Grand Island turns profit

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Lee County Commissioner Bill Williams had seen enough.

From 2002 until 2009, the Commission had transfered more than $1 million from the county's general fund to subsidize its ownership of the Grand Island Club. Williams decided the time had come to draw a line in the sand.

"I had nothing against golf or ownership of the club, but I knew we couldn't keep pouring money into Grand Island without eventually having to raise taxes," Williams said Tuesday.

When Williams and Commissioner Dennis Roland, who has openly opposed the county's ownership of the club, voted not to continue subsidizing Grand Island at a March 2, 2009, Parks and Recreation Board meeting, it was a wake-up call.

Grand Island survived on a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Rick Muggridge, Betty Johnson and Ed Duffy voting to hold onto what they called a "quality-of-life facility." But the trio also vowed that changes would be made.

Sixteen months later, the turnaround at the golf facility is nothing short of miraculous. Minus some $70,861 in depreciation included for auditing purposes, Grand Island turned a $47,386 profit during the 2009-10 fiscal year. And the facility that once seemed on the brink of closing now has $98,164 in the bank.

Oh, and the $40,000 that the Commission wrote into the FY 2010 budget as a "bottom-line figure" for supplementing the club? Not a penny was used during the year.

"It's really amazing what they've done out there in a pretty short amount of time," Williams, a CPA, said. "We basically gave them an ultimatum: Cut costs or we're going to have to do something else. To their credit, they did it and did it well."

The turnaround started when the County Commission took the drastic measure of naming itself as the Parks and Rec Board. Having seen the club siphon $164,946 from the general fund in 2008 and $120,713 in 2009, the commissioners asked County Administrator Alan Ours to work with Grand Island General Manager Vic McKinley, who has since retired, and Club Administrator Paige Etheredge to cut costs.

"Alan worked with the folks at Grand Island to cut $112,000 in costs right away," Duffy, the Commission's chairman, said. "That was a great start. But one of the other important things we asked them to do is restructure their fees to encourage membership."

In a little more than a year, Grand Island has added more than 150 new members.

"In a down economy, when most all of the golf complexes in this region are losing members, Grand Island added more than 150," Duffy said. "That's really amazing."

Etheredge, who has served as director of the club on an interim basis since McKinley's May 2 retirement, said a "perfect storm" of events all came together at just the right time to spur Grand Island's turnaround.

"First of all, we've gotten tremendous support and guidance from the Board of Commissioners," Etheredge said. "But just as important has been the work that our staff has put into keeping the course in tremendous shape. (Grounds Superintendent) Lester (Lombard) and his folks have done an amazing job. Everyone who comes out and plays the course comments on the condition.

"We had to make some really big changes here in a short amount of time, but we managed to do that by pulling together. Vic deserves a lot of credit, along with a number of departments in the county. The atmosphere here is not so much a country club, it's a family atmosphere. This is a great amenity; I love seeing an 8-year-old and then an 84-year-old walk through our doors. This is a positive thing for Lee County."

Once a political hot potato -- and a costly one at that -- Grand Island is now poised to become a continuing asset to the community, according to Duffy.

"I've always believed Grand Island has been an asset to our quality-of-life community," the Commission chairman said. "But I also knew we couldn't keep supporting it through our General Fund.

"What the Board of Commissioners and the folks at Grand Island have accomplished is taking this serious asset and turning the negative surrounding it into a positive. It's a great turnaround."

And, Williams notes, it couldn't have come soon enough.

"I'm proud of the way things are going out there now," he said. "The sad thing is that we had to take forceful action to get this done. It's something that could have been done seven years ago."