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Golf commission asks questions, urges prompt action on rates

Pam Ritter, chair of the golf course commission, spoke before the common council at a Golf Course Committee meeting on Tuesday. According to Ritter, the course’s revenues are projected to fall short of expenses by approximately $80,000 this year. This shortfall was planned for during the 2015-2016 budget process, and the common council approved a general fund transfer to cover it. The shortfall is due to a 2010 bond which included improvements to the golf course, which had been mistakenly paid for completely out of the general fund.

At a budget meeting on May 4, 2015, Controller Matt Agresta said, “The general fund was paying debt that the golf course should have been for the last 4 years…So that payment is now being attributed, correctly, to the golf fund.”

At the same meeting last year, Agresta said 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.

Ritter also questioned whether several expense lines in the golf course’s budget, such as payments to the NY State retirement fund, social security and medicare, and hospital and medical insurance, were allowed under NY state requirements for special revenue funds.

Ritter said that the questions that she and rest of the commission had would make it difficult to create a proposed budget for the next fiscal year. However, she urged the council to approve the upcoming season’s rates by March 1 in order to remain competitive with other area courses. Ritter said the new proposed rates will be higher, but will simplify the fee structure.

Alderman Jim Martuscello said the council should be proactive in working with the golf commission with their proposed budget and fees and to provide answers on the issues they brought up.

“There’s a lot of questions here that we need to ask,” said Martuscello. “I’m not going to go out there to the golfers and tell them we have to raise the rates and we don’t have answers for them.”

“The problem is if you do not approve them, we are not staying on target with competitors,” said Ritter. “Our competitors are already putting their rates out. We have to advertise. We have an additional 55 cart spaces that are available, we can advertise that. We’ve come up with a very generous – well yes we have increased rates, but we’ve also given up stuff too – that I think…that you will see as being very fair and I think the members will be very pleased, so they aren’t nickel and dimed.”

Ritter said the new rates were created with input from the golf pro and course superintendent.

“I’m a little confused here. You’re asking for help, but yet, in other words, you’re telling us this is what it’s going to be,” said Martuscello. “Do you want help or do you just want to come up here and give us your rates? Which one do you want?”

“What she’s saying is, we need to move forward with these rates. We can’t wait another month before we put these rates out,” said Alderman Ed Russo, who is also the golf course committee chair.

Martuscello said he wants to see if some of the course expenditures could be reduced. Russo said he was willing to consider the ideas at the next council meeting on March 1.

“If you can reduce expenditures, then how can you just sit there and say this is what the rate is going to be?” asked Martuscello.

“There’s two separate clocks ticking, that’s all we’re trying to say,” said Bob Karutis, vice-chair of the golf course commission. “There’s a clock for the rates to be set so that we can stay competitive and compete with everybody in the area. And there’s a clock for getting the issues and questions answered. And they don’t line up. But if we get our rates set, and get competitive, and the course stays really nice like it is now, and how we anticipate it to be this year, we’ll have a really good year. If we get the questions answered, and if they get answered in 2,3,4,5 months, next year it’ll be a bonanza.”

An ordinance which would clarify that the council has the final authority to approve golf course rates, as well as require commission members to serve coterminous with the mayor, was included in the Tuesday’s agenda for introduction purposes. There will be a public hearing before the next common council meeting on March 1 at which the ordinance will be voted on.


About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

20 Responses to Golf commission asks questions, urges prompt action on rates

  1. AvatarBob Karutis says:

    Hi Tim,

    thanks for the accurate reporting of the events that transpired last night. It is refreshing that someone can get the reporting accurate.

    Just a question for you, can the common council change the city charter like this or does it require a public vote? Just curious……

    • AvatarTim Becker says:

      Thanks. In regards to the ordinance, I’m not a lawyer, but based on prior opinions issued by the former corporation counsel, it seems to me that the council does have the power to change it or remove it. I remember when the council was considering deleting the whole section that defined the golf commission, Gerard DeCusatis never said it required a referendum. Bear in mind, this is a change to the city code, not the charter itself. One trigger for a referendum, according to DeCusatis, is if a change would restrict the power of an elected official. And I don’t think anything in the change restricts the power of any elected official, rather it increases it. Strangely, increasing power does not require a referendum under NY State law. This was brought up during the ambulance service debate last year.

  2. AvatarJames Martuscello says:

    What the council is doing is amending the ordinance that pertains to appointments of members to the commission and the term they serve that is the same as the mayor in office. Also the commission will make recomendations and the council will make the final decision. Thank you also for your accurate reporting.

    James Martuscello

    • AvatarBob Karutis says:

      All the commission ever did was make recommendations and provide them to the liaison for council approval. That is an indisputable fact. I challenge you to tell me when that did not happen.

      Changing the terms of the members on the commission goes against the reason the terms were staggered in the first place. That reason was so it is not a “political football” like you and some of the other members of this administration have done.

      That is accurate reporting!

  3. I hope the progress made by the current commission is not stymied and that they are allowed to continue in this pursuit. It’s taken them a long time to understand the ins and outs of golf course management and organize their strategy for the rebirth of Muni. We don’t need to take ten steps back, especially given the state of the current and upcoming budgets. The council should be looking for revenue wherever they can get it and put the needs of special interest groups behind those of our taxpayers.

  4. Pingback: Common Council: Golfers First, Taxpayers Last – Flippin' Amsterdam

  5. AvatarPam Ritter says:

    I’m afraid its too late 3 of us have resigned. It’s a major slap in the face and so disrespectful to the members who have worked so hard to bring the course forward. Why after all these years is it so urgent to change the structure and management position of this group? As Bob Karutis suggested – show us where powers were abused.

    Once again – the golf course is the sacrificial lamb it’s a shame. Jim Martuscello thinks he knows more than we do (and he doesn’t even play golf) – I say have at it, let the Council micro manage the course and we’ll see just how much more the tax payers will be funding from the General Fund. This years estimate is $80,0000 – next years figure might even be double that. Expenses are increasing and revenue is not keeping pace – but like I said Jim knows everything to successfully run a business!

    Good luck….

  6. AvatarScott Friers says:

    I think the golf commission is a good thing for the City but I do have some questions/comments. If all the commission did was make a recommendation to the Council then what is the issue? Why does it matter if someone plays golf or not? Wasn’t that an issue some people had when the commission was first formed….that some commission members were not golfers???

  7. It does not matter whether an individual golfs or not to perform admirably as a Commissioner. The bottom line is decisions about the golf course should be made as to how it best serves the city and ALL of its residents. It should not be viewed as a private club. It is a public business. The Commission was strategically moving toward solvency through course improvements and the restructuring of course management, with close attention to the budget and financial oversight. This process has been painstakingly difficult because of a monstrous resistance to change by “members” and former councils.

    It is disappointing at best that this group (in various incarnations over eight years) had not been shown the respect they deserve for the thankless and often hostile experiences they endured. One can only hope that new appointees have business acumen, can function without political or personal bias, and are willing to continue to make the necessary advancements that will finally transform this city department into the revenue generating entity it should be.


    • AvatarMike Van Allen says:

      The problem is it is NOT supposed to be a business any more than the Public Library is a business . If you look at the big picture golf is generally losing ground in the US and until the middle class in this country is reborn financially it will not change . This is all because of the Rape of the middle class by George Bush and his thug cronies . Every time people say run it like a business I cringe because that is usually the death knell for these wonderful institutions .

      • No, Mike, even not-for-profits are businesses. They must be accountable for the revenues they spend and do everything in their power to turn a profit, albeit “for the public good.” And obviously, not all public or not-for-profit venues are the same. Proctors or SPAC have the ability to garner audiences that will spend lavishly on entertainment as opposed to the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation’s Summer Concert Series at Riverlink Park or, God bless, the Library.

        The golf course has the capacity to generate income if properly managed as was done in Schenectady. It is drawing $80,000 out of the general fund (property tax payer pockets) now and will increase (per Ms. Ritter’s estimations.) That’s $80,000 that could have been used to pave roads or put additional patrols in troubled areas of the city. That’s $80,000 so that 300 “members” can knock a ball around those glorious hills for a ridiculously low cost while the city budget is in crisis. What about the other 18,000 of us? We should benefit too.

        Same old, same old. That attitude was wrong for the past eight years and it still is. Demanding accountability and professionalism is not the death knell for a public institution, it is the life blood.

  8. AvatarScott Friers says:

    So why would the most recent commissioner mention the fact that Alderman Martuscello “and he doesn’t even play golf”????

    What does him not playing golf have to do with anything?

    I was surprised at some of the comments quoted in today’s Recorder as well.

    Mr. Karutis….. If all the commission did was make recommendations to the Council then what is the commission members issue with the Council having the authority to set rates and fees?

    It’s unfortunate…..

    • AvatarBob Karutis says:

      There was no logical reason for the change except for the fact that several members of the administration want to micro manage the course. I really think that there are much more important issues facing the city than the golf course. The course was moving in the proper direction in regards to finances and conditions, They use the course as a distraction from the real issues that they cannot resolve. Disappointing!

  9. AvatarRogo says:

    Hate to put me 2 cents in but last thane commission took over carts and I can show bad move number wise. Also I believe concession lost 10000 to city going out for rebid. Now I give credit to pam that we have 55 cart spots open . Fill them at no cost!!!! get rid of commission and let Darren take over just like kevin devine basically did. How much does shuttlewoth cost taxpayers again!!

  10. Oh, by all means, we should go back to the days of zero accountability… the old wink wink, nod nod, as long as you look after me, as long as my rates are incredibly cheap, I’m good with status quo. Certainly, we should not worry about how much money goes in or out, though now we know that you’re talking $60K in cart revenue alone. Strange that the Golf Commission prior to my time in office refused to investigate that only $17K in total revenue was being reported from all golf pro concessions… carts, pro shop and tournaments… if reported at all. In fact, those reports were only submitted once over a couple of decades even though they were mandatory per the contract. Why didn’t the Commission in the years prior to 2008 take any interest in this? We all know why.

    The Thane Commissions did their homework. They did extensive analysis, business planning and worked out a strategy to bring course operations up to snuff. The fact is that the course is not sustainable on “memberships”. Outside play must increase via a solid marketing program. Control of all financial activity is absolutely required as this is a municipally-run entity. Nothing less is acceptable. The entire city should benefit from the course or decide if it is too costly to maintain as a detriment.

  11. AvatarROGO says:

    Mrs thane do you know anything about schenectady muni golf budget?? how much does shuttelworth cost taxpayers and also your great deal down riverfront. Do any of them pay city as golf concessionaire does???????????