March 24, 2015 – Rantoul Park District has shown improvement in reining in costs of operating Brookhill Golf Course the last few years.
That’s the estimation of Connie Nelson, former Rantoul Park District treasurer, who recently retired from the position. It doesn’t mean the golf course is close to where the park district board wants it to be financially, and it’s not known if it’s enough to keep it open, but it’s an improvement.
“Before I became finance officer, there were a couple years there that … even with taxes, they were struggling to pay all their bills,” Nelson said. “In 2013 and 2014, taking (into account) the taxes that were collected, they had a net gain.
“They had excess money left at the end of the year, so they wouldn’t have to borrow money to get through.”
The golf course has lost about a million dollars in the last five years, meaning, for one thing, the park district has been unable to make improvements to parks in the village that it owns. But Nelson said the board has made cuts at the golf course to the point where there have been improvements financially, and now the board is considering all of its options, including a possible contract with a management firm to operate the course.
She called the changes “a major improvement.”
“I don’t think the situation is near as dire as people are trying to make it out to be – those who are against a public-supported golf course,” Nelson said.
“It’s not just a Rantoul, Ill., problem. It’s a United States problem,” she said of the downtown in the golf industry.
Nelson said she worked with golf course officials to help rein in some of the costs, and told officials that just because a certain amount of money was budgeted, it didn’t mean it had to be spent.
One thing is certain: The course needs more income – more people coming out to play.
One of the major issues is how far the park district should go in subsidizing the golf course with tax money. Should it be a fully self-supporting entity or should property tax money be used to prop it up?
The answer is not an easy one.
Proponents of the golf course say there are other attractions in Rantoul that are supported by tax money, even though they lose money.
Park board President Gary Hardin gave some examples:
“ … You read what the village is trying to do, put in over a million dollars to spruce up downtown Rantoul (the village is seeking grant money) and pay a six-figure income to hire an outside source to study how to get business in Rantoul.
“The village pays $350,000 for utilities at Grissom Hall. They lose half a million dollars at the airport, and yet those are attractions to our village. They’re all part of the village, subsidized,” Hardin said.
“That’s why I think Brookhill is an attraction. Our parks, for a village our size, are very nice.
“All the softball teams commented about all the facilities we have for parks. I’ve had coaches all over go, ’Man, Rantoul is set up with great facilities for having tournaments, softball tournaments at Maplewood, Wabash (parks).”
Hardin said he would like “to see if we can ride this out” to keep Brookhill open during the golf industry downturn.
Hardin said the cycle might swing back upward in terms of interest.
He called Brookhill “an asset to the village of Rantoul.”
“It attracts people,” he said, noting that studies have shown golfers coming from many area communities, including Champaign-Urbana, to use the course.
Hardin made the comments at Thursday’s monthly park board meeting.
While the park district has shown progress, the 2015 budget the park board adopted Thursday was not a balanced one.
The budget is $38,008 in the red. It shows anticipated income of $545,030 and anticipated expenditures of $583,038. That does not include a $295,700 bond issue.
The district lists $66,293 cash on hand in the general fund and $33,060 in the bond fund.
The estimated cash to be received from all sources is projected at $788,330, including $211,200 in real estate taxes, $13,700 in the bond fund, $88,000 in the operating fund, $34,000 in replacement tax revenue, $9,440 in other income, $140 in investment income, $323,500 in golf course operations, $90,000 in food service concessions and $120,000 in the bond issue.
Total golf course maintenance is estimated at $182,800, and total pro shop expenses at $207,565.
The budget lists total anticipated expenses on park maintenance at $100, all of which is to provide electricity for the Wabash Park tennis courts.
The park board is studying all of its options.
A committee comprised of representatives from the village government and the park district met recently to discuss the possibility of the village of Rantoul taking over operation of four parks owned by the park district, with the stipulation that property taxes would not increase. Part of the park district’s 25-cent levy per $100 equalized assessed valuation could be lowered, and the village could increase its levy by the same amount to help maintain the parks.
As for the golf course, village officials have made it clear they want nothing to do with its operation. The park board is proceeding with other options.
One is possibly hiring a management company to operate the course.
Two golf management companies – Billy Casper and Kemper – have expressed interest in possibly managing the course. Park district attorney Bill
Scott said he also has to speak with a third company.
“The Billy Casper guy believes the big area we need is more income,” Scott said. “If you brought a management company in, you might do away with some of the fringe benefits management people get.
“Apart from that, the costs of running (the golf course) are very reasonable. There’s no fluff. He just says you need more income.”
Hardin said he spoke with an official with Stone Creek golf course in Urbana, which is managed by Kemper.
“He said pros and cons” about Kemper’s operation of the course, Hardin said.
One pro would be a management company would be able to make purchases of fertilizer and other items cheaper because it buys by the bulk.
“They run it as a business, and they have people that are knowledgeable of finances and the golf industry,” Hardin said. “As he said, the golf business is tough right now.”
Scott said there are at least two arrangements under which a management company could operate a golf course:
“(1), you pay them a fee and they manage a golf course for you with the idea of increasing income and reducing costs,” Scott said.
“(2) Certain municipalities say they want a golf course and are willing to subsidize it, but for only a certain level. ’We will pay you X amount of dollars.
You then operate the golf course on your own nickel.’ Therefore, if Brookhill is (hypothetically) levying $200,000 in taxes, then $40,000-$50,000 would go to parks and other things.’”
The park board plans to present all of the information it has gathered to a citizen advisory committee formed to make a recommendation on whether the golf course should continue to operate.
The park board hopes to increase the numbers of people using Brookhill. One thing under consideration is the addition of FlingGolf.
In other business, Luke Humphrey, Rantoul village recreation superintendent, said he has started to do research on buying additional playground equipment. The village and park district hope to buy equipment for one park each – the park district at Wabash Park and the village at North Drive Park.
Humphrey also noted the village will receive 1,000 oak saplings. Of that total, 750 will be made available free to the public. The trees include Bur Oak, Northern Oak, Swamp White Oak and White Oak. The Recreation Department is accepting orders on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be a limit of five trees per person.