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In a hole? How about 18?

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To the Editor:

The “Oak Hills Park Authority incurred a deficit of $107,672 for the year ending June 30, 2014, which raises substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern,” says the audit carried out by Walter J. Englert Jr., a certified public accountant.

Only about 10 percent of the residents of Norwalk play golf.

Nevertheless the OHPA was created because resident golfers convinced local politicians that they should set up an autonomous body to manage an 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park. The golf course was justified, they claimed, because the demand to play golf by Norwalk residents was robust enough to generate the fees needed to sustain it. Subsequently, however, when that turned out not to be true, the Authority, with the backing of pandering politicians, came up with a Master Plan to turn the golf course into a commercial enterprise.

The centerpiece of the Master Plan consists of constructing a large commercial driving range and developing a marketing strategy to induce golfers from wealthy surrounding communities to play the course in Oak Hills Park. Of course, neither would be needed if user fees generated by resident golfers covered the costs of the golf course. But user fees from resident golfers don’t cover the costs of operating and maintaining the golf course. And the reason they don’t is because the demand is not there or the costs are higher than they need be due to mismanagement, or the OHPA suffers from a combination of poor management and weak demand.

Mismanagement, of course, is a problem that can be fixed. But the OHPA was established to meet a demand, not create one. Therefore, if that demand no longer exists, the Authority should be disbanded and the Park and Recreations Department should manage Oak Hills Park in the interest of all the stakeholders of the city. In other words, if the primary reason the OHPA can’t cover its costs is weak demand to play 18 holes of golf, there is no justification for taxpayers to subsidize an 18-hole golf course that takes up nearly all the land in their second largest park.

A key question Norwalk’s elected representatives should be asking, therefore, is, “To what extent does the inability of the OHPA to cover its costs reflect weak demand on the part of resident golfers.” And the key statistic they need to answer that question is resident rounds. Hence, it is telling that according to the OHPA resident rounds played at Oak Hills decreased 8.7 percent in 2013.

Might demand rebound to such a degree that user fees from residents will cover most if not all of the costs of the golf course?  Even the OHPA doesn’t think so. Consequently its Master Plan calls for the construction of a large commercial driving range and a new marketing strategy aimed at inducing more golfers from surrounding communities to play at Oak Hills.

The call for a marketing strategy, of course, amounts to an admission that, without a successful marketing strategy, the golf course will not cover its costs. It is, in other words, an admission that the demand to play 18 holes of golf by the residents of Norwalk is not robust enough to justify devoting nearly all the land in Oak Hills Park to golf. Nevertheless, with a new marketing strategy might the OHPA achieve its goal of generating enough additional revenue to cover the difference between the user fees paid by Norwalk golfers and the costs of operating and maintaining the golf course?

That seems unlikely. As The Economist put it in a recent article, golf “does not suit the frenetic pace of modern life. Playing 18 holes, the game’s standard, takes 4½ hours or more, not counting commuting or lunch. Time-starved Americans rarely devote so many hours to anything – other than, perhaps, a transcontinental flight and sleep.” And that no doubt is the reason, as one recent study put it, that nationwide “municipal golf courses have had a negative financial impact on the communities that own and operate them, and the negative financial results have consistently deteriorated … reaching an average of negative $370,478 per enterprise fund in 2010. … These findings are widespread in the municipal golf course industry in the United States. … Our conclusion is that the direct negative economic impacts of operating municipal golf courses suggest great caution for any municipality considering the purchase or construction of a golf course.”

What about the driving range? Again, the call for a driving range to cover the failure of user fees to cover the costs of the golf course is an admission that the demand to play 18 holes is too weak to justify devoting nearly all the land in Oak Hills Park to golf. And, of course, there is no guarantee that the driving range will even generate enough revenue to cover the cost of its construction.

Hence, not one additional dollar of taxpayers’ money, whether from a grant or any other source, should be spent to move ahead with the changes outlined in the OHPA’s Master Plan, especially those changes meant to prepare the grounds for the construction of a large commercial driving range.*  Rather the OHPA should be abolished so Oak Hills Park can be managed by the Parks and Recreation Department in the interest of all the taxpayers of Norwalk.

These changes include demolishing the existing pro shop and constructing a new 900-square-foot pro shop and administration building in a different area and demolishing the existing cart barn and constructing a new cart barn in a different location to make room for the driving range, etc. Other changes called for in the OHPA’s Master Plan that have to do with a fitness center, skating rink, rose garden etc. should be considered once a new Master Plan is developed that does not include a large commercial driving range as its centerpiece. 

Comments

49 responses to “In a hole? How about 18?”

  1. Piberman

    Its not surprising residents are playing less golf at Oak Hills. Older and retired residents are leaving Norwalk because of ever rising punitive taxes that depress property values. Our politicians studious indifference to “tax and spend” has finally come home to rest. Norwalk is loosing its resident golfers. Those wanting to save Oak Hills ought encourage election of citizens familiar with accounting statements.

  2. TomReynolds

    Ma’an, does this guy ever quit? He has been spewing the same twisted “facts” for several years now. I don’t think he is gaining much ground. For those of you who read this and actually want to believe it, why not go to the OHPA, the BET or the Common Council Finance Committee first and see what they have to say. I don’t believe they comment on blogs like this, so you will have to actually go to meetings or write letters, rather than take the statements of this letter at face value.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Tom Reynolds

      OHPA’s Clyde Mount and Ernie DesRochers and Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel frequently comment on this news site, and they, along with city Director on Management and Budgets Bob Barron and the OHPA’s auditor, Wally Englert, have all been quoted and one point or another on the golf course’s financial condition.

  3. cc-rider

    Does Paul have the same concern for the # of resident visitors at the Aquarium? Is their advertising billboard an admission that there is not enough resident demand and it should be shut down? You could ask the same question to beach passes and visitors at Calf Pasture. Rounds were up at Oak Hills last year.

    Not enough time to play 9 or 18 holes? Hit balls at a driving range! It would seem that would be the most simple golf solution to the often repeated modern time issue with the sport.

    What constitutes a “large commercial driving range” anyhow? I want to know more about this ambiguous term that is often repeated here. Any for profit driving range (ie. not at a private golf club) would be considered commercial right? How about the large part? What number of bays makes a range large? How about medium or small or extra large?

  4. TomReynolds

    @Chapman – . . . and? What’s your point? They all seen to agree that the golf course, in and of itself, supports itself. What is absolutely killing the OHPA to make ends meet is, what three common council members have recently called, the “albatross on the hill” (I think they got that term from reading one of my posts last week). The restauraunt is not what golfers or OHPA members back in 2002-ish asked for. It was a compromise to appease the neighborhood. And the debt was passed to the OHPA. The rent on the restuarant cannot cover the mortgage. Do some homework.
    I am sure that Mr. Mount and Mr. DesRochers and Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel and Bob Baran would agree with what I just stated.
    ASK THEM !

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Reynolds

      The point is you said they don’t comment on ” blogs like this.” This is a news site, not somebody’s blog, and they do, in fact, read it and comment on it. As I often say, we deal in facts here. Your post did not.

  5. PKN

    @ Tom R.

    Mark is right, they have all commented on NON.

    And Mark, you and Nancy do write the facts. Wish

    some of the others who oppose the OHPA would.

    There are many distorted stories that have shown up

    on this website. Chemicals being used improperly,

    to trees being sacrificed for a driving range. There

    are many others.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ PKN

      Thanks. And that is the different between our news reports and posts marked as Letters or Opinion, or things in the comments.

  6. DeerMooo

    Yet again, finances are used to suggest that golf should be curtailed in favor of a wish list that will cost MORE money than what the City spends on golf (hint: around $0 in 2014).

  7. Yvonne Lopaur

    The Oak Hills Park Authority is planning to spend money to prepare the ground for a driving range. That is the reason it wants to move the pro shop and cart barn. Back in 2001 the pro shop burned down and then was rebuilt. So what is the reason for tearing it down again and rebuilding it in another location? The reason is the OHPA wants to construct the driving range near where the pro shop is situated today. How will this add to the experience of playing golf at Oak Hills? It won’t. It is a waste of taxpayer money pure and simple. It is another example of mismanagement.

  8. Paul Cantor

    Mr. Reynolds,

    You accuse me of “spewing the same twisted ‘facts.” What precisely are the “twisted facts” in the “In a Hole?” article or other articles I have written or comments I have made on the Nancy on Norwalk website?

    Did I misquote the auditor, Mr. Englert?

    Do significantly more than 10% of the people in Norwalk play golf?

    Is the driving range not a centerpiece of the OHPA’s master plan?

    Is it not true that the demand to play 18-holes of golf has been decreasing?

    Is it not true that resident rounds played at Oak Hills have decreased?

    Did I misquote The Economist?

    You write: “the golf course supports itself.” Is that a fact, a “twisted fact” or just plain wrong? Mr. Robert Virgulak, the former chairman of the OHPA said that without an additional source of revenue the golf course cannot survive. Was he wrong? Does the golf course cover its operating and capital costs? Even if you eliminated the restaurant debt would user fees cover the operating and capital costs of the golf course?

  9. Suzanne

    c-c, I spent a considerable amount of time researching your question because I was curious too – what makes a driving range small, medium, large or extra large? I went to the national architects site for golf courses, the PGA and many others.

    The size of driving ranges is not just defined by the number of bays but also by its width and length. I think the 36 bays requested by the OHPA would be considered large, however, because that is what many, many PGA qualified golf courses call them when there are 30 and over bays.

    DM – no wish list in this article or comments.

    TR – I sincerely wish you would come up with some facts with which all the participants here could discuss. What you say is nothing more than ranting. An opinion is fine but hard to take seriously when nothing of substance is said.

  10. DeerMooo

    “no wish list in this article or comments.”

    Totally, totally irrelevant.

    There *is* a list of alternatives which have peppered letters/comments for some time now, and they WILL be an additional expense to the taxpayer (infinitely more than $0). With no course revenue, and no ideas on how to generate revenue otherwise, every single suggestion you make is a new expense that will be paid by the city.

  11. Paul Cantor

    DeerMooo,

    Your posts indicate that you do not understand that the costs of the golf course include both operating costs and maintenance and capital costs. User fees from all golfers (resident and non-resident) are not generating enough revenue to cover the operating and capital costs of the18-hole golf course in Oak Hills. If they were there would be no need for revenue from a driving range or any other source.

    Where do you think the money to “upgrade” the course will be coming from this year and next? Will it be coming from user fees or a grant from taxpayers? Where will it be coming from in the future?

    18-hole golf courses are provided by the private sector. So diehard golfers would have many alternative places to play even if the 18-hole golf course at Oak Hills was to disappear or be reduced in size. Golfers at Oak Hills have an advantage. They do not have to cover the cost of the land on which the golf course in Oak Hills Park is situated. Golf courses in the private sector and by extension those who play them must cover the cost of taxes on the land.

    In post after post you and others make the following contradictory arguments. First you argue that user fees cover the operating and maintenance costs of the golf course. That argument is wrong and the OHPA recognizes it is wrong.

    Second you argue that since taxpayer dollars are used to support the Maritime Center, Calf Pasture Beach, Cranberry Park, schools, libraries, etc. it justifies government support for the golf course even if user fees can’t cover its costs. That argument is a normative argument that requires a value judgment.

    And it is almost certainly the case that if put to the test most taxpayers would agree that the cost to them of supporting a money losing golf course in Oak Hills Park far outweigh the benefits. However, from the point of view of golfers the benefits from having taxpayers subsidize every round they play outweighs the costs (measured in terms of the value to them of having the land on which the park is situated put to alternative uses).

    So I understand your passionate defense for requiring taxpayers to subsidize a sport you favor. But I think you would be hard pressed to convince many of them that the benefits of subsidizing an 18-hole golf course outweigh the costs.

  12. DeerMooo

    “requiring taxpayers to subsidize a sport”

    Omitting loan balances* which we all understand you consider “subsidies”, what is the dollar amount of city money spent on the course during the last five years?

    The fact is that your opposition is not motivated by finances in any way. You have every right to argue that you do not believe that a golf course is a good use of the park, and that 10% of Norwalkers using parkland is, in your opinion, somehow unfair. However continually using golf finances as a reason is just plain disingenuous because your plan is for the city spend MORE money managing and maintaining Oak Hills.

    *Loans which include interest charges and are being serviced to the satisfaction of the city.

    “And it is almost certainly the case that if put to the test most taxpayers would agree that the cost to them of supporting a money losing golf course in Oak Hills Park far outweigh the benefits.”

    Is it almost certain?

    Firstly, most folks don’t understand that your plan is to spend MORE money on the park, because you are never clear on that fact.

    Secondly, I recall that when your neighborhood association ran a poll to gauge public opposition to the driving range, which you insisted at the time was almost certainly against the range, the results showed support for a driving range. I also recall you objected to the poll and the polling methods AFTER the results became clear.

  13. Yvonne Lopaur

    The poll in The Hour indicated that most people were opposed to the driving range.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Yvonne

      The poll in The Hour two weeks before the 2013 election had Moccia getting 75 percent of the vote… Those polls are for clickbait and reader engagement and entertainment only and are pretty much meaningless (not just The Hour, but all polls not done by a professional polling group like Gallup).

  14. Charles Brennan

    The poll in The Hour was for the range as was the poll from The West NorwALk Association. I don’t believe the pro shop ever burned down it was the old restaurant building that had a fire.

  15. Suzanne

    Actually, DM, if I were you (which I am clearly not!), I would give up on the neighborhood association argument.

    Before going further with it, you might want to check and see just how many active members who live in West Norwalk the West Norwalk Association has. (And compare it to the entire WN population.)

    Secondly, the method by which they conducted the poll was, in fact, very flawed. People could vote more than once, for one thing, which obviously could allow the results to be “stacked” in one direction or another.

    If you look it up, the WNA in their organization position and in terms of true support for the community may aspire to some great things but it simply does not exist except for adopt a spots, some trash removal events and a nominal scholarship to two Norwalk students per year.

    You have other perspectives. Stick with them.

  16. Yvonne Lopaur

    Mr. Brennan,

    There is a picture in the April 5, 2001 The Norwalk Hour of the destruction of the pro shop with the following caption: “Fire damaged the pro shop at the city’s Oak Hills Golf Course Thursday night…the cost of the damage could not be immediately determined.” The following day a letter signed by Peg Drenchkhaha appeared in The Hour stating “For the 8-10 years that I have been a member of Oak Hills the clubhouse dilemma has dragged on…We’ve certainly paid enough experts to supply us with inappropriate plans regarding a driving range to make everyone realize we don’t have enough room to build a range…All the taxpayers in Norwalk….are entitled to an end to this costly fiasco…The pro shop is a building very quaint and scenic remnant from the past…”

  17. Yvonne Lopaur

    Mark,

    Yes, both the West Norwalk Association’s and The Hour’s polls were unscientific.

  18. Paul Cantor

    DeerMooo,

    The primary purpose of the proposed driving range, according to the OHPA, is to generate the revenues needed to cover the costs of the golf course.

    The loans made to the OHPA have been restructured more than once. Therefore I doubt that taxpayers would agree with your statement that they have been serviced to the satisfaction of the city.

    When there is a decrease in demand for a product or a service in the private sector the entities that produce or offer those products or services end up going out of business. That is the reason so many golf courses have closed down nationwide. The only reason the OHPA hasn’t followed suit is because local politicians in Norwalk are catering to an entrenched special interest group of which you are a member.

  19. DeerMooo

    @PaulCantor:

    What a plan!!!

    You want to spend an untold amount of taxpayer money now because you’re worried that taxpayer money *might* get spent later. In the meantime, $0 is spent now.

    As was VERY clearly stated in news coverage and reiterated by Robert Barron, the audit to which you repeatedly refer used incomplete information. You use numbers which you know to be incomplete, and refuse to come clean on the real costs of your plan.

    Clearly the real reason that you think golf has to go because you think it’s not popular enough, and because you want the park nearest to your house to be changed to suit your specific desires. Finances are only something you use to distract while you ignore and hide the negative budgetary implications of your own plan.

    ———————

    @Suzanne:

    Is a member of the small but vocal opposition to golf really casting doubt on whether WNNA is representative of West Norwalk? Just exactly how many “active members” do you represent, and what community exactly does your organization represent?

  20. Kevin Di Mauro

    @DeerMoo

    You state that the audit prepared by Wally Englert “used incomplete information”. Why was the information incomplete? Wally Englert is the auditor for the OHPA. Did he do a flawed audit or an accurate audit?

  21. Suzanne

    No, DM, not falling for it. Getting that information is YOUR job.

  22. DeerMooo

    Yet again, you refuse to give an honest answer to a simple question. As far as I can tell, you’re with a group of no more than 10-15 people who share your goal of spending more Norwalk taxpayer dollars on Oak Hills either through tax increases or cuts in other programs. This represents a far smaller percentage than WNNA (which only claims to represent West Norwalk), and far smaller than the percentage of those across the city who support a municipal golf course.

  23. DeerMooo

    @Kevin Di Mauro

    I’m referring to this:
    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2015/01/norwalk-finance-official-expresses-confidence-in-oak-hills-authority/

    The audit numbers don’t reflect actual financial conditions, which is why Barron says his initial concerns “had been allayed.” New information, widely-available information.

    From the article:

    “Barron told the Board of Estimate and Taxation that his initial concerns, raised by OHPA’s October financial statement, had been allayed, and the Authority expects to use at most $26,000 of the $100,000 line of credit it has secured with a bank. Barron downplayed the statement by auditor Wally Englert that there is “substantial doubt for (OHPA) to continue as a going concern””

    … and …

    “on Dec. 19 OHPA turned over its November statement with explanations and corrections – there was revenue that had not been included in the October statement”

    … and …

    The balance at the end of December is $93,727, he said. The “burn rate” shows that OHPA will go $26,000 into the red in March, but that is based on conservative numbers, he said. The Authority expects to be back in the black soon, with a $206,000 surplus forecast by June.

  24. Joanna Cooper

    The “Oak Hills Park Authority incurred a deficit of $107,672 for the year ending June 30, 2014″ and wants tax payers to fund a costly new master plan. Why would tax payers want to fund the OHPA when they have a significant deficit? This makes no sense for tax payers.

    This plan was clearly concocted by a small group of mostly men with self serving needs in mind. This is not inclusive thoughtful town planning. With limited open space it is not fair to residents to have to pay for the pleasure of a few in our town (10 %). Wealthy golfers from other towns will not be seduced by fancy (and costly) marketing schemes. They play with their ole boys at exclusive private clubs. I doubt advertising will attract enough out of town players to make up the deficit and resident rounds decreased. Not feeling its a deal I want to invest in as a tax payer.

    It’s an unsettling thought that just a few will be able to enjoy golf and this great park space meant for the majority will be sacrificed for those few. The park should be enjoyed for free by all of citizens and designed with that aim. Isn’t that what parks are made for? Frederick Law Olmsted would not be impressed and this type of planning will not stand the test of time. Golf is an exclusive game. Parks are meant to be inclusive.

    Thinking of all the trees the master plan will require chopping down is not pleasant and once gone they can’t be replaced. Mature trees cut to make way for a driving range. This will impact the environment. What has been done to consider environmental impact? Not just physical but the quality of life for those who don’t play the game. To neighborhood families that would like to enjoy a day in the park but don’t because it’s for a few golfers. This is Public Space!

    I think the OHPA are dreaming rather than dealing in facts. I don’t want to see a large driving range. Why should we pay for a new pro-shop when the old one is fine? I doubt they are selling so much merchandise out of there that it would warrant the cost of building a new one. I am not convinced the plan can support its reason for being and I think its reason for being is flawed. It’s a commercial enterprise alright…an example of developers, town planners(friends) and politicians not making great decisions and tax payers paying. How does the majority of Norwalk’s tax payers benefit? They don’t.

  25. Suzanne

    DM – There are some of us who enjoy golf but object to the way the golf course is being run and do not believe a driving range is merited based upon the incompetence of the current management.

    You do not know where I live (Thank God) and you do not know if I am part of the “vocal minority.” What is known is that a MINORITY of Norwalk citizens play this course, that the land is supposed to be public and that fees are NOT covering the loans the course has taken with the City. (Again, do you read? This was said by one of YOUR minority members and not by those who are against the course.)

    It is a shame that you just don’t get it. Golfers don’t get to have public parks for free or nominal sums or for loans from the City.

    Fees are a pittance to what could be enjoyed by the entire public – as Ms. Cooper says above, as defined by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of Landscape Architecture, the builder and designer with Calvert Vaux of Central Park (no question a successful enterprise) and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens among many other urban open spaces.

    There is NO argument you can proffer that can justify this much open space, which should be enjoyed by the ENTIRE citizenry of Norwalk and as open space becomes more precious, to an exclusive, minority group represented by golfers in Norwalk. NONE.

    Go ahead and claim financial responsibility by the OHPA (not secured by any means with the loan amounts still not at zero, the number you like to give as the amount Norwalk had to spend on the golf course in 2014 – what about the ongoing interest payments and principal still owed Norwalk by the OHPA? Much more than “0”.)

    Go ahead and make your arguments that making the land a public park (which it technically is already) will cost more than a golf course. You simply don’t know that is true. You don’t. Neither do I.

    Remember that little thing I told you about several comments back? What will be done if the golf course is partly dismantled will be to create a PROGRAM defining what will be included on that land. You have no clue how much that PROGRAM will cost. And neither to I.

    To speculate and to make that an argument against making public part of the course is specious.

  26. Kevin Di Mauro

    @ DeerMoo

    Would you consider the statements that you refer to by Bob Barron to be “forward looking statements”?

  27. DeerMooo

    @Suzanne: “To speculate and to make that an argument against making public part of the course is specious”

    Hardly specious. I am not speculating about increased costs. There have been no examples or proposals offered of programs that would “self-fund” so some entity is going to have to pay to manage the park. If it’s to be returned to “the ENTIRE citizenry of Norwalk” as you say then it is they who will foot the bill going forward.

    ——-

    @Kevin Di Mauro: Of course it is forward looking, just like the auditor’s report included forward-looking statements, and just like it’s “forward-looking” to say the golf course will or will not go broke.

  28. Suzanne

    DM, You are good at jumping to conclusions without support for your argument.

    What is the cost, exactly, that you propose will occur if any of the course is converted? What is the EXACT increased cost to taxpayers would such a conversion be? More than maintaining a golf course, less?

    How do you know? Where are you getting your data from? What will be on that land that you are assuming will increase costs? How do you know that additional amenities provided to all of the public will not make money? What would the comparison be of these new amenities that will cost so much in your view with golf course fees?

    Without answering those questions, your comments (and reply) ARE specious.

  29. DeerMooo

    @Suzanne: How do I know? Where do I get my data?

    100% of “comparables” (i.e., other Norwalk parks, including those that offer little more than open space) are at a cost to the taxpayer. Have you heard of the Parks & Rec department?

    As John Stossel would say, “Give me a break!”

    P.S. You keep using words you clearly don’t understand. “Specious” would signify that my conclusion is wrong. However you’ve proffered no evidence to the contrary on costs, while EVERY real-world example of parks with the character you describe come at a monetary cost to the taxpayer.

    I’m not conflating intangible values with sounder finances like you are: I’m asking about the hard costs of your vision specifically in the context of course finances being used to justify that alternative vision.

  30. Kevin Di Mauro

    @DeerMoo

    The auditor’s report was based on the FACT that the OHPA ended it’s last fiscal year with a deficit of $107,672.

    Bob Baron’s comments that the OHPA “expects” to be in the black soon, with a $206,000 surplus forecast by June is a forward looking statement which may or may not become a reality. This statement should have been accompanied by a disclaimer indicating that there is risk involved by accepting this statement as fact.

  31. DeerMooo

    No need to speculate as comparables exist. Below is a concrete example of what it costs to maintain a park in Norwalk.

    The following paragraph is from the 2014/2015 city budget. Cranbury Park will consume $550,000 of taxpayer money in the next budget year for capital projects (page xi), and that is not a loan that will ever be paid back. Further, the planning commission recommends another $700,000 in capital expenditures through 2019, for a total of $1,250,000 over five years (page 195).

    Those costs do not include the incremental costs of maintenance that are part of Parks & Recs regular operating expenses of over $4,000,000 (page viii). Incidentally, the 2014/2015 expense budget is an increase of 8% over 2013/2014 budget levels (see page vii):

    “The Recreation and Parks’ capital budget is $3,490,000 and represents 15.5% of
    the gross capital budget. The largest appropriation in this budget is $2,000,000
    for the Nathan Hale Athletic Complex, followed by $550,000 for the Cranbury
    Park/Gallaher Estate, and $940,000 of miscellaneous other projects.”

  32. Kevin Di Mauro

    How can you compare Cranbury Park to Oak Hills when only golfers can use Oak Hills? This is not the case with other city parks.

  33. DeerMooo

    @Kevin Di Mauro:

    Two points to be made here on why the comparison to Cranbury:

    1. If course finances are to be used as a reason for curtailing golf operations (i.e., this is costing the taxpayer money), then part of the discussion needs to be about the anticipated costs to the taxpayer with curtailed golf revenue. Especially as those costs pertain to non-golf activities.

    2. As a tangential point, statements about park usage like “only golfers can use Oak Hills… This is not the case with other city parks” are a little misleading because the converse is also true. Consider this similar statement: “Golfers cannot use any other park to play golf… Golfers can only play golf at Oak Hills.”

    So what is the difference between being denied a nature walk or a softball game on the 7th fairway at Oak Hills, and a golfer being denied a round of golf at every other park in Norwalk? Just like anyone could take a nature walk or play softball, the fact is that anyone could play golf. Anyone could use any park if they want to use the park in a way that is appropriate to the configuration of that park.

    The “fairness” equation being promoted here says that golf is not a worthy activity for parkland in Norwalk, and anyone has a absolute right to that opinion. However I still contend that golf course finances don’t provide any actual justification when one considers the hard costs of other parks and activities (unless what we’re really saying is that golf and golfers are not worthy of consideration in the use of parkland unless they meet an infinitely higher bar than required for any other activity).

  34. Suzanne

    spe·cious
    adjective
    superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

    Thus says Merriam Webster’s.

    You are comparing apples to oranges. Without considering the debt of Oak Hills to the current costs to the City of parks that exist for EVERYONE to use, not just golfers who represent a small minority of the population, to the unknown factor of what THIS park would cost based upon a citizen PROGRAM, you’ve got nothing.

    Tut, tut, you have not been reading the comments re: finances AT ALL. “Not a worthy activity” is based upon National data that golf’s popularity is subsiding, that communities are having to cut down their courses due to the high costs of the sport.

    The OHPA is proving the latter consistently in not making the expenses of the 18-Hole course with fees as per CHARTER requirements. (That would lead to the discussion, just how do public parks under Parks and Recreation operate vs. Oak Hills? Parks and Rec is paid for. Not so Oak Hills.)

    “Just like anyone could take a nature walk or play softball, the fact is that anyone could play golf.” This is a really insensitive statement. Are you saying working class and poor people who can only afford the beach or other venues that are free to them can learn to play golf? That Oak Hills, by its very nature, supporting a costly sport (you know, clubs, shoes, balls, fees, etc.), is easily available to those who can’t afford golf?

    You have just concluded that the OTHER 90% of the population who can’t or don’t play the sport really is a justification for keeping a vast amount of open space open to the privileged (and I say privileged because golfing is expensive, period) ten percent and not to everyone.

    Until you can come up with a real plan that produces the amount required to keep the course at 18 Holes, paying every debt required including servicing of loans from the City, with fees per the Charter, any argument you present, especially with a deficit, is a blast of cold, cold air.

    In fact, it would you be great if you lent all of this energy writing, to the OHPA who could really use the help. (Then where would all of the arguments be about getting rid of part of the course be? Think about it.)

  35. Kevin Di Mauro

    @DeerMoo

    The fact still remains that although all expenses for all other city parks are paid for by all the taxpayers, BOTH non-golfers and golfers alike can enjoy their use without any additional cost. This is NOT THE CASE at Oak Hills Park. Almost all of the park is devoted exclusively to golfers who pay additional fees for the privilege of golfing.

    Recently the OHPA had to borrow $100,000 of TAX PAYER dollars to survive through the winter. The last audit for OHPA showed it had additional problems with a deficit of $107,672.00. The OHPA has had to get an additional $100,000.00 line of credit from a bank to insure it survives this winter. None of this sounds very encouraging to me.

    I don’t like hearing that my tax dollars are being used to support an exclusive activity such as golf at Oak Hills. I also don’t like hearing that my tax dollars might be used to forgive 2 million dollars of debt on a city owned restaurant or that possibly 3 million more tax dollars will be risked according to the OHPA Master Plan. There is no “fairness” in this.

  36. DeerMooo

    “Parks and Rec is paid for. Not so Oak Hills.”

    I’m sure the bondholders for the city would disagree with this logic. Or maybe you did not realize that the city also borrows money for its own projects?

    In the meantime, I keep missing any straightforward reply to a question that we both know the answer to: How much money did the city spend on golf last year? How about the year before, or the year before that?

    VERY confused by your injection of “working class and poor” into the discussion: average folks are exactly who are able to enjoy the sport because we have a municipal course. But please tell me the activity or sport they can’t enjoy now because there is a golf course.

    The implication that golf at Oak Hills displaces some monolithic “OTHER 90%” of Norwalkers is just absurd. “The privileged” (as you call golfers) have the same right to enjoy parkland as anyone else, and there’s no evidence that it’s at the expense of 90% of the city. And “the privileged” include many people who be able to play golf without a municipal golf course.

  37. Suzanne

    Dear DM, I suggest you remain confused in your outlook and insist on Oak Hills being flush with funds, available to every citizen in Norwalk and absolutely no expense to the City. Good luck with that.

  38. Paul Cantor

    DeerMooo,

    The Oak Hills Park Authority says it needs revenues from the driving range because user fees from golfers playing golf at Oak Hills do not cover its costs. But you claim the OHPA doesn’t need an outside source of revenue in order to cover its costs. Hence, in order to be consistent you should be pointing out that the proposed driving range and marketing strategy are not needed for that purpose.

    But to clarify your point of view on this question it would be helpful if you would answer the following questions:

    1. Does the OHPA need an outside source of revenue to cover the difference between the revenues it takes in from user fees and the costs of operating and maintaining the golf course?

    2. Can you explain the reason the OHPA sought money from the state to upgrade the golf course if user fees were covering its capital costs?

    Your somewhat contradictory argument appears to be that even if user fees from resident golfers do not cover the costs of the golf course (and they clearly do not) the benefit to all the taxpayers of Norwalk of allocating nearly all the land in the Oak Hills Park to a golf course outweigh the costs. But for that argument to be persuasive you need to identify the benefits and costs of the golf course to all taxpayers and make a convincing case that the benefits outweigh the costs. And obviously your case becomes stronger the more convincingly you can demonstrate that the OHPA is wrong to claim it needs an outside source of revenue or a marketing strategy aimed at golfers from neighboring communities to have any hope of covering its costs. So we are back to question 1 above. Do you really disagree with the argument that a driving range is necessary to cover the difference in the revenues brought in from user fees and the costs of operating and maintaining the golf course?

    Perhaps it would help you to better understand the second cost/benefit analysis issue you are attempting to address if you would spend some time reflecting on the following letter from Roger Sparks and Yvonne Lopaur that appeared in The Hour some time ago:

    “Dr. Jesus F Yap Jr. asks Professor Cantor how public parks differ from golf courses.

    The answer has to do with exclusion. People are allowed to use public parks in a variety of ways. They may hike, play frisbee, or have a picnic. They also generally do not have to pay for a walk in the park. Of course, public parks do have rules excluding certain activities, but those rules are far less exclusionary than the rules at golf courses and driving ranges. There you must pay to enter, and you are allowed to play golf and not do much else

    This level of exclusion might be deemed acceptable if the fees charged for golfing covered the expense of maintaining the golf course. After all, one of the activities typically excluded from the public park is golfing. So, one might argue that a section of a very large public park should be reserved for deserving, underserved golfers. However, when the market demand for golfing is too low to support a golf course financially, then the granting of such rights is very costly for the non-golfing public. They must give up access and financial resources.

    As Dr. Yap puts it in his letter public parks contribute to the quality of life in a community. We all benefit. A golf course, on the other hand, provides value to a small segment of the community. Furthermore, we can measure this value by the revenues the golf course generates. These revenues show what people are willing to pay for golfing. If we take those revenues and subtract the costs of operating the golf course, we get a measure of the net benefit (or net value) of the golf course to the community (excluding any externalities). If the net benefit turns out to be negative, then we would need to have a very compelling reason to use public land as a golf course. We would need to be convinced that the rights of golfers supersede the rights of non-golfers to such an extent that a subsidy should go from the latter to the former.”

    Finally, you might note that few people objected to the golf course when it was being well run by Vinny Grillo Senior and his son Vinny Grillo Junior. But when the OHPA’s responded to its financial problems after forcing Vinny Grilo Jr. out by calling for the construction of what it euphemistically refers to as a golf learning center people objected for two reasons. First they objected because, as Tomas Vorio the former superintendent of the course pointed out, a large commercial driving range is not the solution to the OHPA financial woes. And second, and more importantly, they objected because a large commercial driving range would undermine the residential quality of the neighborhood in which Oak Hills Park is situated and further restrict non-golfers access to the park. Indeed, it was primarily for this second reason that the idea of constructing a driving range in Oak Hills Park was rejected by taxpayers when it was first brought up years ago.

  39. Kevin Di Mauro

    @DeerMoo

    Perhaps these are more straightforward questions. How much money has the city been LENDING OHPA? How much will a bank be LENDING OHPA? How much debt will the city be FORGIVING OHPA? Who will provide the 3 million dollars to complete the OHPA Master Plan?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ ALL

      How fitting this is ll about a golf course because it has taken on a “Groundhog Day” appearance, except it isn’t funny

      Instead on shouting past each other, maybe it’s time to agree that you will never agree…

  40. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Mark Chapman

    There is too much at stake to just agree to disagree.

  41. Yvonne Lopaur

    Mark,

    Your Groundhog Day post perplexes me. Or more precisely, I don’t get it. Democracies fail when politicians cater to special interest groups. That is what many in Norwalk contend is taking place with respect to the issue your post addresses. It may be that many of us will never agree with those who are defending the OHPA’s master plan and whom we consider a special interest group. But your statement seems to say to me “its time to shut up.” Is that what you intended?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Yvonne

      We have the same people saying the same things, stating and restating. No one is moving off their position. There is nothing new. I think it is an important issue that demands fresh information and reasonable discourse. Right now we are seeing lots of recycling and intransigence, and we are in danger of the more casual readers, who all have a stake in the result whether they realize it or not, getting turned off and tuning out. We would like to see less “Let me explain this again” and more “here’s some information I found this morning,” sort of like the mall issue when new studies or articles are unearthed.

  42. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Paul Cantor

    I appreciate your letters to the editor and your comments.

    Hope to hear more from you.

  43. Paul Cantor

    Thanks, Kevin. And I appreciate your comments as well. Our task is a difficult one. Golfers are a well-organized special interest group. Hence unscrupulous elected officials see it in their interest to cater to them even though they know that they are doing so at the expense of the overwhelming majority of taxpayers. The underlying rationale of these elected officials, of course, is that while all golfers are aware of the issue only a tiny fraction of the ninety percent of the public that do not play golf know anything about it. Hopefully, our articles and comments will lead to much greater awareness of the situation and help to change the calculus of members of the Common Council and the Mayor.

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