New Castle News

February 14, 2014

Our Opinion: Action needed to prevent taxpayer losses at Sylvan Heights

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Should New Castle taxpayers subsidize the operations of Sylvan Heights Golf Course?

Our answer is a flat-out, simple no.

Golf is not an essential city service. And while the case can be made municipalities ought to provide recreation facilities for young people — such as basketball and tennis courts — a golf course does not fit into that category.

For one thing, golf is generally not a kid’s game. We think it’s safe to say the vast majority of Sylvan Heights users are adults.

And — to be blunt about it — golf is not an activity that’s generally enjoyed by folks on the lower end of the economic spectrum. It takes money to play golf, whether the course is publicly or privately owned.

We bring all this up because it was reported this week that Sylvan Heights, the city-owned golf course located in Shenango Township, lost $25,000 last year. That’s money that had to be covered by New Castle’s general fund — another way of saying taxpayers had to pick up the tab to help people play golf.

The loss follows several years where the course was running close to even on its budget. Prior to that, a string of annual losses was halted after it was discovered a former employee had been stealing from the course.

At that time, there were discussions about privatizing the course in some fashion. Apparently, deed restrictions prevent the city from selling the course outright, but it still has the option of turning it over to a private operator for management.

If that were to occur, it would be up to the operator to make sure all costs were covered. The city could even demand revenue from the course as part of the agreement.

Of course, some person or entity would have to be willing to shoulder the risk in these circumstances. Perhaps there would be no takers to such a proposal.

But under the circumstances, the city needs to explore its options. A financially distressed community cannot afford to lose money on a golf course.

We recognize that privatization is more complex than it sounds. Any agreement would have to protect the city from liability regarding actions not under its control. There also would have to be requirements that the private management entity maintains the course and structures. The last thing the city needs is a firm coming in and draining the course of money without making the necessary investments.

Regardless, taxpayers should not put money into Sylvan Heights. The city should increase fees or make other changes before dipping into the general fund to support the course. The red ink at Sylvan Heights must stop.