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Annual bailout needed early for Jacksonville’s golf courses

Thomas Clatterbuck

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The Jacksonville municipal golf courses ran into trouble a little early this year. Usually at the end of the year, the golf courses are short on cash and need the city’s help to make payroll. Typically, the courses request around $10,000 in late November. This is not surprising considering the courses perennially lose substantial amounts of money.

But this year, the request is much larger, and came much earlier. The courses requested $50,000 at the August 28th City Council meeting. According to the City Clerk, that $50,000 may not be enough to cover the remaining payrolls and purchases the course will face this year. Even with lower expenses, the courses are suffering from revenue shortfalls. Play is down at the Jacksonville courses, as it is at most courses around the nation.

What will the city do?

Based on the council’s discussion, the golf courses are going to continue to lose money, and taxpayers are going to continue to prop them up. The most substantive suggestion on what to do was to simply roll the budget for the courses into the Parks & Lake budget. This would make it easier to funnel money to the courses, while simultaneously making it harder to tell how much money they lose. Perennial revenue shortfalls make the bailout request an unpleasant annual ritual for the council. Councilors were obviously annoyed to be defending the losses from community members that raised issues with this year’s bailout.

The last four years have seen six-figure losses at the city’s golf courses. This week’s funding request suggests this year is going to be just as bad, and probably much worse.  If the city council thinks having municipal golf courses is a net positive for the community, they need to own that decision. If that means higher taxes, so be it. Merely proposing changing the accounting suggests that the council does not believe the taxpayers share their support for the Links.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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