Village interest might be there to manage golf course

RANTOUL — The village of Rantoul and the Rantoul Park District appear to be moving closer to a possible village management agreement of Brookhill Golf Course.  

At a meeting last week, village representatives appeared open to consider the idea and asked park officials to present a formal management proposal. The park board might formulate or vote on such a formal proposal at a meeting this week.

Both sides agreed the village could probably operate Brookhill more economically than the park district has been doing in recent years.

“We’re hoping through some economies of scale, because of existing management staff (the village has) in place that we can save the taxpayers some money, operate Brookhill at a loss that is less than last year ... (and at) what it would cost to run an outdoor public recreation area,” said Bill Scott, park board secretary and legal counsel.

The park district receives local and replacement tax funds totaling $245,000 a year and paid the village $85,000 to maintain all of its parks other than Brookhill last year.

Scott said the park district could possibly pay an additional $70,000 for the village to maintain Brookhill and would have about $90,000 left for park improvements and programs.

“We’d be able to cut down the money we have to spend maintaining Brookhill,” park board member Rich Thomas said. “We can put that money back into the park system, which we have not been able to as much as we want for several years. ... Several parks could use some upgrades.”

While the park district paid the village $85,000 last year to maintain Maplewood Sports Complex, Mary Alice Park, a share of Wabash Park and Eden Park, which is owned by American Lutheran Church, Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh said it wasn’t as if the village received cash for that maintenance.

“You gave us $10,000 for the youth center, but the rest was really in-kind by buying equipment and things like that,” Fiegenschuh said.

The administrator wanted clarification on whether the park district’s bond money receipts would have to go back into the parks through capital purchases. He said he and Recreation Superintendent Luke Humphrey were concerned about that issue.

Scott said that is not a requirement.

“The statute is clear the purpose for which the bonds are issued (include) maintaining the parks. The statute expressly allows that,” Scott said.

The village and park district have worked with a maintenance handshake agreement in the past, but both sides said a written agreement is necessary if the village is to maintain the golf course.

Thomas said in the past, the park district has provided the capital for the village parks.

“Virtually every playground in town was bought by the park district,” Thomas said. “I know because I was (with) the recreation district. The park district built the baseball field (used by the high school). Wabash Park, they built the parks and playground there.”

Thomas said the arrangement between the park district and village has been “very complicated, but it’s worked very well” with no duplication of services.

Meanwhile, Thomas said the village’s role has been maintaining the parks as well as providing all of the parks and recreation programming for many years.

The problem has come in recent years when the park district has lost so much money into the golf course due to declining use.

Thomas said the problem has not been due to the cost of maintenance. Expenses there have been cut every year for the last five years.

“It’s de-escalating revenue. And it’s gone down steadily everywhere,” Thomas said. “I know a couple of courses around here had their worst years ever, and last year was a good year to play golf.”

Park board member Debbie Schmidt said it will also be important to market children’s and women’s activities, which she said the park district has not done a good job of doing.

Scott said that would be another benefit of having the village maintain the course. And Thomas cited the growing membership numbers at Forum Fitness Center and the ample use of the youth center as examples.

Thomas said the Recreation Department has the staff expertise to maintain the golf course for large-volume mowing.

“Some of it is specialized grass, but it’s still mowing,” Thomas said.

Humphrey, who was not at the meeting, said the Recreation Department has staff members with turf management backgrounds.

Thomas said management of the pro shop would also be necessary.

Thomas also asked Fiegenschuh if the village will be able to provide IT and bookkeeping/payroll services. Fiegenschuh said he won’t commit any village staff to do that, but he will look into it.

The two sides are working on a short time frame with spring approaching.

Fiegenschuh asked whether the park board would want current golf course staff to remain.

“We defer to the village’s decision-making,” Scott responded.

Also representing the village at the meeting were board member Ken Turner and Mike Daugherity from the planning and zoning commission.

The park board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Rantoul Business Center.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

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Another Perspective wrote on February 14, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Is everyone reading this article seeing what I am seeing?  I am seeing that the Rantoul Park District wants to further abdicate their responsibility hiring the Rantoul Recreation Department to maintain not only their parks but now also Brookhill Golf Course.  

Let's see, last year the Park District paid ,or rather bought the equipment's the Rantoul Recreation Department used to maintain those parks for $75,000 and an additional $10,000 went to the Youth Center for new kitchen equipment I believe.

Not they propose giving an additional $70,000 to maintain Brookhill Park and Brookhill GC.   

All that sounds good until you factor in that they also want the Recreation Department to foot the bill for two employees wages, salaries and benefits.   I for one didn't know that the two employees they are talking about had enough spare time from their regular duties at the Recreation Department to also be able to take on not only mowing the golf course and park, but managing the Pro Shop at the clubhouse.  Of course this is a great deal for the Park District as the two salaries are funded from Recreation Department funds, not theirs.

Then they also want IT services and bookkeeping/payroll services from the village.  Of course no money for these services, just throw them in for free and the Village can pay for it.  

I wonder why doesn't the Park District just dissolve and turn everything over to the Village?  Oh wait, then they'd lose " control" of the golf course (which was very important to Terry Workman, when he won his lawsuit against the voters).  I guess losing control might mean everyone, including Board members, might actually have to pay for their golf!  I wonder Mr Workman is running for Village Board?  Covering all the possible scenarios perhaps?

But the best comments were made by Rich Thomas, current Rantoul Park Board member  and former Recreation Department superintendent about the ball diamonds.  When the baseball diamonds were built at Wabash Park, it was completely owned by the Park District. So, who else should have built it?

And that there was no duplication of services.  Hard to have that when the Rantoul Recreation Department serves the family and youth of Rantoul with recreation, while the Park District serves only the few the golfers of Rantoul.  

Thomas also said the agreement between the Village and Park District was "complicated", when in fact it is really simple.  The Park District gets maintanence of their parks at a greatly reduced rate than if they had to actually pay someone to do it, while they spend the bulk of the tax dollars entrusted to them on a golf course.

A golf course which he also admits that has declining use.  Nothing they do is going to fix that.  Not increaeed youth play, and not more women playing.  Golf is a declining sport that people are participating in, and that trend, according to industry experts, is not change in the foreseeable future.

Rich Thomas said it himself, last year was a good year for golf, but they still had less use at Brookhill GC.  Why is the Park Board refusing to see the "writing on the wall" and just get out of the golf business and go in a different direction?

I say to the members of the Rantoul Village Board and Administration, that the public spoke in November with their vote on the Park District, you should listen to them and stay away from this proposal by the Park District.

They got themselves into this, let them get themselves out of it.  After all the Park District said that it could no longer afford to operate Brookhill GC as a taxpayer supported operation.  Now they want the Village of Rantoul to do it. 

TownieToo wrote on February 17, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Well AP, I sure read the same article and I'm not surprised by it. It wasn't that long ago that the Village Administrator said that the Village wasn't interested in getting into the golf business. But I guess things change the closer it gets to election day. I was also surprised that as hot an issue that this was in November, that it was not addressed at the Mayoral Candidates meeting on Wednesday. I guess that Mr Smith brought in the Village Administrator who is showing interest in golf now. Then you have Mr Wilson, who I believe has a brother who is a lawyer and helped make the connection for Mr Workman and his lawsuit. That leaves Me Williams, who is getting back into the ring looking for votes wherever he can.
I heard from someone that went to the PD meeting Thursday that Dave Hinton asked the board if there proposal actually included an additional $85K to the Village and was told NO. In their math, the board sees itself with an $82K surplus in their budget. Which they said would allow them to start to put back into their parks. Of course the Red Herring here is that the PB has lost money at Brookville since 2003! How can they think it will magically make money this year? Why of course, muddy your finances with the Village and use their dime. Speaking of the Village money, with them response for ALL maintenance at Brookhill would that include repair/replacing the irrigation system? How about the bridges, or retaining walls of the ponds, clubhouse repairs? Oh yeah, I can see the Village getting more than they bargain for at the cost of the Taxpayer and the luxury of the PD and those that have the "Love Affair" with Brookhill GC.
Mr Rich Thomas of course has veteran knowledge of the workings of the PB and Village Agreement. He was there, in the Rec Department when it first started and was key in getting it done. I was told that his position back then was that the Village could more than handle any land the PB couldn't. Which I also believe was free until recent years. Of course, you retire from the Rec Department to a seat on the PD Board. Kind of like Mr Luna as well.
Speaking of Mr Luna;. I think it's interesting that when he left the PB, PB President Harden picked Ms Schimdt to fill his vacated seat. Now we have her running for Mr Thomas's seat (4 yr term) and Mr Thomas will fill the last 2 yrs of Mr Luna's term. Let's make sure we keep all the fixes in the hen house.
Another thing I was told about the meeting was that whoever the Rec Department puts In-Charge of the Brookhill GC, it would be more 75/25 position with the 75% being at Brookhill. I would have to wonder how long that person has been sitting in that fat cat position. I mean if the Rec Department can afford to let you go and spend 75% of you time out there, was there really a need to have that Rec Department position in the first place.
As you said, the people spoke up again in November but it seems again the majority's voice will not be heard. I urge All Voters to press Mr Smith, Mr Williams and Mr Wilson along with all those running for Village Trustee on this issue. We all know what Mr Workman's position is how about the others. Also contact All sitting Trustees because this is an assinine proposal. Let's lose money for 13 straight years, run the place in the ground cutting corners, the get the Village to increase their burden and decrease our cost and dodge our responsibility.
The Village is NOT their only option. I was told that the Board are also looking at a 3rd Party Management Company to come in on a limited basis and they voted to post the Sperintendent Position. So it appears that as you point out that Mr Hardin said they can no longer operate aa a taxpayer operation; they are pulling out all the stops to make sure it opens this year, regardless of the loss.