A proposal by councilman Bryan Callahan to cut three golf course managers’ salaries from the municipal golf course’s budget in order to save money has been rejected by the city council. Callahan said his goal was not to shut down the golf course, but to “light a fire” under his push to lease the golf course.
Bethlehem (Pa.) City Council on December 11 rejected a motion to cut out of the budget the salaries of three golf course managers, a proposal city officials said would have effectively shut down the popular Bethlehem Golf Club next year, the Lehigh Valley, Pa., Morning Call reported.
Councilman Bryan Callahan, who offered the amendment to reduce the golf budget by $201,000, said his goal was not to shutdown the 61-year-old course but to “light a fire” under his push to lease the golf course, the Morning Call reported.
Callahan argued that the city in January could draw up request proposals for a private operator to take over the enterprise, which has been running small deficits for eight years, and lease it to a professional management operation. The new operator, he argued, would pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the sand traps, parking lots and other costly projects instead of the city taxpayers, the Morning Call reported.
The city already has a template for the lease, Callahan said, with the lease for the Clubhouse Grille, the golf course restaurant that the city owns but leases to a private operator, the Morning Call reported.
But Business Administrator Dave Brong said Callahan was “grossly oversimplifying a very complex business situation.” The process could not take place before the start of golf season, Brong said. There would have to be technical reviews, an appraisal and more. In addition, Brong said, it would make sense to bundle the leases with the lease to the restaurant. That lease is up at the end of next year, the Morning Call reported.
“It’s probably the only way that this thing financially works is if you bundle those two,” Brong said. “Otherwise, it’s a loser.”
The administration wants time to see if the city could turn the golf operations around without an outside operator, Brong said. The golf course, which Brong said comes close to making its direct expenses, hadn’t been a priority as the city focused on more costly challenges to the city’s financial health. The areas the city focused on, Brong said, helped the city beef up its surpluses which resulted in better bond ratings, the Morning Call reported.
Councilman Eric Evans, who held a meeting about the golf course, rejected Callahan’s motion because of the timing but agreed that the issue should stay “at the forefront.” Evans said the course is a popular one but the revenue can’t cover the cost of running it let alone build up a savings for costly repairs, the Morning Call reported.
Evans would like the city to make its evaluation by June about whether it can make the necessary changes. “If not, it’s time to move forward and get those appraisals,” Evans said.
Mayor Robert Donchez’s administration had proposed spending $550,000 in recreational fees to make some initial repairs at the golf course. Donchez asked the council to defund that request after hearing some council members’ concerns about investing that money before the city develops a plan for the future operation of the course, the Morning Call reported.
Callahan said he doesn’t want to see the city foot the cost of those repairs for golfers, many of whom live outside the city. “There’s no question that it’s going to take at minimum $1.5 to $2 million of taxpayer money to put in that golf course,” Callahan said.
Brong rejected any repair estimates without an analysis. “We seem to be throwing out numbers without knowing how much it’s going to cost out there like Chiclets, and we don’t know. That’s the bottom line,” Brong said.
Later in the council meeting, Callahan said he’s sought out estimates from public works director Michael Alkhal and others in the city about how much repairs could cost. Council is scheduled December 19 to adopt the budget, the Morning Call reported.