An effort by St. Mary’s County Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (RE: 4th) to privatized the clubhouse operation at Wicomico Shores Golf and Country Club was rejected Tuesday by the rest of the commissioners. So at least for now the county’s golf course and clubhouse will continue to be operated with county staff.
Jarboe’s motion came during a presentation by Recreation and Park Director Phillip Rollins that was made in response to a request to come up with some money-saving solutions for the county golf course that has been losing money for the last three years. The golf course and clubhouse lost $138,000 during the last fiscal year and the trend hasn’t turned around so far this year.
Although the operation has a deficit of $81,000 on the books as of the end of the last fiscal year, Rollins points out that represents some potential future liabilities and not an actual cash position. In fact, Rollins insists the facility still has $175,000 “cash in the bank.” That cash comes from a reserve set aside several years ago when the new clubhouse was constructed and was intended to cover possible future losses.
Rollins presented three short-term proposals to save money: refinance the loan for the clubhouse, fill a vacant assistant manager slot with a lower paid employee, and eliminate the $50,000 annual change against the account for management services provided by his department and other county agencies.
Additionally, Rollins proposed eliminating several position by attrition but retaining the employees in those positions until they resigned. “We have dedicated, hard-working employees,” Rollins said about an unwillingness to fire anyone.
The commissioners quickly embraced the refinancing of the loan with SunTrust, which could save $17,000 a year. And, County Administrator John Savich said he would proceed with hiring the vacant position at a lower salary for an $11,000 a year savings.
The commissioners agreed that the other potential savings would be addressed during budget deliberations. One of those potential “savings” involves the county returning $250,000 to the golf course fund in admissions taxes collected from users of the course over a number of years. Rollins said he learned only recently that the law but not require that tax to be collected by golf courses. That money went into the county general fund. Rollins said he feels it belongs to his department.
Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) wondered out loud if the money collected could be returned to the persons who paid it. Rollins said that would be very difficult to track down and County Attorney George Sparling agreed. Sparling said if it was transferred to the golf course enterprise fund, then the general class of golfers who paid the tax would be receiving benefit from it.
Rollins insists that the golf course’s financial woes are the result of a “perfect storm” involving the recession and the closure of the Route 234 bridge. He believes things will turn around soon. Morris suggested that it may be just too expensive to play there. Rollins said the cost was in line with other nearby facilities and there has only been a $1 increase in a round of golf in recent years.
Robert Richardson, president of the Wicomico Shores Golf Course Advisory Board, sat beside Rollins during the presentation and said his board agreed with the recommendations and opposed any privatization. Other board members and golf course users sat in the audience during the Tuesday meeting.