Golf course saga continues, no sale pending but concerns remain from residents

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
The club house at the Lemoore Municipal Golf Course
The club house at the Lemoore Municipal Golf Course

The City of Lemoore, in what it says is an effort to diffuse ongoing rumors and theories about a possible sale of the city’s municipal golf course, talked about the pros and cons of selling the golf course at its regular Tuesday study session Tuesday night (Sept. 17) in an effort to allay fear that the city may be secretly negotiating the sale of the city’s golf course.

The rumors and stories were fueled by constant notices in the council’s agenda that council members may be negotiating the sale of the course. Concerns were further exacerbated when Mayor Billy Siegel, Lemoore Parks and Recreation Director Joe Simonson, another city employee and a representative of the Tachi Tribe took a well-publicized golf outing on the taxpayer’s dime, the purpose of which was to ostensibly evaluate the course for the Tachi.

 Simonson began the study session discussion by reviewing his report which listed pros and cons for selling the course. “There is currently nothing to announce or discuss,” stated Simonson’s report. “A representative from the Tachi Yokut Tribe approached the city manager inquiring about the golf course. A well-publicized round of golf was played by staff members and a representative from the Tribe, and to date no formal offer has been made. Unfortunately in the absence of facts, many rumors and theories have surfaced that are simply not true.”

 Parks and Recreation Director Joe Simonson’s Staff Report

The Leader has reported on the issue and reported weeks ago that Lemoore Interim City Manager Jeff Laws confirmed that no offer has been made and that he also approved the round of golf enjoyed by a Tachi representative, Siegel, Simonson and a city employee. The Leader also contacted several council members who indicated there was no offer and did not believe there would in fact be such a sale.

Laws repeated that mantra Tuesday night. “There’s been no official offer,” he said.

Simonson also reviewed the city’s recent decision to use $1.2 million of general fund money to reduce the obligation the city has in paying for the golf course. Based on the influx of general fund money, the golf course should be able to cover or nearly cover the $191,128 in yearly obligations that are scheduled to be paid off in 2020.

In 2020 the obligation jumps to $300,000 per year and is scheduled to be paid off in June of 2027. The $300,000 per year would be returned to the city’s general fund.

The council was responding in part to Lemoore resident Karen Osterland, who at a previous meeting expressed concern about the golf course and its status. Osterland was at the dais again Tuesday night and asked a series of questions regarding the public’s right to know about the course and why the city would consider selling the it.

Siegel indicated the public would be informed of the sale and multiple public hearing could be held, though Lemoore City Attorney Laurie Avedisian said such multiple meetings are not a requirement to discuss the sale of property. Laws added that information about the sale of the course could be distributed through utility bills, kiosks around town, or in the newspaper.

Councilmember John Gordon appeared to pour cold water on the discussion and seemed angered by the entire discussion, insisting that perhaps the issue was overblown. “I think it’s a waste of time,” he said of the golf course discussion. “There are no facts.”

Siegel, in a long diatribe, wondered why the city was in the golf course business at all, citing a list of concerns. “Why are we in the golf course business at all,” he said, raising issues such as ongoing costs in public safety and city services that perhaps outweighed the need to help pay ongoing costs for a golf course.

However, he said.  “I’ve never considered selling it to someone who wasn’t in the golf course business.”

He added that money is tight. “It’s no longer monopoly money,” he said referring to past years when the Redevelopment Agency helped pay the debt on the course. “Will you spend money out of your general fund … to pay for the golf course?”

 He also seemed to indicate that a Tachi appraisal came in well below what the city currently owes on the golf course. “I don’t think anybody on this council would consider selling it for less than we owe on it.”

 Simonson did in fact issue a list of pros and cons regarding the selling of the golf course:

 Why the City Should Consider Selling Lemoore Municipal Golf Course:

 1. The City is no longer on the hook for the financial obligation and there is an influx of

cash in the general fund.

 2. Regardless of the economy or future golf course competition, the City of Lemoore is out of the business.

 3. Regardless of future capital improvement needs, the City of Lemoore would no longer be responsible for those. Examples are: well replacements, lost greens, cart barn and club house maintenance

 Why the City Should Not Consider Selling Lemoore Municipal Golf Course:

 1. The loss of local control. The City would not decide on the management company, personnel or improvements made to the golf course. The Council would have no input in setting green fees and the City would lose control over the condition of one of the City’s largest assets.

 2. The City would give up the potential long-term income after the golf course debts are fully paid off in approximately June of 2027.

 3. What if the new owners were to fail and the golf course was in complete disrepair and an eyesore to the community, similar to the Selma golf course? Would the City be given the first opportunity to purchase it back and if so how much would it cost at that time to rejuvenate it?

 4. The possibility of losing our valued employees at the golf course.

 Other Items to be considered:

 1. Concern about special reduced rates that are currently available for seniors, children, students and the military.

 2. The golf course remains a golf course and is not allowed to become a housing track, shopping center, amusement park, etc.; and that the City put legal protections in place to insure that it remains a public golf course.

 3. The sale of the golf course must allow for job security of all current employees for at least one year.

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