Monday, October 5, 2009

Choosing Priorities

Today at City Council, the majority of members voted to allocate $1.5 million to Countryside Golf Course for improvements. This $1.5 million will come from the sale of municipal bonds, so once the million and a half dollars is repaid, with interest, it will have cost taxpayers more like $2.5 million. Given the financial circumstances in which residents and businesses, as well as City government, find themselves, and given the dire infrastructural needs in our City, I do not believe that putting money into a golf course is in our best interest.

Countryside is a nice golf course that could be much better had its maintenance not been neglected for so many years. It's layout is very good, and it is a beautiful piece of property. I understand the desire of residents around the course to want to keep green space near their houses. But having said all this, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that the City of Roanoke should be in the golf course business. We could turn some of the course into a 20- or 30 acre park so that residents living around the course who don't golf can also benefit from the green space, and then seek input from developers as to what would make sense for the remainder of the property.

A few hundred residents and taxpayers in Roanoke actually play golf at Countryside. So as we invest so much money into the course, we are forcing 93,000 other non-Countryside golfing residents to shoulder the financial burden that this debt brings us. And the worst part is that we are not actually investing money that will improve the course; rather, we are patching up some deficiencies in the course such as repaving cart paths and putting in a new irrigation system. These items won't make the course better, attract new or more players and improve the experience of golfers (of which I am one). These items will simply be better than they presently are, with less potholes and higher water pressure. But at the end of the day we are sinking millions of dollars into a city-run golf course that will add debt obligation and likely general fund subsidies to our already stressed City budget.

And within the next six months or so, City Council will be addressing whether or not to add a stormwater utility fee onto each property in the City, causing residential property owners to pay an additional fee each month and commercial properties to often pay enormous monthly fees. So in this instance, and knowing that we have over $60 million in needed stormwater facility improvements, we are choosing to invest capital money into a golf course to benefit those couple hundred folks that play golf at Countryside, and then will come back to talk about adding fees to cover what we know to be a desperately needed stormwater fixes. To me, that is a total mis-prioritization of where we are spending our limited capital resources.

The decision has been made and Countryside will remain a golf course for the time being. I just hope folks remember this choice when we come back to discuss adding additional fees onto our taxpaying residents and businesses to cover our very basic, and largely neglected, infrastructure needs.