For a generation, the question of whether taxpayers should subsidize the Twin Falls Golf Club and the swimming pool wasn’t that difficult. Yes, they were a drain on city coffers, but times were good and the benefits to kids and golfers of all ages were tangible.
It’s not so simple anymore.
Consider this: A brand new Twin Falls city police officer costs about $40,000 a year. This in a city with the seventh-highest crime rate in Idaho — higher than Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Lewiston or Caldwell.
So when Councilman Will Kezele says it may be time for some tough choices about subsidizing golf and swimming, we have to agree.
In the past three fiscal years, the city of Twin Falls has underwritten operation of its municipal golf course and pool by almost half a million dollars. That doesn’t include the more than $1 million spent on pool maintenance since October 2007. During that time, city water rates have increased, roads have worsened and the city has started looking at another multimillion-dollar bond to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
Public use of both facilities has fallen, down 20 percent for the golf course.
And while the city has made progress in trimming costs, neither facility is going to break even anytime soon without changes. Is that a bad thing? You could argue not. There are kids in the community who wouldn’t know how to swim and golfers — many of them seniors — with little access to exercise without the facilities at Muni.
But as thousands of Twin Falls residents travel daily down pockmarked Eastland Drive, it’s a fair question whether we have our priorities right.
At the last Twin Falls City Council meeting, members opted to begin negotiating with Steve Meyerhoeffer to be the next golf pro at the Muni; they also decided to solicit new city pool management, bringing in the potential to change how the facilities are operated — and their cost to taxpayers.
Part of what drew the council to Meyerhoeffer was his flexibility regarding management terms, including possibly leasing the course.
That meeting included Kezele saying he hoped the city would get out of the golf and pool business altogether.
That may be a stretch given the alternatives. There are simply no private sector players waiting in the wing with the necessary resources.
We’re anxious to see what business model Meyerhoeffer proposes for Muni, but while the council and Meyerhoeffer are talking, it’s time to bring in more revenue now. Unfortunately, an increase in green fees — perhaps less severe for seniors and excluding kids — needs to take effect. Yes, there’s a risk; the number of rounds could decrease to offset the fee increase. But we think it’s a risk worth taking.
2011 is the year to determine whether or not your tax dollars should continue to subsidize a comparatively small number of golfers while all of us must deal with dwindling law enforcement resources and insufficient road repair dollars.