Showing posts with label Cherry Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cherry Hill. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Brown, Green & Red (Ink That Is)

Town took course by eminent domain in 1987 for $2.2 million  (twice that in today's $)

The municipally owned Cherry Hill Golf Course continues to do what it does best:  squander taxpayer money.  In FY2016, which just ended on June 30, a hefty six digit number or $106,725 to be exact.

FY16 total intake was $210,199.72

Money that could be better spent hiring a few more pubic safety personnel, teachers, DPW workers or simply stashed in a capital savings account for the four major building projects coming up that will cost over $100 million in town money.

Two years ago Town Manager John Musante admitted to the Select Board in a memo,  "This ongoing evaluation will likely include revisiting the cost-benefits of privatizing operations of the Cherry Hill Golf Course."

Unfortunately Mr. Musante died before that could happen and the town's top executive position has been somewhat in flux ever since.

Two years ago (FY14) the beleaguered golf business lost $103,964 and last year (FY15) $86,543.

And based on that catastrophic consistency it was pretty easy for me to predict this year's loss of $100K.

Makes you wonder how closely the ailing operations are scrutinized in advance by the Town Manager, Finance Committee, or clueless Town Meeting.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Half Way To Bankruptcy

Cherry Hill winter wonderland (note DPW did not even bother to plow the parking lot)

Once again at the fiscal year half-way point for the golf business that straddles two calendar years, the municipally owned Cherry Hill Golf Course is, as usual, on a fast track to economic ruin. 

Only it's the taxpayers who cover the losses, not the tax-exempt White Elephant business. 

At closing in mid-November (yes, they did not stay open to take advantage of the warmest December in history) total revenues are a pathetic $99,144, down from last year's $102, 347 at this same time.

And last year they went on to finish FY15 with $211,680 total intake vs $298,133 spent, or a lost of $86,453.

But this year's budget has an extra $16,000 in capital appropriations for yet another lawnmower, so safe bet they will break the $100,000 mark for losses when the books close (June 30) on FY16.  This will about match the $103,964 lost in FY14.

Hey a $100K here and $100K there,  pretty soon you're talking real money.  Money that could go towards hiring a couple of badly needed first responders.

Next spring when all our ambulances are out and AFD Central and North Station are empty, Dispatch should tell a 911 caller to try the golf course.  Maybe a groundskeeper in a golf cart will be free to respond, as they sure aren't overly busy serving golf customers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cherry Hill Golf Course: Wasted Resource

Cherry Hill absorbs a lot of sun, and tax dollars

For perhaps the first time in its entire history of municipal operation (1987) the Cherry Hill Golf Course came in under budget for expenditures consuming "only" $240,866 of its $242,949 operation budget.

Of course, also as usual, the Golf Course missed revenues by a fairway generating only $211,680 on a budget built on a $268,000 intake. So the simple math indicates Cherry Hill lost "only" $29,186.

 Click to enlarge/read
 Not shown:  $5,046 in insurance

But, as usual, that's only half the sad story. In addition to the $240,866 operation budget the White Elephant Golf business also required $39,721 in Employee Benefits, $12,500 in Capital Appropriations (lawnmower) and $5,046 in Insurance.

Or a grand total spent on golf in FY15 of $298,133 against a pitiful intake of $211,680 -- or a loss of $86,453.   Coming on the heels of a $103,964 loss last year (which could have been better spent hiring two Public Safety professionals).

 War Memorial Park former wading pool (middle/right) is now UFO landing zone

Meanwhile the wading pool at War Memorial Park was ripped out by the DPW last winter and the play equipment is as old as the Town Manager.

 60+ year old Groff Park Wading Pool needs (too much) expensive repair

And the wading pool at Groff Park is on its last legs, losing half the volume of water and requiring a 5 gallon bucket of chlorine every other day due to extensive leakage.

Last year the Town Manager sent a memo to the Select Board saying it was perhaps time to once again look at leasing out Cherry Hill to a private vendor.

At least that way it would generate tax money rather than consume it.  Amherst Golf Course, owned by Amherst College, paid the town $19,158 in property taxes for their successful golf business last year.

 Hadley Solar Array in the middle of a corn field

Better yet, since the town prides itself on being a "Green Community" the expansive swath of God's green earth should be put out to bid for a Solar Array.

Town Hall parking lot with 2 spaces reserved for electric vehicles (still awaiting final installation)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Town Building Report

24,000 sq ft Wastewater Treatment Plant built 1923, value $13 million

Last night the Amherst Select Board, after many years of asking, finally received a 65 page draft inventory report of all the buildings owned by the town.

Put together by Director of Facilities and Maintenance Ron Bohonowicz, the inventory catalogs when the building was constructed, recent renovations, total square footage, estimated value and  a recommendation for future use.

One measurement that stimulated the most discussion was the "Mission Dependency Index," or how important/critical is a building to the town.  Obviously Police and Fire scored high with 100 and 99 respectively (out of 100).

So did anything to do with water.  And anyone who has ever watched Survivor knows water is your first priority.

22,480 sq ft Town Hall built 1889, value $6.5 million

But the Jones Library only measured a 50 and that left a bad taste in the mouths of our bookish Select Board.  So they voted to have Mr. Bohonowicz scratch that measurement.

And the Select Board did show some concern that perhaps Mr. Bohonowicz crossed over into "policy" with some of his comments.

For instance he mentions the worst kept secret in town that if the current DPW building is abandoned for a new facility it would make a great location for the (too) L-O-N-G talked about new Fire Station.

Or under Recreation he states the Walmart quality Cherry Hill Golf Course Clubhouse, "Should be eliminated if there was to be any type of major renovation."  At the Select Board meeting last night he called it "disposable."  (Kind of like the golf course itself).

 5,600 sq ft War Memorial Pool built 1960, value $243,000 (surrounding play area not so much)

The report is considered a "living document" and will be amended and upgraded over the years.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Make That Over $100K

Cherry Hill Municipal Golf Course lost a tad more than the $87,739 I reported the other day.  Now add an additional $16,225 for a "Sand Pro Groomer" and the new total breaks the six-digit price point, coming in at $103,964 in tax dollars.  For the game of golf.  Ouch!

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Red Is The New Black

Cherry Hill Golf Course: always stormy  

Red ink continues to outline Amherst's municipal white elephant -- the appropriately titled Cherry Hill Golf Course.  Set against a bright blue sky background it might make an all-American logo for government waste and mismanagement.

Last year the beleaguered business lost $47,000 and this year -- at the half way point -- they are again on target to lose well over that amount.

Of course town officials will write it off as almost a wash or talk about "net operating profits" conveniently ignoring the hidden costs -- employee benefits, ($37,529) and capital improvements ($26,654).

Yes, the FY14 "operation budget" is $240,100 but the real cost of running the golf business this year is $304,283.  And with total revenues now at season closure standing at only $90,701 (below last year's $96,537) safe bet the course will not even generate the $242,569 total it did in FY13.

So my conservative projection for total losses in the this fiscal year finishing June 30 is $60,000 -- or a little over the cost of one full time firefighter, police officer or yes, even a teacher (well, almost). 

Next year (FY15) will be exponentially worse since the (hidden) capital improvements cost will be in the $100,000 range.

Time to board up the sinking sand trap.

Five year plan for capital improvements (not part of "operation budget")

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gluttonou$ Game of Golf


Despite a bold, suck up assurance to the Select Board from Town Manager John Musante -- "The golf course will cover its operating and employee benefits costs entirely from user fees" -- the White Elephant continues to lumber along in the red as Cherry Hill Golf Course closed the fiscal year requiring $47,141 in tax support, a little more than it did the previous year.

Now $47,000 may not sound like much, but it seems to be the best case scenario with the ailing recreation business.  And worse case scenario is a repeat of the seven straight years (2001-2007) the course required $100,000 in annual tax support.

The course always comes close to covering "operation costs" but those costs do not include employee benefits, capital items (heavy equipment), and insurance.  Cherry Hill never covers those. 

So the year that just started July 1st (FY14) the course has an extra $12,000 in capital over and above the year just completed.  Thus they will easily lose $60,000.  Still, not such a big deal.  However the following year (FY15) they have $97,500 in capital improvements on tap, so that year they will lose between $130,000 and $140,000.

Having such a large piece of property tied up in the golf business rather than, say, student housing, a solar farm, or private landfill -- all of which would pay significant annual property taxes -- underscores the hidden value of opportunity costs. In this case, opportunity lost.

Even Amherst Golf Course, owned by tax-exempt Amherst College, pays over $7,000 per year in property taxes to the town yet still  manages to make money for the College.  Maybe we should let them run Cherry Hill?

Oh yes, that's right, the town already turned down a private management company that offered to pay $30,000 guaranteed annually to run Cherry Hill. 

Cherry Hill, at $2.2 million dollars ($4.4 million in today's dollars), was the most expensive land taking in town history.   All to satisfy North Amherst  NIMBYs, who railroaded Town Meeting into the nefarious use of eminent domain to stop a 134-unit housing development.

Today we have some of those same NIMBYs (Vince O'Connor for one)  trying to fast track the town into taking 154 acres of property in northeast Amherst to stop a desperately needed 170 unit student housing development.  For an astounding $6.5 million dollars, a new record.

Those who fail to learn from history ...

Notice how nervous Cherry Hill makes public officials

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Cover Up Continues

In his FY14 budget Letter of Transmittal to his bosses the Select Board, Town Manager John Musante writes, "The 9-hole Cherry Hill Golf Course budget increases by $2,465 (+1%). In addition to offering one of the best values in Western Massachusetts it will expand its winter programming as well as introduce a disc golf program. The golf course will cover its operating and employee benefits costs entirely from user fees."

Hmm ... maybe the Town Manager needs to look up the definition of "entirely".

First of all, according to his own figures, the $2,465 increase is a 1.6% increase over last year's budget, so it would be more correct to round up to 2% rather than down to 1%.

Second of all, according to his own figures, the golf course is "projected" to intake $268,000 against semi-total expenditures of  $277,629  ($240,100 operating and $37,529 employee benefits).  In the red by almost $10,000 or $9,629 to be exact.  Thus the user fees do not entirely cover overhead.

Now I use the term "semi-total expenditures" because those two overhead costs combined leave out one other important cost of doing business in the expensive world of golf:  capital equipment. 

And in FY14 that comes to another $26,654 in lease payments on two mowers, or a grand total of $304,283 against an overly optimist projection of $268,000 in revenues, or a loss of $36,283.

Of course the real problem is the Golf Course will not take in $268,000.  In FY12 , for example, they were "projected" to intake -- guess what? -- $268,000.   But, according to the Town Manager's figures, only managed $242,569.

That year total expenditures with employee benefits and capital came to $283,106 for a loss of over $40,000 or $40,537 to be exact.

Interestingly last year the capital request spreadsheet for the golf course showed a projected total of $135,654 in FY14, the two movers plus $24,000 for a fence and $85,000 for parking lot resurfacing. 

Last year's Cherry Hill five year plan

Those two expensive items have simply been shuffled into the near future along with another BIG ticket $60,000 item, Irrigation Pond Dredging.

Even by fudging the figures Cherry Hill does not "cover its operating and employee benefits cost." And the expensive capital items -- entirely paid for by taxpayers rather than "user fees" -- over the next five years average $50,000 annually.
And that alone would cover the cost of one badly needed police officer or firefighter. 
This year's five year plan

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Recreation Train Wreck

Leisure Services & Supplemental Education website (note outdated pool event) 

If Amherst Police, Fire and DPW departments suddenly vanished, chaos would soon ensue. But should our recreation department disappear, most people would not even notice...and the private sector would quickly and easily fill the void.

In addition to the $43,000 lost last fiscal year on the luxurious game of golf, the recreation department--also known as Leisure Services and Supplemental Education--lost an additional $92,792 on other sport/fitness programming.

Overall LSSE expenses topped $1.1 million with revenues at $977,514...far short of break even .  This $122, 486 in red ink combined with the $197,000 hidden cost of employee benefits, paid from a separate part of the town operating budget, brings losses last year to a whopping $319,486.  For RECREATION.

And this is far from an anomaly as LSSE budget deficits demonstrate a downward trend over the past few years.  Unlike the decline of the Roman Empire, the excuse will be weather and the economy. 

Last spring Town Meeting approved a new $400,000 revolving fund for LSSE "after school programs". The schools kicked out private programs that had been in place for a generation and cost the taxpayers nothing, to be replaced by this same failing business model. 

Interestingly the government sponsored program at Crocker Farm--"Prime Time"-- that had been competing head-to-head with the private "Crocker Care", missed budget projections by a significant amount (budgeted at $27,000 but only generating $15,000).

If LSSE can't handle recreation--its core business for 30 years now--how well is this expensive new after school business going to fare?

Another hidden cost of government sponsored programs is that they are tax exempt.  Simply put, private business generates tax income while government programs consume them.

For instance, Hampshire Athletic Club, which has to unfairly compete with LSSE rec programs, paid the town $36,000 last year in property taxes.  And their employees are for the most part full-time professionals trying to make a living at sports/recreation rather than the part-time, independent contractors LSSE relies on.

Even tax exempt Amherst College paid the town $8,000 in property taxes for their Amherst Golf Course which competes with the Cherry Hill Golf Course, a ravenous White Elephant that required taxpayer bail outs of over $1 million to cover operational losses over the past ten years.

Government is vital for providing essential services--especially relating to public safety.  Recreation is a different matter altogether.

Why should hard pressed senior citizens living on a fixed income subsidize the recreational activities of the few who can--for the most part--afford to pay the actual cost of their "leisure services"?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cherry Hill Continues to Gush Red Ink

Cherry Hill should be closed because "it's the economy stupid."

A coin toss can decide the convenient excuse town officials will trot out for our municipal golf course continuing to squander taxpayer monies: The reliable standby going on 25 years now--inclement weather, or the more recent favorite--tough economy.  Actually of late they have been using them both in combination.

FY12 ended June 30 with total revenues standing at around $239,000 well under the projected budgeted amount town meeting was told they would intake, $268,000.  And those offsetting expenditures at $232,815 or a "net profit" of $6,185.  And that is the only math town officials ever wish to present.

But those expenditures do not include an additional $49,000 in hidden costs: $31,497 for employee benefits, $14,000 in capital improvements (a lawnmower) plus $3,300 in liability/clubhouse insurance.

Now do the math that small business owners (and homeowners) have to live by:  total expenditures $281,815 against total revenues of $239,000 or an actual loss of $42,815.  Yet our senile,arthritic, toothless, "watchdog" Finance Committee promised Amherst Town Meeting the business  "would show a small profit."

Even worse they dared to say "continue" to show a small profit.  In FY11, the previous year, accounting for the hidden costs Cherry Hill lost $40,000.  What the Finance Committee should have said is the course will continue to generate the same amount of red ink, or more.

The Fiscal year that just started has an extra $12,500 in capital expenditures (turf mower) over last year and next year the ailing operation requires $135,000 in hidden capital costs!

The Solid Waste Fund took a multi million dollar hit when the landfill closed as commercial haulers took their business elsewhere.  The transfer station was created to allow folks who do not have a private hauler to still manage their trash and recycling as well as for the town to dispose of its waste.

But rising fuel prices and the bottoming out of recycling reimbursements have squeezed the operation budget of the transfer station and for the first time in history town officials are actually considering closing it down to the general public, impacting 2,000 current customers--more than ten times the number of season pass holders at the Cherry Hill Golf Course.

The transfer station, however, finished the fiscal year in the black, unlike Cherry Hill.

Trash and recycling services are a necessity, golf is not!


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Town Meeting "Shame"

Cherry Hill Golf Course:  Whistling in the rain

Last night after more than an hour of discussion Amherst Town Meeting turned down an amendment to add $67,000 to the "Human Services Budget" for non profit agencies performing vital safety net functions for those most in need.  As the 111-67 tally vote was announced, a disgruntled supporter said--loud enough for the Moderator to hear--"Shame!"

Within minutes Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to approve the municipal Cherry Hill Golf Course budget with almost no discussion.  Last year Cherry Hill lost $40,000 and this year (which ends June 30) revenues thus far are down 17% so safe bet they will lose at least that much once again.

And in 2014 they have $135,000 in equipment replacement scheduled, meaning they go back to the good ol' days of annual six-digit losses.  Meanwhile the hungry in Amherst, stay hungry.  "Shame" indeed.

Posted to the privately owned Town Meeting Listserve:

I feel I have to write this to my fellow Town Meeting Members. I was ashamed by
the way some of my fellow members acted the other night upon the defeat of
adding $66,000 to the budget. The boos and yells of shame is not why I joined
Town Meeting. I believe we need to respect one another opinions and respect
each others as adults. I felt those people yelling what they did was immature
and child-like because they did not get their way. (that is my interpretation) .
Respecting others views is what a democracy is about, by doing what you did is a
way of intimidation. I hope this does not ever happen again.
Thank you for reading and I hope respecting what I wrote
Barry Federman
Precinct 5

Friday, March 16, 2012


Free ad on the town website

Let the record show that our money pit municipal golf course opened for business yesterday, so naturally today it rained.  This pre St Patrick's Day opening is the earliest in a decade but that will not stop town officials from using the weather excuse this coming July at fiscal year finish when the course ends up in the (cherry) red once again.

Hickory Ridge, a 18 hole public/private course in South Amherst sold at auction yesterday to Appliedgolf, a major player who owns 13 other courses.  Cherry Hill would have benefited somewhat by Hickory Ridge staying closed but now it may be quite the opposite as the new owners may invest more money into renovations, making it an even better course.

On average Cherry Hill only covers about 70% of its total overhead with the other 30% covered by taxpayers--the vast majority of whom do not play golf.  Hickory Ridge needs to cover all its costs (including property taxes to the town) via membership fees, or the auctioneers gavel will fall again.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow...

At least they used red ink for Fy14's $135,654

Amherst Finance Director Sandy Pooler exhibited the same curious protect-at-all-costs-the-expensive-game-of-golf attitude oozed by his predecessors John Musante (now Town Manager) and Nancy Maglione, relying on the tried and true bad weather cliche for yet another abysmal performance at the Cherry Hill Golf Course budget half-way mark.

Curiously he declared revenues only "slightly down". Hmm...17% is "slightly down"!? Are these not the same town officials who screech louder than an Irish banshee if state aid to the town is reduced by 1 or 2%?

And Mr. Pooler fails to mention the $226,308 in capital improvements slated over the next five years for the ailing enterprise. But since expensive capital items (as with insurance and employee benefits) come out of a budget separate from golf course operations, town officials hope nobody will notice.

Makes you wonder what else they're hiding.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More $ down the drain

Amherst Cherry Hill Golf Course (metaphorically speaking)

Just so all of us "customers" have time to adapt, Amherst announced six months in advance a 3% price hike in water and sewer rates. Yeah, that $24 annual increase takes a long time to soften the shock. Thanks.

Or I suppose households could cut back--a bath here and a toilet flush there. But try telling that to my two kids.

Now too bad the town could not correspondingly swing a magic golf club and guarantee an increase in the bottom line at our floundering golf business. Interestingly, the town has incrementally increased rates almost every year for the past decade or so but it still loses money hand over fist because of sinking interest in the expensive game of golf.

And with H-U-G-E capital infrastructure expenditures coming up soon, those already too large losses will only grow exponentially.

Government seems to do just fine in the marketplace when it has a monopoly on a vital service like running water or education, but tanks in a competitive arena where good quality at a fair price matters.

Unfortunately the taxpayers are all too easily tapped to cover the difference.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Some things never change

UMass McGuirk Stadium (pre-expansion)

God how I wish Amherst Town Meeting had been half as smart as the UMass faculty union back in 1987 when we spent a whopping $2.2 million--an astounding $4.4 million in today's dollars--to buy a golf course we could have had for free. Although interestingly enough, it was a UMass professor, Richard Minear (then Chair of the Amherst Select Board) and fellow history professor Ron Story (a few years prior to Ellen Story becoming State Representative) who led the ill fated charge.

As usual, a 159 neighbors had signed a petition supporting the purchase to, as usual, stop development; and town meeting used the sacred power of eminent domain--the political equivalent of detonating a nuclear weapon--to steal the property away from a developer who had a legal agreement signed--at far less than $2.2 million--with owner Dave Maxon.

If only Town Meeting said to the selfish neighbors: "Sure we will take the property, as long as you come up with 80% of the funding," what a different history I would now write. And the town treasury would be so better off because of it.

Of course UMass football making the big jump to FBS will make Cherry Hill look like a Powerball lottery win by comparison. The jump (the shark) has already cost $1 million with the buyout for coach Kevin Morris and staff and next year scholarships alone will cost an addition $2 million. And of course there is that $30 million to expand McGuirk Stadium that the faculty union is now wisely trying to sack.

All this for a football program that lost millions last year. Yikes!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hidden, catastrophic cost of golf

Cherry Hill's K-Mart quality golf clubhouse

Last night Leisure Services director Linda Chalfant presented the FY13 upcoming budget to the four-out-of-seven members of the recreation commission who bothered to show up, and dubbed Cherry Hill squandering $40,000 last year as, "effectively a break even year." Easy to say when that money is not coming out of her $80,000 annual salary.

And this current year, according to the numbers generated at the half-way point, Cherry Hill is on target to lose another $60,000. And the following year--hold on to your golf caps--well over $100,000!

Because unlike a household or small business, in the wonderful world of municipal accounting little things like employee benefits, insurance and expensive new commercial equipment do not count towards your "operation budget." Last year those three expenses amounted to $40,000--all of it paid for by taxpayers, not a dime from golfers.

Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a new car or truck out of a secret account nobody was watching?

At seasonal closing, the beleaguered golf business has totaled only $82,779, $17,284 under last year, and the lowest amount in six years. Expenses are identical--especially those hidden ones nobody likes to admit.

For instance, capital expenses this year include a $14,154 "fairway mower", next year another $14,154 fairway mower plus a $12,000 rough mower for a total of $26,654.

But what the Hell, since nobody cares about capital items why not go on a whirlwind shopping spree--all of it taxpayer funded? In FY14, two years from now, capital improvements will include yet another fairway ($14,154) and rough mower ($12,500) fence replacement ($24,000) and parking lot resurfacing ($24,000) for a whopping grand total of $135,654 .

If the diffident School Committee can bite the bullet to save money by closing down Mark's Meadow, a beloved elementary school, Town Manager John Musante needs to step up and make the call that should have been made ten years ago: board up the money pit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cherry Hill: A sucking sinkhole

Despite Finance Committee assurances to Town Meeting that our lackadaisical golf course would produce "a small surplus for FY 11," (ended June 30) Cherry Hill scored yet another losing season costing Amherst taxpayers $40,000, money that could have funded a police officer, firefighter or teacher--a far better use for tax dollars than subsidizing the Rich Man's Game of golf.

According to draft figures provided by Comptroller Sonia Aldrich, Cherry Hill generated $223,538 in revenues on "operation expenses" of $220,140 which are the only two figures town officials ever wish to compare.

Since Cherry Hill requires employees, the hidden human costs--employee benefits--which are paid out of a separate budget totaled an additional $25,230; and business liability insurance $3,300 plus a big ticket capital item: $15,000 to dig a new well to feed the expensive irrigation system. Total overhead of $263,670 on revenues of only $223,538 equals $40,132 in red ink.

In 1987 Amherst absorbed the nine-hole golf course after a developer proposed 134 high-end houses around the golf business, which he planned to donate to the town or UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture for free. Instead, the town--at the urging of North Amherst NIMBYs-- used the power of eminent domain as an "emergency measure" (thereby making the heavy handed action immune to voter Referendum) costing taxpayers a whopping $2.2 million, the most expensive acquisition in town history.

The golf course operated as an "Enterprise Fund" (tracking all revenues/expenditures) because the business was supposed to cover all expenses--including employee benefits--plus show a profit. After operational losses of over $1 million Town Meeting dissolved the Enterprise Fund status five years ago, allowing town officials to hide costs and issue disingenuous press releases touting "net operating profits."

Nero supposedly fiddled while Rome burned. In the People's Republic of Amherst, town officials fiddle with golf--at taxpayers expense.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Treading in a sandpit

So I’m a tad surprised the Town Manager and our Leisure Services recreation empire have not issued one of those disingenuous press releases trumpeting how terrific the Cherry Hill Golf course—our municipally owned White Elephant--performed this past year (FY10 ended June 30)

And indeed, compared to all too many years this past one was a hole in one, with "expenses" of $217,220.94 and overall revenues of $250,381.04. Although the town manager and LSSE did project last year that Cherry Hill would intake $262,000; and none of that $12,000 difference comes out of their hides.

But still, before you conclude the business turned a profit of $33,000 those “expenses” do not include that pesky $25,000 in employee benefits or $7,000 for clubhouse and liability insurance paid out of separate, hidden, parts of the town budget.

And this year they did not have any capital items (like last year’s $22,000 lawnmower for instance), which of course begs the question: why no capital items?

A golf course is exceedingly hard on heavy equipment, and since a study done five years ago discovered two-thirds of Cherry Hill’s extensive collection of heavy machines were beyond their rated lifespan, kind of makes you wonder?

Deferred maintenance is an easy but shortsighted way to make a budget look good.

And this past March the DPW had to scurry out to the golf course (at the expense of many other more important things they do) and help spruce it up for an early spring opening.

When the Amherst Redevelopment Authority met with Hanover Town officials recently regarding development they did with Dartmouth College for our proposed Gateway Project with Umass, town manager Julia Griffin mentioned how refreshing it was to be away from her former gig in the capital city of Concord—mainly because of the tough politics and the constant drain on the city budget from two municipal white elephants: an airport and a golf course.

Sooooo, I guess it could be worse…


Ass't Town Mgr John Musante: Hate that damn capital! (makes me twitch)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

White Elephants: the same all over the country

Another losing Amherst golf course (New York)

Funny how public recreation folks all think alike. Ten years ago the now defunct Cherry Hill Golf Advisory Committee wanted to a borrow millions to replace the condemned clubhouse with a Taj Mahal like structure including 5 star restaurant.

Fortunately that was downsized to a $286,000 loan for a Wal Mart quality Clubhouse that still managed to overrun its budget by 30% and a new irrigation system. The Finance Committee promised the improvements would lead to revenues falling from the heavens like manna; and of course Cherry Hill then went into its seven-year tailspin averaging over $100-K losses per year.

Now-a-days capital improvements (that are charged to a separate part of the town budget so it does not show up as an operation cost of the business) are limited to little things like the $15,000 two years ago for a security fence and above ground fuel storage tank.

Not sure if the security fence is to protect from terrorists detonating the storage tank, or just a visual screen so Hilda Greenbaum doesn't complain about the industrial view. But that open space looks big enough to drive a golf cart through...