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More money sought for city’s golf courses

Springfield decision looming on future of Snyder Park.

The National Trail Parks and Recreation District may need another $100,000 subsidy from the city this year to help pay its $450,000 shortfall for golf operations.

Also, one local developer said at Monday night’s meeting that, if Snyder Park Golf Course is closed, the park could be used as a wetland nature preserve.

Last fall, the board established a three-year plan to help the golf courses become self-sufficient and keep all three 18-hole golf courses — including Reid North, Reid South and Snyder Park — open.

The board has the option to re-evaluate the plan after one year and will likely make a decision at the Nov. 11 board meeting. The board will need a recommendation before the city budget hearings Nov. 19 and 20.

Since 2004, the city has spent $2 million subsidizing NTPRD’s golf operation.

The golf courses have brought in approximately $1.29 million through Sept. 30. The district set its golf budget at $1.591 million — leaving a deficit of approximately $291,000.

Projections show the district could have an estimated $400,000 to $450,000 shortfall for its golf operation by the end of the year.

“We had to get our conditions back,” said NTPRD director Leann Castillo. “We’ve had weather factors and less people coming to the course. We just don’t have the rounds to do what we had projected.”

Last year, the city budgeted $1.1 million for NTPRD, which included a $250,000 rainy day fund to help with year-end golf payments. The city spent $170,000 in 2012 and $175,000 in 2011 to help cover golf operating deficits.

The money flows into the NTPRD general fund and can be used for the Splash Zone Aquatic Center, golf courses or other expenses.

Both the golf courses and the pool struggled this summer because of weather and will need additional money to cover expenses. The pool is projected to have a $110,000 deficit this year.

The shortfall will deplete all of NTPRD’s rainy day fund, and the district may need an additional $100,000 to $150,000 on top of what the city had budgeted to cover costs for golf.

“They’re doing their best to control expenses right now, and the number could come in lower,” said Mark Beckdahl, the city’s finance director.

The courses recently cut staff positions, which saved between $140,000 and $150,000 per year, although the savings won’t completely come into effect until next year due to employee buyouts.

Board members also said they’ve heard compliments from golfers about the excellent playing conditions this season. Last year, the city earmarked $50,000 of its $1.1 million subsidy for golf course improvements.

“We can declare success,” said Maureen Massaro, the NTPRD board chair. “(The conditions) are probably the best they’ve been in many years.”

However, rounds are still down at the city courses, according to recent reports. Through Sept. 30, the three courses saw 39,506 rounds this year, or 20,000 rounds short of NTPRD’s goal of 60,000.

The courses haven’t reached 60,000 rounds since 2010, but Snyder Park was closed for portions of the 2011 and 2012 golf seasons. Last year, Reid Park saw 36,405 rounds, while Snyder Park was closed due to repairs needed on the course.

City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill, the liaison to NTPRD, said he’s in favor of keeping all three courses open, but told the board it may meet opposition during the city budget meetings.

Said O’Neill, “20,000 rounds isn’t just weather.”

The district increased fees this season for the first time since 2008. Board members discussed the possibility of raising fees again.

Board member Jim Kincaid suggested implementing a tiered-system where fees are more expensive for certain courses. He believes it should cost more to play the city’s premiere 18-hole course, Reid North, while Snyder Park would be its middle tier course and Reid South would be lowest tier.

The board plans to study the prices at other courses to stay competitive with the market in Springfield.

Kincaid also said the district must focus on new programs to attract golfers back to the courses.

“We need to do more to draw people in,” Kincaid said.

Castillo said the district will focus on implementing new programs next year after spending this year working on getting course conditions back to where they needed to be.

She said the golf staff will look to create a tournament/outing committee to attract groups to the courses. They’ll also look to build programs for youth, women, older adults and families.

Before the meeting, local developer Tom Loftis proposed turning Snyder Park into a wetland nature preserve, if the course is to be closed. Loftis, a member of the the Greater Springfield Moving Forward campaign’s Parks and Green Space committee, told board members he didn’t attend the meeting to lobby for the wetland idea, but to simply provide board members possible alternatives.

As part of the deed to Snyder Park, the park must stay green space. Loftis believes the site can be deemed a wetland bank, allowing developers to buy wetland mitigation credits. If a developer attempts to build on a wetland area, it can purchase credits to preserve wetlands in other areas around the state.

“It will provide money to do some of these things,” Loftis said.

The park would have walking trails and help provide educational curriculum for the schools, Loftis said.

Wittenberg University environmental geology professor John Ritter said the park could qualify as a wetland because of topography and soil, but many factors come into play.

Loftis also said several groups would be interested in moving gardens to the nature preserve, including the Ohio State University Extension Office Master Gardeners and Hollandia Botanical Gardens.

The wetland mitigation bank process could take about three years to complete, Loftis said.

The Great Miami Wetland Mitigation Bank at Sycamore State Park in Trotwood is currently in the process of selling 40 acres worth of credits to developers. The bank, owned by Dayton’s Five Rivers MetroParks, is the first of its kind in southwest Ohio.

“There’s a valuable use for it and we think we can fund it,” Loftis said.

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