-stock, regularly priced items) for $85 in 2018, with an increase to $90 in 2019.
  • Small bucket of balls, increase from $3.00 to $4.00 for 2018 and to $5.00 in 2019.
  • Large bucket of balls, increase from $5.00 to $6.00 for 2018 and to $7.00 in 2019.
  • Increase annual cart pass fee 10 percent in 2018, and 5 percent in 2019.
  • Cart rental for 9 or 18 holes (per person) remains the same.
  • Tournaments and Group Outings: eliminate $5 per person fee; no change to trail or cart storage fees.