Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ Town allows golf members and golf course area residents to dominate the discussion. Part 2.

Scroll down to read Part 1 which was published yesterday and includes my letter to the town manager. The Town’s response and my follow-up email are below.

Response from Jessica Hynd on December 20th:
"Town Manager Mary Jacobs has asked that I follow up with you regarding your most recent email. The general public had the opportunity to speak during the special session held on July 12, 2017 when the assessment and recommendation was presented to the Town Council. Additionally, the community can always provide their opinions and feedback regarding the final report through the Ask Oro Valley portal, which is provided to Council bi-weekly."

Unsatisfied with this response, I sent a follow-up email on December 21st. Excerpt below:
"Yes, on July 12, 2017, there was a Study Session. There was one item on that agenda...Presentation and discussion regarding consultant report for Town golf and restaurant operations. However, that agenda says nothing about a Public Hearing on this topic. The minutes show that 7 residents did get up to speak.

Here’s what needs to be considered:

The 7 people who spoke at the July 12th meeting consisted of the President of the Men's Golf Association, followed by 6 residents who live along the golf courses and/or play golf.

The taxpayers did not receive special invitations to this meeting.

This meeting was also held in mid-July when many Oro Valley citizens have left town for cooler climates and many have returned to their second homes in New England and Minnesota. In fact, during the July 12th meeting for people living along the golf courses, one speaker stated that besides living along the golf courses, he was there to speak on behalf of members of the golf club who couldn't attend because they are snowbirds and were away for the summer.

[Including the July 12th meeting] this is now FOUR special meetings where the only people who were heard were residents living along the golf courses and residents who play golf. The Town has allowed them to dominate the discussion.

Yes, the rest of us can always provide our opinions and feedback via the Ask Oro Valley portal, which is provided to Council bi-weekly...but the golf course area residents and golfers also have this option along with all of their special meetings.

Why are the taxpayers, who are being forced to subsidize something that we never requested, being placed so low on the priority list? As a group, we are paying more in taxes to support this misadventure than what the golfers and homeowners living along the courses are contributing, and yet they have been allowed to have a much larger seat at the table than the rest of us. This is unconscionable considering that the taxpayers did not approve the purchase of the golf courses and they never approved the increased sales tax to fund it."

When the questions get tough, the Town exits the conversation
It has been more than three weeks since I sent that email and there has been no response from the Town. Keep in mind that these emails have all been seen by Town Manager, Mary Jacobs, plus the mayor and six councilmembers, and not one of them has taken the time to explain the Town’s rationale for placing taxpayers so low on the priority list and allowing golf members and golf course area residents to dominate the conversation.

This is one more example of both the favoritism and the incompetence of this Town. When I ask tough questions, they exit the conversation and do not respond. They will never admit when they’ve made a mistake or crossed a line.

Best for whom?
The final decision about the golf courses is supposed to be based on “what’s best for the entire community.” From what I’ve seen so far, I suspect it will actually be based on what’s best for the golf members, what’s best for residents living along the golf courses, and what’s best for a Town Council that needs to save face.

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Diane Peters has lived in Oro Valley since 2003, moving here to escape the humidity of the East Coast. She’s been involved in OV politics and development issues since 2006. In 2014, she organized a citizens group, Citizen Advocates of the Oro Valley General Plan, who over a 9-month period, successfully negotiated a controversial 200-acre development project. In her past life, she worked in medical research at various University Hospitals in New England. Her interests include reading, writing, nature photography, travel, art galleries, museums, and politics.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Guest View: Diane Peters ~ Town allows golf members and golf course area residents to dominate the discussion. Part 1.

Favoritism Much?
The Town has now held a total of three special “invitation only” meetings with golf members and residents living along the golf courses to get their feedback regarding the future of the golf courses. Those meetings were as follows:

Two Special Meetings for Residents living along the golf courses

May 4, 2017: Q&A Session/Workshop at the Gaslight Theater
December 12, 2017: Town Council Chambers

One Special Meeting for Golf Members

December 13, 2017: Sunset Room of the Community Center

According to the invitations, the Town believed that feedback from these two groups was “an important part of developing the final recommendation that will be presented to the mayor and town council in January 2018.”

What about the rest of us?
What about the 40,000+ taxpayers who are being forced to fund this albatross? How many special meetings have they held for “We the Taxpayers?” We never approved the purchase of the golf courses and we never approved the increase in the sales tax to fund renovations and maintenance. Where is our seat at the table?

The Town refuses to acknowledge that ALL Oro Valley taxpayers are supporting this misguided adventure, many of us unwillingly. If they are going to make all of us pay for this unwanted addition to the Town budget, then they need to give us a voice in the decision-making process.

On December 18th, I sent the following letter to Town Manager, Mary Jacobs:

"Ms. Jacobs,

Now that the Town has held one "Special Meeting" for residents living near the Town-owned golf courses (December 12th) and another "Special Meeting" for the members of the golf club (December 13th), will the Town be holding a "Special Meeting" for the General Public to also allow them to give their opinions and feedback regarding the Golf Consultant's Report?

One person living along the golf courses commented at the meeting on December 12th:

"This isn't just about golfers vs. non-golfers. It's also about homeowners living along the courses."

They left someone out. This isn't just about golfers, non-golfers, and homeowners living along the golf courses. It's also about Oro Valley taxpayers who are being forced to subsidize the recreational activities of golfers (who make up less than 1% of our population). We're sure you will agree that the taxpayer also needs to have a seat at the table."

Tomorrow: Part 2. The Town's Response

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Great Golf Boondoggle of Oro Valley

The video that follows was produced by Take Back OV. It discusses the history of how the Town came to own the golf courses, the financial drain they have caused, and some potential changes being considered by the Town to stem these losses.

Sometime this month, the town manager is planning to give her recommendation to the Town Council. That recommendation will be based on the town's $50,000 golf study plus feedback from the town manager’s "invitation only" meetings with approximately 250 golf members and residents who live along the golf courses.

That’s right. There are 43,000 Oro Valley taxpayers being forced to subsidize these golf courses for 250 people; yet, these 43,000 people have NO VOICE at the table. Begin watching at the 7:10 mark to learn how YOU have been kept out of the process.

The video includes maps and photographs, but for those who prefer reading to watching videos, here are some highlights:

In December 2014, when Mayor Hiremath and Councilmembers Hornat, Waters, and Snider voted to purchase 3 golf courses from Humberto Lopez, their largest campaign contributor, the courses were already losing $1.5 million per year.

The facility immediately became a financial drag on Oro Valley. Losses have exceeded $2.5 million for each of the last two years with losses of $2.3 million budgeted for FY 2017/2018.

By June 2017, the Town had already lost $5.7 million in golf and restaurant operations. That’s $200,000 per month. When this budget year ends in June 2018, the total losses are projected to be $8 million dollars.

These excessive losses are FOUR TIMES the original Town forecast, meaning that the increased sales tax isn’t covering the operational expenses much less the required repairs.

Recommendations from the $50,000 National Golf Foundation Study.

Option A: Retain 36 holes on La Canada and reconfigure them. Cost: $5.2 million with continued annual losses of $1.4 million. (This does not address the overcapacity problem.)

Option B: Reduce from 36 to 27 holes (three 9-hole courses). Cost: $4.6 million with $1 million in losses annually. (This does not address the overcapacity problem.)

Option C: Reduce from 36 to 18 holes. Cost: $4.2 million with $1.3 million in annual losses. This reduces the overcapacity to a level supported by members, resort guests, and open daily play.

This option dramatically reduces irrigation requirements, operating costs, and frees up 83 acres of land. The study projects greater losses on the assumption that more members would drop out with only 18 holes available. This assumption is questionable since many members live adjacent to the courses and own their own golf carts.

Option D: Close both La Canada courses and convert it to a park/trail system. Cost: $3 million plus ongoing park maintenance. This is the only option that addresses the generational decline in golfers. It is also the only option that truly benefits the 43,000 residents of Oro Valley.

Pusch Ridge Course: Reconfigure to a 12-hole, Par 3 course. Cost: $3 million. This option was well-received by Humberto Lopez because it benefits the Hilton Resort while the Town bears all the costs.

The current irrigation system is leaking and outdated. Troon, the golf management company, reported that each 18 hole course uses 300,0000 gallons of water per day.

Invitation Only Meetings
Special “invitation only” meetings for golfers and residents living along the golf courses were held by the Town on May 4th, December 12th, and December 13th to get their feedback on how the Town should proceed…..to spend YOUR tax dollars in order to protect THEIR property values and THEIR desire to play golf. In other words, the Town wants YOUR money but you have NO seat at the table!

Table for 43,000
LOVE suggests that our readers demand a seat at the table. Attend the January 17th town council meeting and be prepared to speak. Or send an email to the mayor and council with your thoughts on what YOU think should be done with the golf courses. What do you think would be in the best interest of the majority of Oro Valley citizens and taxpayers?

Mayor and Council email addresses:


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Guest View: Mike Zinkin ~ The Only Realistic Alternative

It is a fact that Oro Valley has bought 45 holes of golf. It is a fact that this purchase has been a financial disaster. Given the fact that we own this property, what is the best way to minimize its losses? Of course, the best way to minimize the losses is to ELIMINATE golf all together.

However, if the Council insists on keeping golf, as I am certain they will (they need to save face, after all), what is the best alternative to minimize the losses? Keep in mind I said MINIMIZE because there is no chance that the El Conquistador golf facility will ever profit, nor even break even.

Keep only an 18-hole municipal facility
I suggest that we return the golf complex to the original 18 holes and become purely a municipal facility. By that I mean “no members.” Everybody pays for each round played, everybody pays to use the practice facilities, and there are no “member discounts” for merchandise or food and beverage.

In FY 16/17, the combined income derived by member dues and cart/trail fees amounted to over $928,000. While that’s a lot of income to give up by going strictly municipal, the reduction in expenses from closing 27 holes of golf and allowing prime tee times to be sold to the public (these times are currently saved for the members) will allow the Town to offset the losses.

Contract out Food and Beverage
The first thing that has to happen is to contract the food and beverage. This is also echoed in the $50,000 Golf Study Report. Contracting out the food and beverage will do three things: (1) save the Town over $100,000 per year that is it currently losing; (2) the Town will make money from the contract/lease; and (3) take the Town out of competition with private enterprises.

Financial Savings
By reducing available golf to the original 18 holes, the Town has a facility that can allow for golfers to play a 9 or 18-hole course since the 9th green and the 18th green both end at the Community Center. Cart leases can be reduced because we will only need to lease 70 carts instead of the current 100 carts. Equipment leases can be reduced as there is no longer a need to maintain 45 holes of golf. Payroll, employee benefits, repair and maintenance, and Management fees can all be substantially reduced.

Utilities can be reduced. There will no longer be a need to water the holes south of Lambert as they were never part of the purchase and belong to the Villages of LaCanada HOA. The Town must still water and maintain the acreage that is not utilized for golf in order to protect property values of the surrounding homes with golf course views, but there will still be a substantial reduction in utility expenses. Other than the 18 holes, there will also be no need to over seed in the winter and no need to maintain greens and sand traps.

By returning to the original 18-hole concept and contracting out food and beverage, the savings will be substantial. The $2.1+ million in sales tax revenues will cover any remaining golf losses and allow the Town to maintain the rest of the acreage in a responsible manner.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Watchdog Report: July through October 2017 Financials

The October 2017 financials were on the Consent Agenda during the December 6th Council meeting. However, because the mayor has instructed councilmembers to ask their questions of staff prior to the meeting, once again there was no discussion about the continued losses of the Community Center. Does the mayor believe that the citizens are not interested in hearing about this continued drain of taxpayer money?

The Community Center Fund (CCF) was initially set up to pay for everything connected with the purchase of the Country Club, Golf and Tennis facilities from HSL. Two and a half years later, and this still has not happened.

First Four Months of the Fiscal Year  ~ Over $400,000 in the red
The Community Center Fund ended the first four months of the 2017/18 fiscal year (July 1 through October 31) $415,161 in the red. This is considering all the revenues derived from golf, tennis, food and beverage, and non-aquatic center swimming, along with $680,721 in sales tax revenue.

Troon has lost $1,025,260 in the first four months of the fiscal year, yet still only projects a year-end loss of $1,822,941. We are coming into the prime season for golf, and we can only hope that Troon gets it right this year.

October Losses ~ Troon lost almost $10,000 more this October than last October
While the Town manages the recreation center, Troon is contracted to manage golf, food and beverage, some tennis and swimming. Troon's balance sheet is no better. They lost $270,953 in October 2017 which is $9,905 MORE than they lost in October 2016. This loss is despite an increase in golf memberships and the corresponding increase in revenue from member dues.

Utilities were also $72,007 higher than October 2016.

The Town's portion of the Community Center (the recreation center) lost $44,074 in October. Nevertheless, staff stands by their projection of ending the 2017/18 fiscal year only $86,017 in the red.

How they derive this figure is questionable considering (1) $94,250 is planned in capital outlay and (2) a $120,000 loan re-payment is owed to the General Fund. You might remember that the first $120,000 payment owed in year-one has not been paid…and the payment for year-two was accomplished only by taking an additional $350,000 from the General Fund. (To be clear, the General Fund has transferred $1.5 million of YOUR MONEY to the CCF).

Overlook Restaurant averaging $12,000 per month in losses
The Overlook Restaurant lost $13,687 in October 2017 bringing the total loss in the first four months of the fiscal year to $47,701. Keep in mind that the Overlook pays no rent/mortgage or utilities like a normal business would. This restaurant was closed when the Town purchased the property so why did they re-open it? And why hasn’t the Council tried to contract it out? If there are no bidders for the contract, then CLOSE it. The Town is supporting the elite 242 members of the "club" by providing discounted food, discounted merchandise, and a free driving range. To be more precise, the Town is not supporting the golf members, you are.

Citizens are preparing an alternative
Last summer, the Town paid more than $50,000 for a golf study in an effort to minimize the stupidity of their decision to purchase this property. To date, they have ignored the recommendations. Two citizens are currently preparing an alternative that will be completely vetted and presented to you in the near future.

This purchase was outlandish when it was made and, at two and a half years into this misadventure, there is no reason to believe that the fiscal bleeding will ever stop.

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Mike Zinkin has a Bachelor’s degree in history and government from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education from California State University, Northridge. He was a commissioned ensign in the United States Navy Reserve in 1969. He worked as an Air Traffic Controller for 30 years. He and his wife moved to Oro Valley after retiring in 1998. Mike served on the Oro Valley Development Review Board from 2005-2009, the Board of Adjustment from 2011-2012, and the Town Council from 2012-2016. During his time on council, he was named as one of 23 Leadership Fellows for the National League of Cities University, he was a member of the National League of Cities Steering Committee for Community and Economic Development, and a member of the Arizona League of Cities Budget and Economic Development Committee.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Warmest wishes for a bright and happy holiday season and peace and good health in the New Year. LOVE will return on January 8th.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The town is evaluating a private development project (Case #: OV17027220) that will have a major impact on Oracle Road and El Conquistador Way. It is a request for rezoning of 25 acres on the Northeast and Southeast corners.

The rezoning is for neighborhood commercial, senior care and multi-family uses. The property owner is Humberto Lopez of HSL Properties.

Yes, the same HSL that funds the campaigns of the current council members is making this request. Yes, it's the same HSL that sold the money-sucking 45 hole golf club to the town of Oro Valley.

The first neighborhood meeting to present this request was held on December 13. Takebackov was there to capture the fireworks. Watch and listen to residents speak. They are not happy campers!

Why this matters to you
This project will add yet more congestion to an already congested Oracle Road.

Finally, ask yourself:  "Cui Bono?"