Taxpayers lose this round of government golf

Considering Lexington is in a $12 million “hole,” why is it again that the city’s parks and recreation bureaucrats don’t want to privatize its six public golf courses?

There’s really no good reason not to privatize, or at least require the golf courses to become “self-sustaining” — not unless, of course, you believe that golf is an essential function of government.

However, there are plenty of reasons to privatize the facilities:

* The number of rounds of golf being played each year on Lexington’s public golf courses are trending downward. Rounds played fell from 191,364 in 1998 to 141,898 last year. So, why again are taxpayers being forced to fund a declining enterprise at levels similar to those before the current drop in the number of rounds played?

* Parks and Recreation director Jerry Hancock is resorting to cost-switching to place bigger-spending items in a separate budget category called “Golf Administration,” but not including those figures when discussing how much the public courses really cost taxpayers. So while Hancock reported to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council that the golf courses lost $11,000 last year, he conveniently left out the cost of salaries, debt service and property taxes. Add all that in, and taxpayers are out $1.2 million a year.

* Government-subsidized golf courses create an uneven playing field.

* Few seem to know the state of the public courses’ finances. Again, according to the H-L: “Criticism of the courses had emerged because it was unclear just how much money they were losing each year.” Imagine if a private business operated without knowing how much potential profit it was losing?

* Essential services could get needed funding. Apparently the city feels its police and firefighting forces are expendable. Wanna bet that the $1.2 million the city government spent on golf courses last year would have prevented the 50 police and firefighter positions eliminated during the same time?

* Other cities are doing it. The golf pros at all of Louisville’s courses are contract employees. In Cincinnati, a management company not only runs the city’s seven courses but pays to be the concessioner running the pro shops and providing food and beverage service.

While privatizing golf courses should ultimately occur in Lexington, ensuring the courses are self-sufficient would be a good start, Warren Rogers, a Lexington business owner and member of the Bluegrass Institute Board of Directors, said.

“It’s not the full loaf, but it would put the city’s spending on golf under scrutiny,” Rogers said. “This is not over.”