Harrisonburg Leaders: Please stop using my taxes to subsidize Heritage Oaks Golf Course!

Harrisonburg Leaders: Please stop using my taxes to subsidize Heritage Oaks Golf Course!

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Kai Degner started this petition to Harrisonburg City Council and

Hey Harrisonburg!

Do you want to continue losing millions of taxpayer dollars on a government-run golf course?

The City has already lost $23M on the golf course - do you think city councils should continue subsidizing a losing business indefinitely?

Do you believe losing $500,000 each year on the golf course is a public expense that Harrisonburg can afford given our other priorities?

If not, sign this petition to tell the Harrisonburg city leaders to begin a process to responsibly transition away from using the 205 acres of city land as a golf course. 

The Harrisonburg City Council will vote on the 2020-21 budget in May, so action is needed NOW to avoid Harrisonburg's City Council voting for another year of golf course losses.

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Remove the Burden to Fund Other Priorities
Harrisonburg is facing major uncertainty in its budget because tax revenues will be severely impacted by the COVID-19 response. One thing is certain: we have higher priorities for public money and public land than a golf course the loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Good Effort Despite National Trends
Previous city staff and elected leaders have tried for two decades to reduce the losses at the golf course.  They have done their best.  But golf is facing a crisis as fewer people play, and these losses will not stop. In fact, the National Golf Foundation reported that 198 18-hole golf courses closed across the USA in 2018.  That means 3-4 golf courses closed PER WEEK in the USA.  

But shouldn't we study how to make the golf course work better before closing it?
Good idea!  And we did that.  After almost a decade of losing money, a citizen Golf Course Study Committee met weekly from October 11, 2010 to January 20, 2011.  It's conclusion was this: "The Committee believes that a significant increase [38%] in play will occur with the introduction of food and beverage service [by 2014]. Thereafter it should maintain at or above that level. The Committee is aware that any downward economic trend will adversely affect those projections."  The city manager responded to the committee's report with detailed plans.  He also wrote, "it cannot be ignored that the current trend nationwide is that less golf is being played overall. Unfortunately, at about the time Heritage Oaks was opened, rounds of golf being played in the U.S. began to decline, including a nation-wide decline of about 3.6% in calendar year 2010, according to the World Golf Foundation."  The city invested in the food service and other recommendations, rounds did increase significantly, but we are losing even more money now than then.

Harrisonburg Golf Course Budget Numbers
The proposed 2020-21 budget (submitted to council by the city manager on April 14th) anticipates it will cost over $1,055,665 to operate the golf course, and that the course will generate $708,500 in revenue.  That means it is scheduled to lose $347,000.  BUT, that same budget shows revenues were only $616,933 in 2018-19.  Why would a golf course that has seen declining rounds expect to earn $91,567 MORE than the previous full year of data, especially in the time of COVID-19?  In order to "only" lose $347,000 next year, the course would need to earn 14.8% more than two years ago.  Also, the current budget year (2019-20) planned for a $556,000 operational loss (before COVID-19 hit, of course).  It would be much more reasonable to budget for losses in the $500-700,000 range. But that might concern voters, wouldn't it?  It is irresponsible to adopt a budget projecting only $347,000 in losses.

The City has Faced Reality Before - and Protected Staff while Transitioning
The City has faced the reality of declining markets before. When JMU stopped buying steam from the city's trash incinerator, we closed the steam plant and took care of the employees. When the international recycling market disappeared, the city pivoted and took care of staff.  The golf market is shrinking, and we need to face reality: it's too expensive to keep operating Heritage Oaks Golf Course.

Start Exploring Other Responsible Uses for the 205 Acres
The Harrisonburg City Council can begin a thoughtful and collaborative process to decide what new direction to go with the 205 acres.  Should it revert back to a park?  Should it be a site for a new school?  Should it provide housing?  This petition does not advocate for a specific different use, but rather to initiate a process to explore and decide on a different use.

But why keep the pool and other parks open if we are closing the golf course?
Well, it's important to emphasize the golf course is completely different.  First, city voters already voted overwhelmingly in 2000 to stop the golf course, but it was built anyway.  The proponents for building the course said it would make money, which it never has.  The pool is much more accessible and used by a much wider diversity of people, and the parks are even more so.  This is an apples and oranges comparison that avoids a critical look at the golf course.

But where will people play golf?
There are other private golf courses at Lakeview, Packsaddle Ridge, Massanutten, and other nearby locations. You can golf a weekday round at Lakeview for $18, Heritage Oaks is $20 (the city's rates aren't on the website for some reason). 

Note: if you divide the operating costs by the numbers of rounds played at Heritage Oaks in 2018-19, we should have charged about $47 per round to break even - which means city taxpayers subsidized every round played by about $25 on average. 

Unless we city residents and voters state clearly that they want to stop these golf course losses, city council will continue to fund it.

Once the city council votes to tell the city manager to discontinue the golf course, the city leaders can start a process to debate alternative uses of the land, work to make sure golf course staff are cared for, and plan a smooth transition.

If you agree we need to stop operating an unsustainable and costly golf course, please sign this petition.

0 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!
At 1,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!