Officials answer questions about Shiloh Springs with petition started to save golf course

Organizers of a group opposed to losing the golf course in Platte City have started an online petition, but county officials want to make sure interested parties understand the current dilemma with Shiloh Springs. In interviews with The Citizen, Platte County presiding commissioner Ron Schieber and Brian Nowtony, director of the Platte County Parks and Recreation Department insisted the goal is not to eliminate or shut down the golf course but determine the best method for its management in the future. Currently, Platte County operates the course and continues to close in on making the final payment of its lease-purchase agreement to finalize ownership.

However, Schieber wants to explore the idea of selling the golf course in the future or partnering with a management firm to take over operations due to an ongoing operations deficit at Shiloh Springs.

Jim U’Ren started a petition called Hands-Off Shiloh Springs and has collected about 200 signatures as of the afternoon on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The stated goal fears that the commission is “listening to a noisy minority in the county that want to shut down Shiloh Springs Golf Course.”

Schieber tried to dispel some of the myths on the current questions being asked about the course’s future. The golf course is set up as an enterprise fund, which means revenues are expected to cover expenses and potentially create a profit. Other areas of the budget that operate at a deficit do not fall under this category, and Shiloh Springs’ inability to break even forces other projects in the parks and recreation department’s master plan to be deferred.

Schieber said this means Platte County isn’t currently keeping its promises to the voters who approved the tax because extra money is being used to keep the golf course running.

“I don’t believe the golf course can be operated as an enterprise fund,” Schieber said. “You asked, ‘Why has it drawn the fire?’ It’s because in government, the way it’s set up, it’s supposed to cover its expenses and it’s not. And in the master plan, what we told the people when we passed the parks tax extension, ‘This was the plan for the golf course.’ It hasn’t got there, so it needs attention.”

The Platte County Commission recently approved a request for proposals (RFP). Management firms would assess the course’s operations in an attempt to help the county make revenues cover the operating expenses. A buyer would be expected to run a golf course and would not be able to purchase the land and use it for another purpose.

The RFP also notes a desire for the youth golf programs and partnership with Platte County High School’s golf teams to continue.

The county could not partner with a third party for management nor sell the golf course, which remains Schieber’s preferred idea, until the final debt service payment is made. Any decision to change the operation would require a majority vote from the three-member commission.

The current budget calls for that final debt payment on Shiloh Springs to be made in December of 2015.

“(Paying off the debt) was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t have to work at it because it was already there,” Schieber said.

Currently, a voter approved half-cent sales tax funds the parks and recreation department.

This was originally approved for 10 years in 2000 and renewed at the full amount in 2010. A parks master plan is used to distribute the revenue, including paying for the debt service payments on Shiloh Springs and its operation.

Part of the master plan designed in 2010 called for Shiloh Springs to already be operating without a deficit.

However, another $200,000 shortfall is expected again this year, according to the county budget. The deficit is in addition to the debt service payment, which also comes out of the parks and recreation budget.

By eliminating the operating expense through a sale, the money saved could be redistributed to the parks and recreation system to finance projects currently being deferred due to the golf course’s shortfall. Money could also be set aside for future maintenance to upkeep the existing parks facilities.

Part of the discussion involves looking ahead to 2020 when the current parks tax is set to expire.

A future commission could choose to let that sunset or place a renewal on the ballot. The renewal could include an adjustment to the amount, creating an uncertain future for the parks and recreation budget. That makes the golf course’s deficit and building up maintenance reserves that much more important because funding could be reduced or cut all together in 2020.

No changes could be made the disbursement of the current tax to other areas without voter approval, and the commission bypassed proposing that idea to voters this past fall.

“For every $200,000 that the golf course loses from today forward, that’s something less we can do in the master plan,” Schieber said, “or it’s less maintenance we can do in the future — maintenance on all our park system.”

Nowotny admitted the county might have set too ambitious a target date for balancing the enterprise fund, but he still believes, over an undetermined amount of time, the county can eliminate the deficit.

Schieber wants to take Platte County out of the golf course business but does not want to take away what many signing the petition consider an asset for Platte City. Shiloh Springs hosted more than 17,000 rounds last year with more than 100 children involved in the youth programs in addition to Platte County High School’s usage.

However, the number of tournaments hosted has gone down in recent years, hurting the bottom line.

Nowotny said that green fees and expenses to players could go up in any of the three scenarios currently available, but he doesn’t expect the county, a management firm or potential buyer to make any changes to pricing so drastic that it wouldn’t still be accessible to the general public.

“We are very competitive in the marketplace, and I think anybody would want to keep it that way as to not drive away rounds,” Nowotny said.

In the event of a sale, Nowotny would recommend the revenue generated be put into the parks and recreation department’s funds, and Schieber agreed that would be the most likely scenario for money in that situation.

Schieber invites those in the public with concerns to contact him at his office in person or on the phone or attend one of the commission’s administrative sessions, generally held on the first and third Mondays of each month, to give public comments during the meeting or ask him questions afterward. Feedback is welcomed as the county attempts to determine the right course for Shiloh Springs’ management.

“I just hope we make the right decision,” Nowotny said.