A public forum hosted by the Town of Cedaredge provided an opportunity for residents to ask questions about the golf course, and for town officials to put several rumors to rest.
The first is that recent utility rate increases are tied to golf course subsidies, and specifically to a $81,950 loan from the water fund that was written off.
Town administrator Kathleen Sickles said there is "no connection" between the two, and that utility rates were adopted upon the recommendation of a consultant who looked at capital improvements, repair and maintenance needs of the town's water distribution and wastewater systems.
Other rumors revolve around the possibility of selling the golf course or converting it into housing lots, which Mayor Gene Welch dismissed at the end of the question-and-answer session. "The comments about the golf course closing or making it a development ... it's not gonna happen. The golf course is going to be there and we're going to bust our butts to work on the budget."
Recreation is subsidized in every community, he stressed. "Every town has a city park, a skate park, pocket parks ... the golf course is the only recreation in town that has a fee schedule and that fee schedule sometimes is not adequate to cover the costs."
Unfortunately, he said, the golf course has been in a "band-aid" mode where repairs are being made to hold things together and there's no opportunity to build capital reserves for future expenses. A specific example is the irrigation system, which will cost over $1 million to replace.
"We have 100 acres we irrigate," said golf course manager Larry Murphy. "The lines, the heads, the valves ... unless they've been replaced, they're 25 years old. There's been band-aids, but we keep it going."
That led the discussion to the concept of depreciation, the need to set aside funds for future capital projects and the importance of strategic planning. With depreciation figured in, the golf course has never been in the black, Sickles confirmed. She compared golf course subsidies in Cedaredge to those in Delta, which are considerably higher, but some in the audience said that is no justification for the continued drain on the town budget.
Non-golfer Dave Pipkin said, "I like golfers; I like the golf course, but I think we have a real financial liability in this town." He said last year, 9,960 rounds of golf were played in Cedaredge, compared to 14,690 in 2006, a 30 percent drop over a 10-year period. "It seems like golf is a dying sport. Revenue is going down, down, down and expenses go up. People are talking about a million dollars for a new sprinkler system. The city budgeted last year $60,000 for streets, and everybody knows our streets are a disaster. Where are our priorities?"
But without the golf course, many in the audience argued, they would never have moved to Cedaredge. Many of those folks retired to Cedaredge and purchased a home on the golf course.
"I live on the golf course," said Jerry Bussell. "I play golf. The golf course brings in way more revenue than just the golfers. You've got the restaurants, bars, hotels ... everybody draws money from people coming in from out of town. Everybody needs that golf course to keep the town of Cedaredge viable."
While the golf course may be viewed as a drain on the town's budget, others see potential for revenue -- from the lease or sale of unused shares of untreated water, to the sale of building lots. Currently, seven homes are under construction in the subdivisions surrounding the golf course. Depending on the size of the home, tap fees and building permits can add up to $17,000 per home, minus expenses.
Jim Timmerwilke said he lives in a beautiful golf course subdivision with 130 vacant lots; the county assessor places the number higher. Amenities like parks and the golf course are what draw retirees to the area, he said. "Every home that gets built on there in the next five years is going to write a check to the city for $15,000 to $20,000. Who else are they going to sell taps to, if we don't keep that golf course going? If we had another 50 to 100 homes there, we wouldn't need to be here talking about this."
County assessor Debbie Griffith, who was in the audience, said assessed valuation for the entire town is just over $17 million; the homes in the golf course neighborhoods account for about 24 percent of that total.
Bruce Joss lives across the street from the golf course. "Without the golf course, most of those homes would never have been built, including mine," he said. "And if the golf course wasn't there, I wouldn't have moved here two years ago."
Since many of those residents are also golfers, and would appear to benefit most from the golf course, there was some discussion about forming a public improvement district or a recreation district with the authority to generate revenue for golf course operations. While that idea didn't gain much traction, several golf course neighbors seemed open to helping with the maintenance of non-playable areas adjoining their properties, or even paying a special "clubhouse" assessment.
Woven throughout the question-and-answer session were comments about the condition of the golf course, ranging from the need for wiser use of irrigation water to weeds on the cart paths.
Jim Atkinson, who has a home on SE Stonebridge Drive, said he was also concerned about the condition of the course early in the summer, but things are looking "a whole lot better," thanks to Larry and his staff. Gene Gold said the course is the best he's seen in 12 years, from tee to green, making it a "more valuable asset than ever."
Increased play would also help close the gap between income and expenses, and there were some comments about marketing the course better.
The question-and-answer session comes at a critical period in Cedaredge's annual budget cycle. Discussion of the town's 2018 budget began the following morning. Drew Gorgey, who facilitated the session, urged citizens to let elected officials and paid staff know how revenues should be distributed. "You will have multiple opportunities to be heard about how local government spends its money," he said, "and you will have the right to tell your trustees what you think."
Gorgey is an attorney who has worked in city government in Colorado Springs and Glenwood Springs.
"This is democracy in action in the very best way," he said of the community forum. "Everybody here should be proud of taking time out of your day to talk about issues that are really important to you."
He estimated 85 to 90 in the audience, quite a few of whom had written down their questions beforehand. In addition to Sickles and Murphy, responses were provided by Tammy Francis, finance director; Jerry Young, public works co-director; Clinton Smith, wastewater treatment plant operator; and Steve Phillips, golf course superintendent. Restaurant lessee Larry Caveny also spoke.
The meeting ran just over two hours and was recorded for anyone who was unable to attend. Contact the Town of Cedaredge to request access to the recording.