By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - The Town Council on Thursday ordered Town Manager Robert Simpson to draft a request for proposals to explore the privatization of the municipal golf course. During the lengthy discussion, the council also adopted recommendations made by the golf course board of directors that would produce about $8,000 in savings for the year. The recommendations included an aggressive advertising promotion, golf clinics offered through adult education and limited play memberships.
In addition to the work to increase the membership, the board also recommended eliminating a Dumpster and portable toilet and soliciting advertising for score cards and tee-box signs.
Simpson suggested there was trouble brewing at the golf course when he arrived as town manager in 1997. At that time, the golf course was operated by an association of golfers and the town was fronting personnel and insurance costs while the association used the town's identification and collected money that were not audited. By his account, the association still owed the town about $20,000.
Since then, however, the town has hired a manager but revenues have not been enough to offset expenditures, a move that became especially noticeable after Dexter Shoe Co. closed its manufacturing operations here.
In recent months, discussions have centered on keeping the current structure and implementing the directors' recommendations, contracting part or all of the entire operation, or selling the property. To do the latter, town officials would have to negotiate with two abutting landowners whose properties extend into the fairways, Simpson said Thursday.
No one seemed in favor of keeping status quo. Malcolm Dow, an incoming council member, said it would be "foolish" for the town to continue to subsidize the operation. It should be "farmed out," he said.
But even if the golf course is under the full control of a contractor, Simpson said the town still would need to make a certain amount of contributions because the town has a vested interest in the property. "This is not going to be simple," he said.
It is important, Simpson said, for the town to ensure that the buildings and grounds are maintained. He said the golf course is provided as a service to the community and it enhances the town. "Because of that I think it's a good deal," he said. Simpson estimated that the town would have to contribute about $20,000 a year or more if there are attorney fees and capital improvement funds needed under this option.
Resident Jim Tobin called the issue a "complex situation" and said the town could end up with a "legal basket of worms" if the course was turned over to an independent contractor.
Despite that, Council member Fred Banks said the town could no longer afford to support the golf course. "There has to be some change in the degree of support we're giving this course."
Council member Dean Thompson agreed and recommended that privatization be investigated. "There's no question there's a workable solution," he said.
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