Friday, July 18, 2014

Red Ink Runaround

Cherry Hill Clubhouse cost $4,365 liability insurance, not part of "operation budget"

Okay, I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong.  Eight months ago I predicted Cherry Hill Golf Course, the town's most insatiable White Elephant, would squander $60,000 in FY14 (just ended June 30).

Instead the beleaguered beast lost $87,739 -- or well over the cost of a firefighter, police officer or teacher.  Also well over the $47,141 in tax monies it lost last year or $40,132 the year before that.

As usual the business overran their operation budget by $6,696 and missed their target revenue goal by $12,495, a 9.4% reduction from last year's total revenues.

But when you add in those other significant hidden costs -- employee benefits, capital/equipment, insurance -- that do not show up as part of the "operation budget" -- the red ink flows like the River Jordan.

Amherst Town Meeting took Cherry Hill back in 1987 by eminent domain using an "emergency measure" provision that made the action "Referendum proof."  A malevolent move that cost $2.2 million dollars ($4.4 million in today's dollars), the most expensive land acquisition in town history.

And of course it was inspired by North Amherst NIMBYs who wished to stop a modest 134 unit housing development in their backyard.  In fact the developer offered to deed the entire golf course to the town for $1 as all he wanted was the land overlooking it for housing.

In a July 7 memo to the illustrious Select Board, Cherry Hill cheerleader John Musante (who also happens to be the Town Manager) stated:  "This ongoing evaluation will likely include revisiting the cost-benefit of privatizing operations of the Cherry Hill Golf Course."

Even if we lease it out for $1 the town still greatly benefits because taxpayers would avoid subsidizing hefty annual losses, and the commercial business would go back on the tax rolls.  Last year Amherst College, our largest landowner, paid the town just over $15,000 in property taxes for their nine hole golf club.

And if we can't find anyone to take it off our hands to continue providing the luxurious game of golf, then other uses should be found.  Like solar for instance.  

Former cornfield, East Hadley Road, Hadley


Dr. Ed said...

I think that was the turning point at which Amherst went to hell -- and look at it now.

There is no affordable housing because none has been built, the town is having to subsidize (I believe illegally) various private entities & charitable groups to assist those with needs that wouldn't exist but for the high price and extreme scarcity of modest housing and you have an entire generation of now-middle-aged families who have to commute from Belchertown or South Hadley (or in the case of one of your cops, *Holyoke*) because they couldn't afford to live in Amherst.

You thus have a town largely composed of AARP members and UMass Students with almost no one in the middle -- at least not in the middle/upper income brackets -- and your families with children are increasingly single mothers with incomes at 20% of the poverty level (remember that 80% of the Section 8 vouchers have to go to those at 20% of poverty level -- not *at* but 1/5 of).

Amherst is a town of the very rich and very poor, very old and very young -- an inherently unstable house divided against itself.

Walter Graff said...

I bet it sounded like a good idea when they took it. Cherry Hill is a fun little course. Who says everything a town does has to make money. Nice to have a local course to play. They could do far better in the marketing and event area and make up for the loss but with a town that is anti-business like Amherst, that might be a problem. Like most everything in Amherst they need better management and it has to come from outside of the oddballs who are at the core of everything in the town.

Cue the laugh track said...

Oh relax Larry.

~Everything~ in Ponziville

is warm and fuzzy

~including~ the math, right?

So quaint.

Carry on

little cousins.

-Squeaky Squeaks

Anonymous said...

Not clear on how leasing it puts it on the tax rolls? Might be good for the management side to outsource the operations, but it will still be owned by the town, so no property tax dollars.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually back in 2006 the town did put the turkey out to bid and rejected a $30,000 per year offer (times three years) by Niblik Management.

Town Manager Larry Shaffer said it was "too little". And of course Shaffer did not read his own RFP which clearly said the money offer was in addition to having the course be taxed, which would have been another $10,000 on top of the $30,000.

Niblik Management even said they were aware that the course would be taxed if they took over management.

Of course that same year Shaffer issued a press release saying the course was "in the black" by $7,000, but failed to account for the "hidden costs" which when added in put the course in the red by over $25,000.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I don't see it. This is one of the town-owned recreation facilities all of which have costs. How much does Mill River or Groff Park generate in revenue? Does that cover their lawn mowers, trash removal, picnic tables, etc. It's just the cost of having a town-owned recreational facility and it's not much. Go Cherry Hill! And go play it. You'll have a great time!

Larry Kelley said...

Not much?

Wish I were in your tax bracket.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I don't get it either. What's the profit or loss generated by War Memorial Pool? By Mill River Pool? Do they escape scrutiny just because you and your family happen to use them?

(No, I don't play golf, in case you're wondering.)

Larry Kelley said...

Actually my family does not use them.

And they will be getting scrutiny over the next week or so.

Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Jada the jet ready to launch

So the girl in the photograph with that caption is not a member of your family?

Larry Kelley said...

That was at the grand opening of the War Memorial Pool (entry was free) and we were there to cover it.

Jada was my assistant that day.

Anonymous said...

Since the town wading pools are not open, I took the kids to the always reliable Hampshire Athletic Club.

And if the town wading pools had been open, where would you have taken them?

Larry Kelley said...

Where I take them now (just yesterday as a matter of fact): Hampshire Athletic Club.

Larry Kelley said...

Before you dig up ancient history: Yes, I admit to having learned to swim at the War Memorial Pool in the summer of 1963 to be exact.

And if I remember correctly, it was a very hot summer.

Anonymous said...

You take your family to HAC?

Wish I wuz in your tax bracket...

Larry Kelley said...

Kids as an add on are ridiculously cheap, and my wife teaches there so her membership is free.

And you're still a CAN.

Anonymous said...

I think the pools (especially the wading pools) serve a greater population of the Town than a golf course. I think the golf course should be developed for housing.

However, if this is what the Town voted for -- and there is no referendum to sell Cherry Hill, I think we are all stuck.

I do appreciate your educating people as to how to read a Town budget. Many do not understand the grouping (not hiding) of costs.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, many in Town Meeting don't understand the "grouping" either.