City Pulls RFP for Bethlehem (Pa.) GC Management

A request for proposals was issued in early April, but the city has opted to keep management in-house after striking a deal with union workers. The agreement will reduce the number of full-time employees from eight to four, and those who will lose their jobs will have to bid into the vacant seasonal positions.

Bethlehem, Pa., will continue to run Bethlehem Golf Club thanks to a deal struck between the city and union workers, Bethlehem’s business administrator announced on April 26, the Bethlehem-based Lehigh Valley Live reported. 

The announcement from Eric Evans comes less than a month after the city began seeking offers to have an outside party run the club. The city previously said that the club, which includes an 18-hole championship golf course and a nine-hole executive course, couldn’t afford to continue operating the course itself, Live reported.

Once the city issued a formal request-for-proposals for an outside-party operator in early April, the union representing city workers at the golf club and the city’s administration started negotiations. This resulted in an agreement to reduce the number of full-time employees at the course from eight to four, Live reported.

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The four workers who will leave the course over the next couple of months will have to bid into vacant positions within other city departments as they become available through attrition. They will be replaced at the club by part-time, seasonal workers, Live reported.

The plan, the city said in a news release, will provide enough margin to fully fund all golf operations and also allow the course to make needed investments into the aging complex. Areas that have been identified for work are the bunkers, cart paths, irrigation system, parking lots, and clubhouse building, Live reported.

This is the outcome the city wanted, Evans said, citing that an outside-party operator wasn’t ideal because the city would lose control of a large asset for a long period of time, Live reported.

“I’ve stated from the beginning that it was my hope that we could find a way to continue operating the course, as long as we could continue to provide good playing conditions in a financially sustainable manner,” said Mayor Bob Donchez. “This deal will get that done.”

The city workers were represented by SEIU Local 32BJ. “We are glad that we were able to reach an agreement that provides for continued city operation of the golf course and that ensures that all affected members will remain city employees,” Bethlehem Chapter President Mike McGraw said.

At a meeting on May 1, the city further discussed the property’s future, Allentown, Pa.-based WFMZ-TV News reported.

Evans reported to council that experts had told him that “there was inherent risk with leasing” a property like the municipal golf course. He cited three examples. The first was the ownership of the course’s equipment. The second was that city would give away the ability to control the rates. The final concern was a lack of a compliance officer, WFMZ-TV reported.

The plan would save the city $275,000 in expenses on the golf course—from a little less than $1.5 million this year to $1.32 million next year—and allocate $130,000 toward much needed and significant upgrades by floating a $1.6 million bond, Evans said. Those upgrades would include sand traps, cart paths and parking lots, and could begin as soon as this fall if council approves the plan, WFMZ-TV reported.

The city’s outlay of salaries would decrease from the current year’s budget allocation of $415,341 to just $257,052 in the 2019 proposed budget. The city would replace four full-time employees with temporary help over eight months of the year. That move would increase the city’s temporary help line item from $47,000 in 2018 to a projected $123,000 figure in 2019, WFMZ-TV reported.

Overall the city would see a roughly $97,000 savings in salaries. The city would also realize a savings in its medical costs at Bethlehem Golf Course, from a figure of $136,090 this year to $75,000 next year, WFMZ-TV reported. 

“This is a game changer,” Evans said.

Not all members of council shared that enthusiasm. Councilman Bryan Callahan praised Evans’ work to create the plan, but wasn’t convinced Bethlehem should even be in the golf course business. “The government does some things well,” Callahan said. “Some things we do not do well is run a golf course.”

Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt questioned whether the city needed even four full-time employees at the course. She noted that the city of Erie, which also runs a municipal golf course, does so with only two full-time workers and temporary workers, WFMZ-TV reported.