The Platte County Commission took the first steps this week in turning over operation of Shiloh Springs Golf Course to a private vendor. At its regular administrative session Monday, March 2 — which was attended by more than a dozen golf course supporters — the commissioners unanimously voted to accept a proposal for golf program management services from KemperSports and to enter into contract negotiations with the firm. As director of parks and recreation Brian Nowotny noted, the acceptance is the first step.
County staff will now move forward with a scope of services and cost analysis before finalizing the KemperSports contract.
KemperSports, which already operates Northland courses Shoal Creek Golf Club and Hodge Park Golf Club, is an Illinois-based firm that manages courses throughout the country. The company presented a 70-page proposal, generally stating it would manage the course programs while the county would handle maintenance. KemperSports also proposed to employ a full-time marketing manager to raise the course’s profile, institute a loyalty program, encourage tournament play and institute new player development and youth programs.
Also in the offering are expanded food and beverage options, better pricing on pro shop merchandise due to national purchasing contracts and improved customer service training.
“The fact that KemperSports manages two other courses in the Northland already presents a unique opportunity for partnerships,” Nowotny said. “Shoal Creek and Hodge Park are owned by Kansas City Parks and Recreation, and we already have a good working relationship with KC Parks and Rec.”
Nowotny said he believed KemperSports would give the county its best opportunity to increase participation and program offerings to ultimately increase revenue at the course. This is a key component of Shiloh Springs’ future with the county set to make the final payment of its lease-purchase agreement in December of 2015 to finalize ownership.
As reported in previous issues, 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 this means Platte County isn’t currently keeping its promises to the voters who reapproved the half-cent parks and recreation tax in 2010 because money marked for other projects in the department’s master plan is being used to keep the golf course running.
Initially, county officials believed the course would already be running without a net loss but have since admitted the original goals might have been too ambitious.
Several current golf course members and employees attended the meeting to speak up in support of the course.
“Everything the county owns operates at a loss,” said resident Stu Ostrander, who suggested the county investigate options for reclassifying Shiloh Springs as a true part of the parks system instead of as an enterprise fund.
Jim U’Ren said he was the founder of the petition for “Hands-Off Shiloh Springs” on GoPetition.com, which as of March 3 had 163 online signatures. He feels maintaining the golf course as a county amenity is a quality of life issue and echoed the sentiment that the county should rethink operating the course as an enterprise, which would allow for budget adjustments to handle the operating deficit.
Other speakers repeated this idea, including Dan Demory, who said as an accountant who has looked at the course’s financial statements out of personal interest, he is frustrated by some of the accounting practices he saw at work and felt that they overemphasized operational losses.
After several questions on the course’s status as an enterprise fund, county auditor Kevin Robinson stepped in. He said if a government runs an operation with the potential to make a profit, it may be classified as an enterprise fund. A profit is not required, however.
Presiding commissioner Ron Schieber said if this is the case, the county staff needs to review the audit and budget documents which state Shiloh does not cover its costs. Robinson said those reports are included due to government accounting standards, but that such information did not change the definition of an enterprise fund classification.
Robinson maintained he believed the course’s classification could be changed from an enterprise fund. Shiloh Springs employees Dan Biermann and Michelle Hensley both expressed concerns that the course was not properly marketed and hoped the management company would address that. Updated kitchen facilities would also be required to host banquets and events, Hensley said.
First district commissioner Beverlee Roper agreed that the course, located east of Platte City off of Highway 92, needed additional exposure and signage.
Clay County resident Ron Stevens said he lived closer to the other two Kemper-managed courses in the Northland, but he belonged to Shiloh for the last 10 years because he preferred it. Shiloh Springs’ membership is a close-knit group, he said, and he felt he was treated as more than just a member by course staff.
The family atmosphere was his draw to what he said he believed was one of the best courses in the Kansas City area.
“This is truly the only affordable public course in Platte County now,” Robert Rose said. Schieber said that securing the financial stability of the course was one of the county’s goals. He asked Nowotny why the course was set up as an enterprise fund.
The course was opened in the mid-90s, with the county assuming ownership in 2005. Nowotny said the course was already categorized as an enterprise before the county purchased it in 2005.
“It’s a priority to bring this matter to some conclusion as to how we can end the subsidy of Shiloh Springs,” Schieber said. “I am happy to start that process.”