FORT WORTH — The City Council is leaning toward investing $3.5 million in Rockwood Golf Course and writing off over $8 million in debt to try to turn around an in-the-hole golf program.“It is a quality-of-life issue. So as long as we get comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t have to pay for itself and it doesn’t have to be a business run within a city, then I don’t think we have a real problem,” Councilman Danny Scarth said Tuesday during a staff presentation.Scarth compared golf courses to other recreational programs that are at least partly subsidized by the city, such as the Fort Worth Zoo and the aquatics program.Once a moneymaking business, the golf program was shifted to become a self-supporting enterprise fund program in 1983. It even had a $3.1 million fund balance in 1999. But a steep rise in courses built in the Metroplex, coupled with a decline in rounds played, has forced the city to subsidize golf since 2002, said Richard Zavala, the parks and community services director. Writing off the $8.2 million deficit is an accounting measure, Zavala said, because the general fund has covered those gaps in the budget each year. As a whole, the golf fund was $987,000 in the red in 2013, and Zavala is recommending that the council subsidize it by about $1 million a year until 2017, or about 20 percent of the program’s operating fund. Of the four city-owned courses — Meadowbrook in the east, Pecan Valley in the southwest, Rockwood in the northwest and Sycamore in the southeast — Pecan Valley is the “workhorse,” making $488,695 in 2013, Zavala said. Zavala said Pecan Valley does well partly because of improvements to the course in the early 2000s. The proposed remodeling of Rockwood in 2016 could further stabilize the program by taking Rockwood from losing $200,000 a year to making about $300,000, Zavala said. Once Rockwood reopens in 2017, Zavala said, the city’s subsidy should drop to about 8 percent, because it will be more competitive. Councilman Dennis Shingleton said that his district has already seen private golf courses close in recent years and that he supports getting golf back on track. “The golf fund is unique and different. As an enterprise fund, it’s not like water that has no competition. It has competition from every other golf course,” Shingleton said. Rockwood is prime for investment, Zavala said, because it is close to downtown and because The First Tee, a junior golf program, has already invested over $2 million in the facility. Park officials wanted to spend $4.4 million on the Depression-era golf course, including a new layout, better greens and an improved irrigation system. But only $2 million was set aside for the renovations in the $292 million bond package approved by voters Saturday.Zavala is recommending that the council partially bridge that gap by using $1.3 million in unrestricted money and $250,000 in gas revenue. Rockwood would be closed in 2016 for the renovations. In other businessThe council, acting as the Fort Worth Crime Control and Prevention District, heard the proposed budget for fiscal 2015. The budget, which is balanced and proposed at $62.1 million, includes pay increases for police officers. It largely funds the same programs as in fiscal 2014, such as neighborhood crime prevention, recruitment and training, and equipment and technology services. The Code Blue volunteer program is proposed to increase from $722,397 in 2014 to just over $1 million. That will include dispatchers assigned to the Citizens on Patrol volunteers and increased advertising and recruitment to attract new volunteers.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst