EDITORIAL FOR April 14-16 2019
Iím CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof. Anyone who has the slightest interest in the Benson City Government knows that the city owns and operates the San Pedro Golf Course and also a restaurant at the golf course and that both the golf course and the restaurant lose vast amounts of money. In fact, since the city was given the golf course as a gift in 2010, the city has lost money by the millions. Until a few weeks ago Finance Director Seth Judd was reporting to the city council that the golf course was losing $300,000 a year but in late March that figure was upgraded to $350,000 a year. And in case you havenít figured it out, all that lost money comes from the taxpayers of Benson with sales tax revenues being the biggest source of that cash. So whenever you buy something in Benson you are subsidizing someoneís game of golf or someoneís meal at the City Grille.
The golf course was constructed in about 2001 by a company called Golf Systems which was headed by a Colorado banker named Tom Hartley. Golf Systems leased the land from the city. A few years after it opened for business, Hartleyís company sued the city for failing to provide enough treated sewer water to keep the grass growing. To settle the lawsuit the city gave the golf course to Hartleyís company but an ironic twist happened. Hartley found that he couldnít make any money on the facility so he not only offered to give it back to the city but he even offered to pay the city $25,000 a month for three years to take it off his hands. The city accepted the offer in October of 2010 and even with the $25,000 a month subsidy the city continued to lose money like crazy. When the three year subsidy ended the city obviously lost even more money. The golf course was a major reason for raising the sales tax rate by forty percent.
An obvious course of action would be to accept reality and shut down the money losing golf course but it turned out that there are some avid golfers in the Benson area who are very vocal and they insisted that the course remain open. The golfers cited national statistics put out by the golf industry that golf courses pump vast sums of cash into their communities because golfers buy all sorts of things after they finish their games. And supposedly there are people who spend the winter in Benson just because of the golf course. Only problem is that there is precious little evidence that any of that is true. Vast economic impact from golf may be true in other communities but quite possibly not in Benson.
One Benson official who has expressed serious doubts about losing all that money is Vice Mayor Joe Konrad who has, at several city council meetings, said that the losses are unsustainable.
During all regularly scheduled city council meetings the city manager reads a list of coming events. On March 25th City Manager Vicki Vivian read her list of coming events and she said nothing about a special council meeting that would be held only three days later. Is it possible that Vivian didnít know that there would be a special meeting on March 28th? The special meeting on Thursday March 28th would undoubtedly have been packed with golfers had they known about the meeting which was clearly intended to be kept a secret from them. During the special Thursday meeting the council voted to fire four restaurant workers and also fire golf pro Joe DelVecchio. The strategy was to put the golf course on the chopping block and let the chips fall. There was no disclosure about how much money would be saved by firing the five workers and it is distinctly possible that in the long run no money will be saved if the facility becomes less attractive to golfers or if service at the restaurant becomes terrible. But now the council can say that they have cut the losses, at least in the short run.
City Manager Vicki Vivian is a key player in trying to have it both ways. Keep the golf course open but make it look like it isnít losing so badly. It was Vivian who came up with the idea of having a lantern festival at the golf course last September. To a large extent the lantern festival was a con job. The lanterns were actually miniature hot air balloons that were powered by candles. A company near Phoenix sold the lanterns to the city at a cost of about $2 each. The city resold the lanterns for $25 each at an obscene profit. Buyers were told that the lanterns had spiritual value. People sent the lanterns into the sky and dedicated them to deceased loved ones. The lantern festival could just as easily have been held at Lions Park or at the school athletic field but by having it at the golf course, Vivian can claim that she improved the golf courseís revenues.
Vivianís latest scheme for the golf course is to have a country music festival on May 18th. Four bands are to be featured but if you are expecting Tim McGraw, George Strait or Reba McEntire to sing you will be very disappointed. The performers are nearly totally unknown and Iíve never heard of any of them. Admission is $25. Again, any profits will be credited to the golf course even though the revenues will have nothing to do with golf. If the show is a success Vicki Vivian will be praised for controlling the golf courseís losses. And maybe that will help justify her annual salary of $112,000.
My opinion is that the city has two choices that make any sense when it comes to the golf course. Choice number one is to privatize it and lease it out to professionals who know how to run golf courses even if the city has to pay a subsidy to the private operator. The other choice is to face the reality that golf is a game on the decline and there are good reasons why golf courses all over the nation are shutting down. If the Benson golf course canít be professionally managed then it should be shut down. Making decisions in secret meetings and holding festivals designed to create the illusion that the golf course is making money are not the proper approach.
Iím CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions youíve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone elseís. If youíd like a copy of this editorial or youíd like to express your opinion go to the CAVE web site and select editorials. Weíre at CAVEFM.com. Thatís CAVEFM.com