IGH reduces budget for troubled golf course

Inver Grove Heights is reducing next year’s budget for Inver Wood Golf Course in an effort to stem losses at the financially-troubled course. (Luke Reiter/Review)

December in Minnesota is never a good time for golf, but the latest challenge for Inver Grove Height’s municipal golf course has nothing to do with snow.

The city council voted in its Dec. 9 meeting to trim $60,000 from the 2014 budget for the Inver Wood Golf Course in an effort to slow losses at the financially-troubled course.

City courses falter

Inver Wood, which features 27 holes, a driving range and a clubhouse on 235 acres between 70th Street and 80th Street east of Highway 52, is one of many metro-area municipal golf courses that have fallen on hard times in recent years. The City of St. Paul, for example, is seeking an outside party to run two of its four golf courses with the hopes of steering them out of their financial slump.

However, Inver Wood has faced an added challenge since it opened in 1992 in that the facility was financed entirely through bonding, with the expectation that revenues would cover operational expenses, debt repayment and capital improvement.

That burden proved too much for the course. In November, the city council voted to transfer nearly $3 million from other city funds in order to pay off Inver Wood’s longstanding deficit and ease its financial stresses. The latest vote from the Dec. 9 meeting reduces the 2014 budget from the $1.92 million established in the city’s preliminary budget to $1.85 million, with further action possible depending on the course’s future performance.

Need to control costs

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Eric Carlson told the council he and his staff would attempt to make the cuts to the golf course budget while maintaining service levels by finding ways for employees to take on duties throughout the department in order to avoid redundant positions. (For example, a mechanic who services parks equipment could be asked to take over golf course repairs, instead of employing multiple mechanics.)

“As we looked at that challenge, we realized it was going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do that just in the golf course, so we looked at the department as a whole,” Carlson explained.

Council member Tom Bartholomew voiced approval for the strategy, saying it was a necessary step to combat Inver Wood’s fiscal strain.

“We need to control our costs there,” Bartholomew said. “We’ve had a negative cash balance at the golf course since 2002. We’ve had a net operating loss since 2005. We just put into the golf course $2,944,000. We’re likely going to — from conversations I’ve had with the city finance director — we’re likely going to have a cash deficit at the end of ‘13. I think it’s a fair and reasonable request for this council to ask that we reduce the budget by $60,000, and I think you’ve done a very good job.”

Force-outs coming?

Although the Inver Wood budget will take effect in January, the council allowed three months into the new year for staff to figure out the specific cost-cutting measures. Council member Dennis Madden expressed personal concern that cuts could come in the form of forced retirements.

“If they want to retire, I want that to be left up to the employee,” Madden said. “I don’t want to see pressure put on these people.”

City Administrator Joe Lynch responded that the first choice would be to work with employees already considering retirement, but in the end tough decisions may be unavoidable.

“In the end, if we don’t have a retirement, we will have to either reduce the number of positions overall in the reorganization and/or change the classification and compensation of those positions,” Lynch said.

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.


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