The following, which can be verified online in the FY2000 finalized City of Oak Ridge Budget, provides a brief history of a project that was forced upon our citizens in spite of vehement protest twenty years ago and for which we are still paying heavily.
In 1995, the City of Oak Ridge issued $6.2 million in debt to finance the construction of the Centennial Golf Course. In 1998, the City essentially refinanced this loan for over $7 million. This debt was to be paid for “by the revenues of the Golf Course Fund which includes operations of the course and sale of land surrounding the course for residential development.”
Unfortunately, minimal, if any, revenue has paid down this debt. Instead, taxpayers have funded nearly all of it out of their pockets, plus over $2.5 million in interest. And we’ll continue to pay roughly $500,000 per year for five more years.
Taxpayers are also paying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital maintenance expenses. This is due to a very poorly negotiated contract that has largely favored the private company. The City of Oak Ridge has contracted with Billy Casper Golf Management (BCGM) for operation of the course since 2000. BCGM has operated at a loss nearly every year since they took on the contract. Total actual revenues from 2000-2014 are about $18 million while expenditures totaled $20 million.
While there are no performance measures in this contract, there is a stipulation that the city pay BCMG a monthly fee. It originally totaled $60,000 annually with a 5% yearly increase. By my math, we are currently paying them $119,000 per year to operate at a loss. (See page 79 of the agenda/contract here.)
Now, in addition to a tab that amounts to over $10 million thus far, taxpayers are being asked to subsidize operations by $325,000. City Council will vote on the matter this Monday night.
Over the last twenty years, our poor financial decisions have taken a serious toll on our community. Both our debt and our low income population have nearly tripled. All the while, we continue to neglect necessities like our crumbling roads and buildings.
With the shrinking of the middle and upper class, the quality of life we enjoy is at risk. Spending money to make money has proven to be a losing strategy. Regardless of what angle it is viewed, be it the privatization of government services or the promise of economic stimulation, this golf “curse” is a model for failure. It is time to sell it and cut our losses. At the very least, we should provide free golfing passes to each and every one of our residents and businesses.