Not only is the hemorrhage in tax dollars at the Palm Coast government-owned Palm Habor Golf course continuing. It’s getting steeper.
Palm Harbor has cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million in subsidies they’ll never see again since it opened in 2009. On Tuesday, the Palm Coast City Council, which has accepted the losses as if the club were a city-run park (it isn’t: it costs $28 to $32 per player per 18 holes), gave its approval to yet another major expense taxpayers will assume and not see again: a $215,000 repair bill for the course’s bunkers, which look bad and drain poorly, upsetting golfers. Some bunkers have no draining issues, but “shading issues” from trees, and “leaf debris contamination” from the trees–as the city describes it–are considered a problem.
The cost is striking, relative to other planned capital improvements in the city that affect significantly more people.
Bunker repair costs will be greater than that of several bridge repairs the city is planning over the next few years in the city proper, more than the cost of median improvements on Whiteview Parkway scheduled for next year, more than twice the cost of all planned replacements of traffic-sign cabinets over five years combined, more than twice the cost of planned surveillance camera additions at four city parks and recreation areas, and more than five times the cost of dugout replacements at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, which is used by far more people and players than Palm Harbor, and which isn’t planned until 2019.
A few years ago the city wrote off the cost of the initial acquisition and capital spending on the golf course–$5.5 million, or almost $1 million more than the cost of ongoing renovations at Holland Park, once the city’s busiest park. Renovations at Holland Park are several months behind schedule.
The work at Palm Harbor will begin Sept. 1 and be completed by Nov. 1 so as to interfere the least possible with golfers, who, city officials say, tend to golf less those two months. But the course itself will not be closed during construction. Only a couple of holes at a time will be closed to accommodate workers.
The city is very concerned about not upsetting golfers. “Be sure that this has to be done by November 1. I don’t want to hear any excuses, I don’t want to hear any it rained,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. (The city will charge the contractor $1,000 a day if the project is late.)
By spending even more money on the golf course, the administration—and the council—are in effect foreclosing discussions on closing the golf course itself, as they can then argue that it would have been wasted money to repair the bunkers only to turn the grounds either to other uses or to no use at all.
The administration’s presentation proposed that repairing bunkers would reduce maintenance costs and therefore save money. There was no documentation backing up the claim.
The golf course is run by KemperSports, the same contractor that has run it for the city since 2009, when the course opened. Last year the course lost $346,191, which came out of the city’s general fund (itself supported by residents’ property taxes). So far this year, the course has lost $155,000. Kemper is not responsible for capital improvements on the course.
Council members had little to say Tuesday as they heard a presentation on the project, other than which bunkers at what hole could potentially be closed, and to defend the additional expense.
“I remember many years ago when Jim Holland was still alive and on the city council,” Mayor Jon Netts said of the late council member who died in 2002. “One of the issues we kept talking about was the roads, and city council at the time was reluctant to put any money into the repaving of the roads. I remember I made the case and Jim Holland said, you know, the roads we have may not be the best roads in the world, but they’re the only roads that we have, and if we don’t maintain them, I can assure you they’re going to get worse. I think this is the same issue.” (City Manager Jim Landon compared it to replacing the roof on one’s house.)
City roads, of course, are used by all city residents. The golf course is used by a handful of residents, and only at a cost many residents cannot afford.