Madison officials are considering a long-term cash advance from the City of Madison’s General Fund to the Golf Enterprise Fund which funds the city’s public golf courses.
The advance, not to exceed $1,500,000, would quell the Golf Enterprise Fund’s deficit through the end of this year.
This isn’t the first time that the City has had to move money around to cover operating costs for Madison’s four golf courses.
At the end of 2018, the Golf Enterprise Fund had a cash deficit of over $800,000 that required an advance from the City’s General Fund to cover revenue losses caused in part by flooding. But they weren’t able to pay it back to the city’s general fund.
This year, the Golf Enterprise Fund anticipates an additional cash shortage of about $500,000.
According to Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp, the Golf Enterprise Fund is supposed to act like a business, seek a profit, and cover all operational and capital expenses for Madison’s courses.
Since that model has not made a profit in consecutive years since 2001 and 2002, and has been in what the resolution describes as a, quote, “cyclical negative cash position for over a decade,” something, Knepp says, has to change.
“We’re not proposing a specific change, but we’re saying that something has to change because the system right now is broken, right, so we have to revisit the system. And it doesn’t mean that there’s any fewer holes, but if not there’s not, there has to be some conversation about how to subsidize or operate because right now what’s happening is we have a subsidy that comes in the way of what you see with this loan, which is after the fact and with no real option to do it or not do it,” Knepp notes.
“We did spend it, because we didn’t get the revenue and now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. If we’re going to be subsidized, it ought to compete for resources like all the other services in this budget process we’re going in right now,” he adds.
Knepp also notes that as the number of “daily fee courses” that are available to the public has grown over the past twenty years, demand has not kept up.
“Since the early ‘90s, the number of holes available to the public has doubled in Dane County, and certainly the population has grown, but not to that level, and certainly not with the stagnation [in] growth of golfers,” Knepp says.
“The rate has not declined dramatically, but it’s not growing, and when you grow the courses more than you grow the population of golfers, you’re certainly spreading that around more. I do think Dane County has probably overbuilt the marketplace for golf to an extent, but that’s also a key question for the task force to really weigh [should] we be in the business, and if so, how much?”
Alder Zachary Henak is City Council President Shiva Bidar’s appointment to a task force examining Madison’s golf courses.
He says the task force will broadly consider what the City’s parks system needs, and how municipal golf fits into that overall plan.
“The first question is should we be in the business of municipal golf as a city? And then when that decision gets decided yes or no. [If] yes, then we figure out how many holes should we have and where should they be,” says Henak.
“And if the answer is no, or if there’s a reduction of holes, then it’s, OK, how do we look at the Parks’ master place and decide what the City needs as far as parks space goes, and how do we reallocate or repurpose this space.”
Alder Henak also said the task force will meet over the next several months and will release their recommendations in May of next year.
The City Finance Committee will consider the long-term advance at a meeting on the 2020 operating budget being held this evening.