City acquisition of private golf course a poor idea

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2006

Two points may help qualify the objectivity of the following analysis of the Feb. 11 Clarion article “Soldotna may opt ‘fore’ fun,” a proposal by the city (Tom Boedeker) to purchase the Birchwood Golf Course.

First, I served as your representative on the city council 1996-99. Second, experience in the private sector as project manager and technical supervisor on significant North Slope projects, I recognize good and bad management protocol.

I want to address four issues regarding the purchase proposed by my friends at city hall, including City Manager Tom Boedeker and current members of the city council: ethical values, overall cost, management capability and lack of pertinent detail by the reporter Phil Hermanek.

1) It may be time for our selected representatives to review the set of values they bring to the city council and city manager position. Recusal is to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest. The city manager and council members should also strive to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. If you personally benefit — especially financially —abstain from voting.

I believe Lisa Parker, Jane Stein and Boedeker live on properties adjacent to the golf course. Property values will remain higher and more desirable, especially to golf enthusiasts, if the golf course stays. If Birchwood owner Pat Cowan or future owners decide to close the golf course and re-plat residential, values will fall. If this is true, these folks and others affiliated with Birchwood or its board of directors should abstain from voting or otherwise promote the sale to the city.

2) Initial cost is the most visible. Downstream operation and maintenance (O&M) cost may be described by promoters as covered by user fees, but if the golf course is city-owned it will be subsidized by our taxes. Municipal employees with generous PERS compensation will likely be hired to handle O&M requirements. (Is an on-site Golf Pro a PERS Tier-4 G6?) Remember, deals are always better if you can pay for them with someone else’s money.

3) The skateboard park, less than a half mile from city hall, could not be managed and was closed. The private golf course is over 2 1/2 miles from city hall and has been plagued with vandalism in the past. How will it be managed? The old DOT site near Hutchings Chevrolet is little improved since acquisition. The airport properties, with good commercial potential, are virtually ignored. A good manager will optimize the benefits from those assets he already controls, as Kenai has done, and promote a Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Old Navy or similar commercial venture to complement Fred Meyer’s $1 million-plus per year in tax revenues to the city. The time and effort required to attract commercial development with its contribution to the tax base should not be wasted on feel good projects that appeal to a minority of Soldotna residents and would certainly drain city finances.

4) Phil Hermanek is a thoughtful and talented reporter. I recommend he dig deeper for relevant facts for front page articles. It’s of interest to the community to see more than one view.

I thank councilman Ed Sleater for his reasoned no vote on Birchwood Golf Course acquisition proposal. Mr. Sleater has had no communication with me in this matter.

Larry Yocom


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