Grand Island cash woes resurface

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LEESBURG, Ga. -- A disastrous November, which resulted in an $18,000 loss for the Grand Island Club, has Lee County Commissioners concerned that the golf club is in jeopardy of losing the newfound solvency it gained through a series of austerity measures last year.

At an emergency called meeting of the Lee County Parks and Recreation Authority Friday, commissioners were hit with the reality that the county-owned facility had rung up $57,539.67 in losses over the first six months of the current fiscal year.

"That figure is just the actual year-to-date losses through six months," Commissioner Bill Williams said. "If things continue as they are, you might as well double that. Then you're talking about $115,000 in losses. We're going the wrong way.

"If we don't do something now, this facility could be right back where it was. And we don't want that."

After several shaky years in which Grand Island had to be bailed out financially through the county's general fund, the facility turned a corner last year. It wound up with more than $25,000 in losses on the books, but that total included more than $70,000 in depreciation. Without the depreciation, the club actually made more than $50,000.

New club General Manager Uel Kemp, who moved into that position in August, said the unseasonably cold November had taken a big bite out of Grand Island's budget, but he noted that the season's best months were ahead.

"We expect things to turn around in the spring," Kemp said. "Those are the months when we make most of our money. Yes, we're hurting right now, but this recession has all of the country clubs in this area hurting."

Williams was not convinced.

"Even with your best months coming, I don't know if they can offset this kind of loss," he said. "Last year at this time you were only down $26,000. That's a big difference."

Kemp and Grand Island Club Administrator Paige Etheredge said they'd put together a list of potential measures to reverse the negative cash flow. Among them were a slight increase in corporate membership fees, small increases in the costs of food items at the club grill, a drive to increase membership, altering current fees and hosting special events to "increase traffic" at the club.

Commissioner Dennis Roland, however, was not sold on the latest list of revenue measures.

"I've been sitting here the last four years, and it's the same thing: What this board has to decide is whether we're going to fund Grand Island," he said. "They can talk about cutting personnel here and raising prices for this or that, but what it boils down to is whether we're going to fund this club through our general fund.

"We talk about doing all these things to cut costs, but the club's still losing money."

Century District Commissioner Rick Muggridge countered Roland's argument.

"This is not what it's always been like at Grand Island," Muggridge said. "There were times when we were using more than $200,000 from the general fund to support this facility. And I'll give Bill the depreciation, but if you look at last year, the club actually made money. We've changed the economic reality at this place.

"I'm just one commissioner, but I believe Grand Island gives something to this community. Am I willing to support it with $100,000 from the general fund? No. But I'm willing to work to keep this place part of our quality-of-life community. Uel, you're a businessman, you've got to tell us what tools you need to get this done."

Roland said he's concerned that the club's cash on hand, which exceeded $80,000 going into the fiscal year, is now at $27,000.

"That's not enough money to pay their January bills," he said. "Who's going to pay their bills if they don't have the money?"

When Kemp asked the commission to approve a lease deal with Yamaha to provide Grand Island with a fleet of new golf carts, Roland protested.

"I'm not going to say 'aye' until someone tells me how they plan to pay for this," he said. "I agree they have to have golf carts, but the way they're going they're not going to be able to pay their bills. I don't want to enter into a new four-year lease if we don't know where the money's coming from.

"And I'm curious why you're coming to us now with this. Why did you wait until you were in bad (financial) shape to start coming to us with ideas? You're running a business, and you start worrying when you're $50,000 in the red?"

Muggridge said the golf club is important to the community.

"I'm not ready to close Grand Island; I thought we were past all that and I still think we are," he said. "Grand Island -- with depreciation -- lost $25,000 last year, but it brought in more than $15,000 in sales taxes, it employs 15 people, it's beautiful greenspace and we were voted the second-best place in the nation to raise children because of our quality of life. Grand Island is part of that."

But, Duffy noted, the commission cannot ignore the mounting losses.

"I don't want to say we're in desperate straits, but it's time to start doing something," the chairman said. "Grand Island's greatest asset is the course, which is the best in Southwest Georgia. We've got to get people out here to play.

"We can't worry about what the competition in the community is doing, we've got to get ourselves out of this trap. We answer to the taxpayers of this community. We need to react immediately and turn this thing around."