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A better year for the golf course
Largo reports gains, restructuring efforts for city-owned attraction
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LARGO – The Largo Golf Course won’t need the $75,000 subsidy it usually receives to help balance its books.

Revenues reported for the fiscal year 2012 are up, and expenditures have decreased. The golf course, which has been criticized as a drain on the city of Largo budget, expects its financial situation to only improve.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person, (but) if you had told me that we would be in this position within one year, even I was surprised,” Recreation Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne told the Largo commission Nov. 11. “I want to publicly acknowledge the hard work that was done by the staff at the golf course.”

Budget manager Amy Davis said that the golf course beat its projected revenue “by about $88,000 for green fees, carts and rental reservations,” in the past year. It won’t need the $75,000 subsidy budgeted from the general fund, she said.

“We had about $72,000 less expenditures than budgeted and $14,000 less than fiscal year 2011. Essentially that created an operating gain for us of $23,000,” she said.

Golf course Manager Chip Potts said his staff implemented a number of new strategies that helped create the positive balance.

First, a reorganization of staff allowed for greater flexibility and reduced cost of overtime. The course also reviewed and modified its maintenance contracts, saving money.

Potts said staff reviewed and adjusted golf rates based on the season. The “free” golf promotional coupons were eliminated, as they did not bring return customers.

They also refocused programs and activities “which maybe had been nontraditional to golf courses,” increased promotional efforts and recruited permanent leagues, Potts said.

“We tried to take a look at it not so much as a golf course, but as a recreation site, as a destination. And I think that helped with the way the programming went to bring in new participants,” he said.

Potts said golf course staff intended to continue the positive momentum by trying out new ideas to stimulate revenue.

“We’re going to be increasing our fees slightly, which should help to bringing a jump in revenue, especially during the busy season coming up,” he said.

The golf course would bring on another golf professional to teach classes in the mid-week during the busy season, transferring to youth programming during the summer.

Keeping a youth interest was key to the future success, Potts said. The course would be increasing its marketing outreach to youth and women as well.

“We have a nice little niche in that we can attract women golfers because of the shorter distances. That’s something that we’re going to focus on,” Potts said.

Along with partnering with the chamber for “Networking on the Nines” events in the off-season, the course was considering sponsorship opportunities.

Potts acknowledged that good weather played a part in the golf course’s success. He said he was working on building cash reserves to fall back on during bad weather.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who has been one of two commissioners in favor of leasing the golf course to a private entity, congratulated Potts for his success. But he did question the updated numbers in the golf course’s five-year plan.

“You’re projecting five-fold increase in net revenues next year?” he asked.

Potts confirmed that the golf course had projected about $121,000 in net revenues next year, up from the $23,000 he was reporting for the 2012 year. He pointed out that raising the rates by just a $1 during the busy winter season, when the golf course averages 20,000 rounds, would raise $20,000.

“That works for me,” Holmes said.

Commissioner Harriet Crozier also commended the golf course staff.

“In the golf course business, it goes up and down, and you just need to hang in there and not be so eager to get rid of it,” she said.

Maintenance contract stalled

Largo commissioners were divided on the approval of an expanded landscaping contract that will save the city $6,100 annually and replace a staff vacancy in the Parks Division. A decision on the issues was delayed due to a tied vote; Mayor Pat Gerard was absent.

Buccaneer Landscape Management has had a two-year contract with the city since June. The contract covers the work of three Parks Division staff vacancies and saves the city $62,700 annually.

Shortly after the commission approved the contract, however, another grounds maintenance worker position came open. To cover the vacancy, Buccaneer has been maintaining the properties of Ulmer Park, Largo Municipal Complex and the Largo Community Center. However, changes to the contract have to be approved by the commission.

The city union, Communications Workers of America, does not support the expanded contract, preferring the city to increase its grounds workers from the current crew of three to four.

Crozier and Commissioners Michael Smith and Gigi Arntzen voted against approval of the contract. Newly elected Commissioner Jamie Robinson replaced Arntzen, who has since retired. The contract will be considered again on Nov. 20.

Largo donates lot to Habitat

The commission approved the donation of a city-owned, single-family lot at 2650 Eighth Ave. SW. to the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County Nov. 7.

The previous owner of the home received a housing rehabilitation loan several years ago from the city, but died without a will. Her family requested the city take ownership of the property through foreclosure on the technicality that there was no longer a qualified owner-occupant living there, according to city staff.

The city took ownership in June and discovered a severe mold problem. Staff demolished the building and proposed the donation of the remaining lot to Habitat for Humanity.

Ron Spoor, chief operations officer for the county Habitat for Humanity, said the organization has built more than 15 homes in Largo and was “sincerely appreciative to the city.”

The city was owed about $70,000 on the existing loan and spent $4,000 demolishing the home.
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