Golf in Oro Valley has become a 4 letter word. People are sick of hearing about it, they are sick of talking about it, they are sick of paying for it, and most of them don’t even know just how much they are paying for it. (Taxpayers are paying $2.5 million per year, and then some on it. Combined operating losses to date are $6.9 million.)
The reason golf is so important is because this issue has eroded trust in our community, as well as robbed us of other opportunities for investments in amenities our residents want through the opportunity cost of the money spent on golf.
In December of 2014, the mayor and three current council members revealed their plans to purchase the El Conquistador Country Club for $1 million from their largest campaign donor, HSL, who was purchasing the resort and presumably did not want to assume the golf losses (then $1.5M per year, plus many known needed capital improvements.) HSL entered an agreement the day after the Town Council voted to proceed with the purchase to have the property managed by Troon, a premium (expensive) golf management company. The council also added a new 0.5% sales tax to create a “community center fund.” It was promised that this fund would cover all of the expenses, as well as the significant capital improvements which were known to be needed on the property.
The decision was initially discussed in executive sessions behind closed doors, the community was not given much opportunity for input, and even opposing council members were not permitted to see all of the purchase contracts or agreements.
These promises did not come to pass. In fact, the promised capital improvements have not been made, and the golf losses have exceeded all Town expectations, causing the council to dip into the general fund to cover the golf losses.
The council commissioned a study from the National Golf Foundation in order to analyze the situation. This study gave a variety of options, all of them involving reducing or eliminating the holes of golf (the Town owns 45 holes.) However, the mayor and council are unwilling to admit they have made a mistake, and instead are doubling down on the decision, throwing good money after bad. This year’s budget includes a 20 year bond, a portion of which is to upgrade irrigation systems on the golf course to the tune of nearly $4 million.
The council’s current statement is that golf is trending to “break even.” First of all, financials to support this rosy prediction have not yet been released, and will not be until after the election. Second, all this means is that the sales tax has had a slight revenue increase, so the .5% sales tax is now covering more golf losses. Golf is not breaking even or coming close to that, the council is counting your sales tax dollars as golf revenue to cover losses.
If elected, we will daylight past and future records and numbers. We will work towards minimizing golf losses through reducing the holes of golf and working towards making it sustainable in the interim, and ultimately transition away from government owning a taxpayer subsidized golf course that competes with private businesses. This may involve leasing the courses or transitioning to a linear parks system. We will bring the community in on these decisions to do what is best for the Town as a whole.