The Amsterdam Common Council met with Golf Course Commission Chairwoman Pam Ritter and Vice-Chairman Bob Karutis, as well as Course Superintendent Darren Graf at a budget workshop meeting on Monday to discuss several issues regarding the proposed 2015-2016 budget for the municipal course.
According to both Ritter and Karutis, the golf course mechanic has been doing maintenance work on Recreation Department equipment for several years. Ritter said the department should be charged for work done by the course mechanic, although she did not have an exact figure as what the actual percentage of the mechanic’s time was used. Ritter asked that either 20 or 25% of the mechanic’s salary be charged to the Recreation Department which would total approximately $11,000.
Controller Matt Agresta recommended that the mechanic’s time should be tracked for a year before estimating a percentage. “If you don’t do that, you’re just throwing a dart,” said Agresta.
Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler suggested that the percentage be charged for the current budget, then readjusted in the next budget after a year of data had been collected.
Agresta stood by his recommendation to wait until accurate numbers were collected. “You could come back at the end of this, and it could be 30% or maybe it’s 1%,” said Agresta.
Alderman Ron Barone suggested a lower estimated charge of $5,000, which Ritter said the commission would be agreeable to. Ritter also said the commission would begin tracking the mechanic’s time spent on Recreation Department repairs.
Barone said he wanted the course to stop the practice of charging a golfer the standard fee for cart rental if the golfer rode along with another golfer who owned a cart at the course. Currently the course charges non-members a $12 cart fee for 18 holes or $8 for 9 holes. Members pay $10 for 18 holes, or $6 for 9 holes. The fee is charged regardless of whether a golfer rides with another or not. According to Ritter, there is a separate special rate for golfers to add an additional two friends or family as users for their cart.
“You’re not going to take these members who have been in there 40, 50 years, and say to them you can’t put a guest on your cart…nobody can go on your cart that you own, that you pay gas for, that you pay for repairs,” said Barone.
“I don’t have a buddy who has a cart, so every time I play golf, I have to pay,” said Ritter, “Why should your son [for example] get to ride for free and I have to pay because I don’t have a friend who has a cart?”
“Come ride with me, you’re a friend of mine,” joked Barone.
“That’s not my point, John Q Public, who plays golf doesn’t always have a little social network, so it’s a fair price,” said Ritter.
“But that’s the way it’s been with the owners up there,” said Barone.
“But it has to change,” said Ritter.
“You can argue until you’re blue with me, I’m telling you what I’m going to put in there,” said Barone.
“It doesn’t operate that way in any golf course in the United States,” said Ritter.
“That’s fine, but it’s going to do it here,” said Barone.
Barone said he intends to introduce a resolution at an upcoming council meeting which would remove the fee for guests.
Ritter took issue with an additional $80,000 that was added to the course’s debt payment amount in the proposed 2015-2016 budget. Ritter said that the course’s revenue was covering it’s expenses, but could not afford the additional debt payment. She called for the council to apply approximately $45,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements for water drainage work at the course that was borrowed for back in 2010 to the course’s budget.
Agresta explained that the FEMA reimbursement had to go back to the general fund, rather than the golf course fund because since 2010, the city has incorrectly paid a total of approximately $150,000 in principal and interest fees on the loan from the general fund instead of the golf course fund.
“The general fund was paying debt that the golf course should have been for the last 4 years,” said Agresta, “So that payment is now being attributed, correctly, to the golf fund.”
According to Agresta, approximately $649,000 was borrowed in 2010 for various projects on the golf course including $200,000 for drainage work, $200,000 for work on the cart paths, $40,000 for maintenance building upgrades, $181,000 for equipment, and $28,000 for the golf course’s portion of the purchase of KVS accounting software.
Agresta said that numbers provided by the City Engineer’s office confirmed the allocations on the various projects.
“We can certainly give them a credit of $45,000, but there’s another $105,000 that the general fund paid out for their debt, that they would owe to the general fund,” said Agresta.
“There was no information provided to the golf commission that this money was even borrowed until March of this year, when all of a sudden I got the mayor’s budget and it included… we were $80,000 in the hole because we have an $80,000 payment,” said Ritter.
While Ritter said she did not blame the current controller or council, she said the city was “negligent” and should have provided more accurate information for them to base their budget requests and planning on. “We should be getting an income statement, with expenses and revenue, a balance sheet, and a debt schedule should be provided at the end of each year.”
“Yes you are right,” said Alderwoman Valerie Beekman, “But at the time, when the books were not being done correctly…nobody knew this is what happened. So now that we have a controller who’s doing his job and we’re trying to get the books in order, and do it correctly, this is why everybody’s where they’re at. We are clearing the past problems.”
“Now that we are headed in the right direction…to clear our records, to finally get Amsterdam fixed the right way, nobody’s going to be happy, none of us are,” said Beekman.
Beekman continued, “This debt, this BAN was taken out in 2010…it was paid out of the general fund. Due to lack of understanding, they pulled it out of that [fund]. It should have have came out of the golf [fund], which it did not…Now that we have found the mistake, it’s being charged to the golf fund as it should be.”
“Is the debt due, yes the debt is due,” said Beekman, “and it has to get paid by the correct department. We can sit here until midnight and argue this out, but we need to go forward.”
In the proposed 2015-2016 budget, Mayor Ann Thane included a “Rate Adjustment” line in the revenue section of the golf course fund with an amount of approximately $80,000 to offset the projected shortfall in revenues against expenses. However, the Common Council already voted to set the golf course rates for 2015 by resolution last October.
Toward the end of the meeting, Hatzenbuher asked Ritter, “What do you think needs to be done to make the course solvent?”
“Let us raise the rates, let us get revenue in the door. We have to have revenue,” said Ritter. “We need you to work with us and not fight with us,” she said and then mentioned the earlier debate over cart fees. “Those things have got to end. We are trying to run this as a business.”