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City Council defends bailout of fledgling golf course

June 15, 2011|By Gretchen Meier,
((File photo) )

City Council members defended their decision to allocate $2 million to save the DeBell Golf Club from financial ruin, while at the same time cutting firefighting resources, city youth jobs and library improvements.

The rescue package includes a $1-million loan to the municipal golf course and another $1 million in a holding account should the funds be needed. DeBell, which has a $718,215 operating deficit and $2.1 million in outstanding debt for a previous city loan, has been struggling to recover from a major drop in revenue.

But the latest financial help comes as the city works to close an $8.7-million budget deficit in part by reducing around-the-clock firefighter staffing, putting off library improvements and cutting the city youth job program in roughly half. Those measures add up to about $567,000 in savings.

The City Council is also moving forward with slight increases to fees for trash collection, water and sewer service.


Still, City Council members on Tuesday referred to the golf course as a city jewel that required saving, even in the poor economic climate.

Mayor Jess Talamantes, who has referred to DeBell as “too big to fail,” has been among the most ardent supporters.

“We have to help them out at this time,” he said.

Councilman Gary Bric, who said he has played on the course since the 1960s, emphasized that until recent years and the construction of the new clubhouse, the golf fund has been self-sustaining.

“I know that we have to help them out,” Bric said. “It supported itself before and it will support itself again.”

Not everyone on the council favored the financial bailout. Councilman David Gordon called for more oversight and an extensive review of the golf course’s finances before determining a bridge amount.

“That’s more money than I’m willing to commit at this time not knowing what the situation is up there,” Gordon said.

He also expressed concern about the amount of time it took for city officials to bring the issue to the council’s attention, and whether the golf course could pay back an additional $1 million.

City officials said they are working on an “early warning system” to identify struggling funds before or immediately after problems arise.

According to Financial Services Director Cindy Giraldo last month, some financial assistance was necessary because the fund could not end the fiscal year with a negative balance.

City officials said the course has been losing $300,000 a year, a consequence of a drop in the number of rounds being played. Last fiscal year, 56,397 rounds were played — an all time low. In 2001-02, the course registered 75,723 rounds of golf.

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