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One more reason to retire on the Central Coast: subsidized golf 

At the May 20 SLO City Council meeting, the SLO Parks and Recreation Department will request an additional $40,000 in subsidies for the Laguna Lake Golf Course. That’s in addition to the more than $300,000 the course receives annually in subsidies and an additional $200,000 infusion that the city gave last year. If the city approves the plan, the toll for city golf subsidies over three years will reach more than $1,207,000.

But that figure is one that city officials say they are comfortable with. Aides review the golf course’s budget every year, and each of the allowances has to be approved by the City Council.

“You have to consider who the demographic is at that course,” City Director of Finance Bill Statler said, “it’s not 40-year-old white guys; it’s mostly seniors and youth who are using this course. For that reason, we feel very comfortable with some level of general fund support.”

The golf course is set up like a business with an enterprise fund. Its revenues, generated by greens fees and some products sold at the pro shop, are supposed to cover operating costs. They don’t.

The golf course recovers about 80 percent of its direct operation costs—leaving it about $90,000 in the hole per year.

Counting indirect operating costs, the yearly budget shortfall grows to more than $300,000.

To address a portion of the shortfall, the council will consider a recommendation to raise green fees by 25 cents a round each year for the next four years. The city expects to raise about $100,000 over four years by increasing the green fee. They also expect to raise close to $30,000 per year by leasing land for a cellular phone tower.

Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Kiser said that they can’t raise green fees too much, because they have to remain competitive with Chalk Mountain and Dairy Creek golf courses.

But the city staff emphasize that the nine-hole course is popular with youth and note that the city routinely subsidizes other popular amenities ranging from swimming pools to basketball courts.

For reference, the staff report identified two programs that represent bigger losses, on a percentage basis, than the golf course: the swimming programs at Sinsheimer Pool, which recover only a quarter of operating costs, and “children’s services,” a catch-all for programs including year-round day care programs and summer camps. Children’s services recover close to 70 percent of operating costs.

Still, youth use of the golf course is down more than 40 percent from last year, according to the staff report. And they already receive reduced rates at the park, so do seniors.

Last year, when the city approved a $509,200 bail-out for the golf course, plus an additional $2,700 for operating costs, about $200,000 was allocated for a one-time project. The golf course, which runs on a “shoestring” budget of about $600,000, needed an irrigation upgrade, and to move one of it’s nine holes.

The coming decision will vote to spend an additional $35,000 for new netting and pole replacement, as well as about $4,000 for general operations.

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