Sebastian County Quorum Court again addresses golf course losses

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The Sebastian County Quorum Court voted Tuesday (March 18) to accept a proposal by County Judge David Hudson to change certain operations and fee structures at Ben Geren Regional Park's golf course, while the Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a more than $2 million reservoir project at Chaffee Crossing and set legislative priorities for 2015.

The proposal presented by Hudson, following consultation with the Parks Advisory Board and the Golf Stakeholder Committee, will introduce new pricing options for users of the golf facility. The first change would introduce the Silo 9 Hole Course.

"The Silo 9 Hole Course is proposed for implementation in 2014 as a '9 holes in 90 minutes' course to be priced at $20, including the golf cart and greens fee," Hudson wrote in a memo to the Court. "In order to facilitate fast play, golfers will be required to use a golf cart to play that course."

The 9 hole green fee and golf cart rates are now $23 on weekdays and $24 on the weekend, he said.

The second rate change would introduce an annual unlimited golf plan, which would be priced at $1,200 for a calendar year, with seniors 62 and older receiving a 10% discount on the fee. Golf cart rental would not be included in the fee.

Before the Court considered the proposal, Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen addressed Court members, reminding them that recreation facilities are part of what he said draws businesses and families to the area.

"Sometimes you can't put a dollar figure on certain things in the community and maybe this might be one of them," he said.

"During the process of visiting with consultants and companies that are looking to locate here, or expand here, make huge capital investments and hire our citizens, sometimes in that process the amenities and all the qualities of life and quality of place come into play. They may not be on the front end, but they are somewhere in the middle. ... When they start deciding to locate to a community or expand and move some of their offices, they're also moving families. So the quality of life and the quality of place are a very important piece of the puzzle."

Allen's statement did not convince Justice of the Peace Shawn Looper, who argued that at some point the Court may need to look at whether it is necessary to continue funding the losses at the golf course, which are expected to be over $100,000 in FY2014.

"When I talk to people about quality of life, they talk about police, fire and ambulance. They have never spoke to me about the golf course. Police, fire and ambulance. Every time you lose $184,000 a year, it comes from police, fire and ambulance. It's money that you can't spend on that. So I would think when businesses talk about quality of life, they talk about police, fire and ambulance. I mean, he talks about families coming here. Would that not be something families would be interested in?"

Looper later said funding losses at the golf course when the money could be spent paying a better wage to jailers or providing the funding to other departments in need would be more beneficial than funding losses at the golf course out of the general fund.

Asked for a response to Looper's comments, Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said he felt the Quorum Court was striking the right balance in funding all county obligations, including the golf course and his department.

"I think he brings up valid points, but I think you can have both if you balance it right. Just by bringing up that discussion, it makes sure that we all balance it right," he said.

The proposal was passed by a voice vote, without an audible "no" vote. The Court will take up a separate appropriations ordinance on funding the lease of golf carts at a later meeting. Hudson's proposal included a proposal to lease 70 carts for four years at an approximate cost of $37,000 per year, versus $58,000 to purchase 25 carts outright.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a resolution that would fund the construction of the Chaffee Crossing Reservoir, the fourth and final project "for the purpose of providing water system improvements needed to support growth in the Chaffee Crossing and southeast Fort Smith area," wrote Utilities Director Steve Parke.

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The Board also approved the following list of legislative priorities for 2015:
• Give cities the option of adopting a local preference of up to 5% for bidders with a place of business in the city;
• Apply the local preference to bids for commodities, materials, equipment, and services as determined by the city; and
• Establish a maximum preference of $100,000. This amount could be lower if a city chooses.

The recommendation is the result of the latest Board of Directors brainstorming session and was originally proposed by City Director Pam Weber.

The city's legislative priorities will now move to the Arkansas Municipal League with a request that it be included in the league's legislative priorities, according to City Administrator Ray Gosack.

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