Santa Rosa votes to use tax revenue for Bennett Valley golf course

Santa Rosa taxpayers began picking up the tab for the Bennett Valley Golf Club's clubhouse and pro shop Tuesday after it became clear golfers alone could no longer shoulder the hefty debt on the $9.6 million buildings.

The City Council approved a plan to use general tax revenue to make this year's $469,000 annual debt payment that helped fund construction of the two buildings in 2007.

The 18-hole course, which is supposed to pay for itself without general tax revenue, has been struggling in recent years to keep up with its expenses in large part because of the annual debt payments.

"We spent a lot of money on (buildings) without a long-range financial plan of how to fund that, and that's what we're wrestling with tonight," Vice Mayor Robin Swinth said. "You can't always count on the economy being rosy, and we're cleaning up after that here."

The city sold $5.5 million in bonds to fund construction of the buildings, and also borrowed nearly $800,000 in park development fees, which also need to be paid back.

City Manager Kathy Millison predicted the city would probably need to carry the debt for the next decade given the significant infrastructure costs needed at the course, which was built in 1970. That's a nearly $5million commitment, though she stressed that if the course's profitability improved, those payments could be reduced.

Most council members said they didn't see a choice, given that the city had backed the bonds with general fund revenues. But Councilwoman Julie Combs called it "remarkably frustrating" to be bailing out a golf course when there are so many other needs in the city.

"I will be voting for this under duress," Combs said.

The council voted 6-1 for the transfer, with Gary Wysocky voting no.

"I'm going to have to answer to people (who ask) why are you funding the golf course?" Wysocky said.

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