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BIG QUESTION: Should Lafayette subsidize golf?

Golf carts
Golf carts lined up at Lafayette's public golf course on the Northside Photo by Travis Gauthier

Budgets are all about priorities, especially in local government. Every dollar we spend on one project or service is a dollar we can’t spend on something else. These budgetary decisions reflect our community’s priorities.

By that measure, Lafayette has historically made public golf a top priority. Over the last five years, approximately $8 million of taxpayer money has been spent subsidizing the city’s three golf courses, an average of more than $1.5 million per year. It’s a trend that has gone virtually unquestioned even as subsidies to the rest of the city’s parks and recreation hit the chopping block to free up money for drainage, roads and public safety.

Coming up, taxpayer support for Lafayette’s golf courses is poised to reach new heights. While the administration was able to lower these subsidies to $1 million last year, the City Council has already approved $1.7 million in this year’s budget. And if they approve the administration’s request to spend $1 million buying 200 new golf carts, the total subsidy for the city’s three golf courses will top $2.4 million.

Is that really a good idea?

To give that number some context, the city’s three courses are projected to generate $2.7 million in revenue this year. The city’s dedicated parks millage—which pays to run 30 parks, a half dozen recreation centers, and their programming—is slated to pull in around $2.9 million total.

Read the ordinance to approve funding for golf carts here. It’s up for final adoption Jan. 18.

All $2.4 million of that subsidy comes from unrestricted funds that aren’t dedicated to golf. $440,000 comes from the city’s general fund, which can be spent on anything. The rest comes from the city’s capital fund, which can be spent on things like equipment and facilities. In other words, this is $2.4 milion that could be spent on drainage infrastructure or roads or sidewalks or improving the safety of the streets where pedestrians keep getting killed.

Before I go any further, let me say that I am a golfer. I do believe that having public golf courses improves our city’s quality of life. And spending taxpayer dollars on things like new golf carts could be a good idea in a vacuum. LCG Chief Communications Officer Jamie Angelle says the administration projects these new carts will save about $150,000 per year in reduced maintenance costs, electric costs and wear and tear on golf courses.

But even still I find myself wondering if golf is really the best use of $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars right now. City finances face a lot of uncertainty. The city general fund balance was cut in half over the last two years. Lafayette’s city tax revenue and population have stagnated. Roads are still pockmarked, neighborhoods are still flooding, parks are still in disrepair, and many of our neighbors are still struggling to survive an ongoing pandemic and long-term economic downturn.

If ever there were a time to apply the same scrutiny to golf that’s been imposed on how the city subsidies other aspects of parks and recreation, it would be now. So before rushing to throw more taxpayer subsidies at golf, we should take a moment to consider other options.

We could increase fees. Currently, the three courses generate about $1.2 million in green fees and more than $800,000 in cart rental fees. If these fees were increased 10% it could generate an additional $200,000 per year in revenue, which would offset the cost of spending $1 million on new golf carts in five years. The impact on individual golfers would be an increase of about $6 per round with a cart.

We could decrease services. The Lafayette Public Library System just voted to close libraries one day a week to close its budget deficit. Closing golf courses on the slowest day of the week could help lower expenses.

We could explore public-private partnerships. The administration has already pushed forward with deals to partner with private operators for tennis courts and swimming pools that promise to lower the taxpayer subsidies that are required. Why not golf? Maybe there’s a private sector partner who would want to operate the city’s golf courses and be able to find innovative ways to increase revenues or decrease costs thereby lowering the need for taxpayer subsidies.

We could shut down a course and sell the land. These golf courses account for hundreds of acres of land potentially worth tens of millions of dollars. If the city sold one of its courses to a developer it would not only free up enough money to subsidize the remaining two courses for years, it would also increase tax revenues for the city and parish by seeing this land become privately owned and developed while also lowering the ongoing subsidies that are needed.

💪 What can you do?

Tell the City Council what you think ahead of the Jan. 18 council meeting.

In an ideal world if the city had all the money in the world then I wouldn’t question the idea of spending a million dollars on new golf carts or continuing to subsidize these courses. But that’s not the world we’re living in.

Especially not at a time when we’ve been imposing austerity on the rest of our city’s quality of life services, or when there are clearly other more important things that need funding to deliver higher priority public services or improve our city’s economic competitiveness — like investing more into improving road safety or increasing homeless shelter capacity or replacing the Heymann Center.

What do you think? Should we continue to make subsidizing golf a top priority, or are there other more important priorities you think our tax dollars should be spent on? Use the form below to tell us.

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