Santa Rosa is chipping away at the problems facing the Bennett Valley Golf Course.
City Manager Kathy Millison told the City Council during this week's budget hearings that her office is conducting a full-scale audit and is exploring raising green fees and carrying the debt from the construction of the clubhouse.
"Our goal is we want to resolve issues here in the first quarter for certain so we can get on better footing with the golf course," Millison said.
The city has hired an auditor, Maze & Associates of Pleasanton, to review the course's books, Millison said. The firm began its review last week and is expected to deliver a report in 45 to 60 days, she said.
The audit, which was recommended by a March performance review identifying several red flags in the operation, is examining the course's accounting procedures, revenues and compliance with the contract, she said.
The results of that audit may influence the renegotiation of the contract with operator Bob Borowicz, who is in the fourth year of the 10-year contract managing the course, she said.
The city is also reviewing the rates at the course, which are set by the city, and will consider changes if necessary to meet the city's obligations, she said.
While noting the performance review praised the 18-hole course in many ways, Millison said the "rate structure for the city is not good."
The review noted that the revenue split between the city and Borowicz hasn't always been an equitable one, with Borowicz, who makes money off things like cart rental and driving range fees, benefitting more in recent years than the city, which makes money off green fees that have been reduced for nonresidents.
In addition, Millison said the city needs to consider carrying the debt resulting from the 2007 construction of the $10 million clubhouse and pro shop. The debt on the bonds and repayment of the loan of park development fees amounts to about $470,000 per year and is the principal reason the course is running out of money.
Estimates are that without changes, the course will lose $262,000 next year and be left with just $18,000 in reserves.
The golf course is supposed to be self-sufficient, supported not by tax revenue but by green fees and facility rent. But bonds sold for the facility improvements were backed by the city, meaning taxpayers would be obligated to keep up the bond payments.
Millison said the city is "evaluating the general fund support for debt obligations in the short term." While that money is not budgeted for the upcoming year, city budget manager Jean Gill told the council that it was prudent to assume a $470,000 expense beginning in 2014-15 for long-range financial planning purposes.
The city also is working on a business plan for the course, examining best practices at other municipal courses, considering course upgrades and evaluating water use, she said.
"It's a multi-department effort," Millison said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.)