The city will spend about $340,000 less on its parks system next year, leaving parks officials to consider closing a golf course.
The city budgeted $1.1 million in operating money for National Trail Parks and Recreation District each of the last two years, but shortfalls at both the golf courses and the Splash Zone Aquatic Center prompted the city to actually pay $1.27 million in 2012 and $1.29 million this year.
With the city planning to dip into its reserve fund to pay a projected $1.3 million shortfall of its own next year, and with a half-percent income tax renewal looming, commissioners say they cannot support a larger subsidy for NTPRD in 2014.
That could lead to closing Snyder Park Golf Course next year, according to NTPRD leaders.
Mayor Warren Copeland said the city is not targeting golf but doesn’t have enough money to provide National Trail at the level that it has in the past.
The city’s recommended budget has NTPRD’s subsidy at $950,000, about 26 percent less than this year.
Over the years, the city has added money to NTPRD’s budget at the end of the year “more than once,” Copeland said. Under the city’s current budget, he said there’s no way he could support that next year.
“I think it’s important to live within the subsidy we’re giving you,” Copeland said. “How you do that is National Trail’s decision to make, but speaking for myself, I hope neither you nor your board members assume we will bail you out at the end of the year like we did this year.
“This is the most difficult budget I’ve seen in decades”
NTPRD Director Leann Castillo told commissioners there aren’t many places to cut from its budget, except golf. She said money is not available from the recreation, parks or aquatics funds.
“I don’t feel comfortable depleting anything else we’ve worked so hard to accomplish in our parks system at this point to make up that budget,” Castillo said. “We’re at a point where we’ll either have to make a tough decision or we have to make some major cuts in what we’re doing in the golf arena.”
Commissioners discussed NTPRD’s subsidy at Wednesday’s city budget meeting.
NTPRD will discuss its future at its board meeting Dec. 9 at the administration building, 1301 Mitchell Blvd.
Copeland and Commissioners Dan Martin and Karen Duncan said they cannot support subsidizing golf, especially if it means children’s programming will be cut.
This year, the district set aside $250,000 in its reserve fund and earmarked $50,000 of its $1.1 million operating subsidy for golf course improvements. However, shortfalls of approximately $400,000 for its golf operation and another $100,000 for its pool operation created a need for additional money for NTPRD.
Since 2004, the city has spent $2.24 million on NTPRD golf fund subsidies.
The district is in the first of a three-year plan to make golf self-sustaining. The district completed several of the plan’s goals, including fixing course conditions and cutting payroll. However, the course saw 43,336 rounds played through Oct. 31, falling short of its goal of 60,000.
Castillo said she doesn’t want to see Snyder Park’s course close but can’t identify other areas where the district can cut costs.
“I don’t want to be the person that closes Snyder Park Golf Course, but also don’t want to be the person that runs NTPRD or the city of Springfield into the ground with our recreation services,” Castillo said.
The district offers services residents can’t get elsewhere, such as the pool, camps, or recreation basketball or soccer programs, Castillo said.
“If we took away the pool, there would be no other place to go,” Castillo said.
She said she doesn’t want the NTPRD board’s decision to affect how people vote on an upcoming half-percent income tax renewal next year. The city expects to collect $26.9 million in income tax revenue next year, which will make up approximately 73.9 percent of its budget. The half-percent income tax is worth about $7.5 million per year, according to preliminary budget numbers.
She said the board will consider that in its upcoming budget decisions.
“The city can’t take that kind of hit,” Castillo said.
Commissioner Kevin O’Neill, the liaison to NTPRD, said it’s time to question if the district and the city want to stay in the golf business after losing money on the courses for years. He believes they’ll be in a similar position next year with three golf courses.
“I don’t think we’re poised as a group, whether it’s National Trail or the city, to make money on golf,” O’Neill said. “We try to keep our fees low, but our wages are high because of benefits and things. It evens out with the private sector because even though they pay property taxes, they don’t have to pay (state retirement benefits).”
The city isn’t asking National Trail to make money, but rather break even, O’Neill said, which is difficult for a seasonal sport. He would like to see the district seek a golf management company to take over operations at the courses.
City manager Jim Bodenmiller said if he were making a recommendation to the commission, he would choose to close Snyder Park. He said Snyder Park has lost approximately $200,000 per year, while Reid Park has had its ups and downs.
“I really think if Snyder were out of the picture, you might be able to make a go out of it at Reid Park and you might be OK,” Bodenmiller said.
The combined parks tax levy passed in 2011 paid NTPRD approximately $964,000 this year. The levy sends 72 percent of the money to NTPRD and the rest to Clark County Parks District. However, the money can only be used for parks and green spaces, not golf operations.
Duncan said there’s still a “small window of opportunity” to turn the golf course into a wetland bank, if Snyder Park were closed. Both the Master Gardeners and the Hollandia Botanical Garden said they would be interested in turning Snyder Park into a nature education wetland bank.
However, Copeland and Martin both said if that’s going to become reality, it will have to be with private money.
“While those opportunities seem pretty enticing, they’re going to have to be done with outside resources other than the city,” Martin said.
Since the green space levy was passed, the district has introduced 30 new programs, including nature and family-oriented activities. The district still provides some athletics programs, but is moving towards a model where it provides the venue for others who are providing similar programs.
The district recently completed construction on its $8.5 million NTPRD Chiller ice arena, which has had at least 800 visitors each of the last two weekends.
The district is also hosting a Prospect League collegiate baseball team, the Champion City Kings. They’re expected to open next May at the district’s Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“We really should be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Castillo said.
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