By Doug Courtney
The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club has been a focus of school board and administrative discussions as well as informative articles on the club.
Much of the discussion and articles, while accurate in context, are quite open to interpretation. Some of those articles and the information presented indicate that funds are being diverted from other school programs such as Extended Day, to subsidize the facility. This, in turn, causes parents and families utilizing these programs to pay higher rates than would normally be required.
It is also alleged that by the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2023, the Belle Terre club will suffer a loss of $177,880 which will have to be covered by taxpayers using possibly questionable resources. Allegations such as these have sparked the interest of Sally Hunt, one of our new board members, as they should. [A school board workshop focused exclusively on the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on April 4 at the Government Services Building, 1769 East Moody Boulevard, Bunnell. The workshop is open to the public.]
Because of this interest and the decisions to be made that will immediately affect over 750 residents, the interpretations presented should be examined for accuracy.
First and foremost, the Belle Terre club has never lost more than $94,000 in any fiscal year in the last five fiscal years. See that breakdown here, as tabulated by the district’s finance director.
In fact, during the pandemic, when the facility was closed for three months, Belle Terre had one of its highest grossing revenue years and a loss of less than $39,000. In truth using the provided data from the district, the annual average loss for the last five years has been no more than $69,000. Still a loss, but nowhere near $177,800.
As also presented by Finance Director Patty Wormeck and the Facilities Director Dave Freeman, closing Belle Terre to the public would not end yearly costs to the school district. There would remain an annual deficit of $80,000 for maintenance and upkeep. Public use, however, only leaves a yearly deficit of $69,000 per year, as previously shown. Therefore, the use of Belle Terre by the public reduces yearly losses to taxpayers by an average of $11,000 per year. As a result, it can be inferred that closing the facility to the public will increase Extended Day rates, not decrease them, since current offsets will not be available. That, in turn, will increase costs to parents of this program.
Why then is the facilities director cautioning that increased funding from other public entities would not stop the losses? Why the insistence on the $177,800 loss, a 150 percent increase in losses, from the prior fiscal year?
A review of the presented information is required. First, board members and the public should be aware that revenues for this fiscal year are based on actual data, not all data, but actual data. The expenses, however, are based on a budget that was estimated in June of 2022, not actual data. What is the difference?
First, looking at the revenues Freeman focuses on the yearly membership: He references that currently there are only 59 individuals paying for yearly memberships. What he did not disclose is that yearly memberships were not reintroduced until October 1, 2022. They had been eliminated at the direction of Joshua Walker, coordinator of community services, in January 2022.
Thus a growing population of yearly memberships as reported by Flagler Technical Institute Renee Staufacher in July 2021 of 198 members was reduced to zero. (FTI is the adult education arm of the school district, under whose umbrella the club operates). It was only repeated lobbying by the club advisory committee and a noticeable reduction in income that influenced Freeman to request the board to reinstate the yearly memberships. The difference in income due to this action was the difference between receiving $17,700 per year and $59,400 per year.
Additionally, when talking of revenues, prior to Mr. Freeman’s budget, there was a line item for Other. This line item was used to show the revenue received from many contracted uses of the pool, including but not limited to, Fluid, Synchro Bells, and water aerobics–three community organizations that pay to use the pool at the club. In the prior budgeted year this total was $75,000. That line item and the revenues it produced were no longer listed in 2022-23 budget. Also unsurprisingly, that income from that line item was never included in actual revenues in any yearly statement.
When it comes to income, lack of cash controls, lack of delineation of revenue sources, and absence of contracted income have all reduced this year’s projected income from 192,000 five years ago to $151,000 last year.
Finally, when construing the projected figures for the end of June 2023, Freeman only doubled the projected income. This would assume a linear income base–that is, uniform income month after month, all 12 months of the year–which Belle Terre does not possess. Belle Terre is very much a seasonal business. Income from Belle Terre peaks in April, May, June, and July. Fully 60 percent of revenue would be received in the six months from January 1, 2023, until June 30, 2023. The income projected for budgeted decisions should reflect that. It does not.
Expenses bear the same incongruities, only more so as they are based on opinion, not actual costs. While income uses actual receipts and then projects by a multiple of two, expenses are based solely on the opinions expressed in June 2023. While labor costs are not delineated by expressed line items such as management, custodial, or even lifeguards, they are placed in nebulously labeled line items.
It is time for more clarity, based on solid numbers clearly and objectively presented.
Doug Courtney is a long-time resident of Palm Coast and member of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club’s advisory committee. See his full financial analysis of the club below, in a 39-minute video an d a written analysis.