Of the Baker City Herald

Baker Citys golf course is broke.

Whats not known is how much the City Council will have to spend to bring the courses budget up to par.

City Manager Gordon Zimmerman told the council Tuesday that the shortfall probably will be between $40,000 and $70,000 when the fiscal year ends June 30.

Weather, the main factor in how many people play the course, will be crucial, Zimmerman said.

While we appreciate the rain, we wish it would be dry so people could go out and golf, he said.

The more people who tee up, the more money the city will collect, and the smaller the deficit will be.

So far this fiscal year, which started July 1, 2001, the city has collected about $171,000 at the course, Zimmerman said. He estimates the total will reach about $250,000 by June 30 $44,000 less than projected in the budget.

But lack of revenue isnt the only problem at the city-owned course.

The council learned Tuesday that the golf board continued work on a new storage building even though the cost has exceeded the money available by about $14,000.

The board also failed to solicit bids for building materials and labor, as required by law for public projects, said Zimmerman, who by city charter is one of the golf boards seven members.

By rights we should have bid the whole thing, he said.

After about an hour of discussion, the council voted 4-2 to transfer the entire $14,000 golf course contingency into this years budget to make up the difference.

That contingency is now empty.

That means the city will have to find another source to make up any shortfall in the golf course budget at the end of the fiscal year, Zimmerman said.

The most likely source is the citys general fund, which thus far has not subsidized the course.

Councilor Beverly Calder and Mayor Nancy Shark voted no on the motion to transfer the contingency.

Both said they were trying to make a point, and would have voted yes had that been necessary to pass the motion.

The reason, both said, is that state law requires public budgets to be balanced. If the council failed to do so, the seven councilors themselves conceivably could be responsible for paying to balance the golf course fund, City Attorney Tim Collins said.

Calder said she believes the golf board acted without prudence.

She said she understands the need to spend the contingency, but doesnt believe the cost overrun on the storage building arose from unforeseen circumstances, the only situation in which state law allows cities to spend contingency funds.

That you knew you didnt have the money and built anyway doesnt sound like an emergency to me, Calder said to Jim Grove, chairman of the golf board. How is that unforeseen?

Grove acknowledged that the board made a mistake.

We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit over the project, he said. Trust me, it wont happen this way again.

Shark said she hopes not.

That building was handled so badly, she said after the meeting. Im just so frustrated with the management.

Shark said she voted against spending the golf courses contingency because she wanted to send a message to the golf board that the way things have been handled is totally unacceptable.

She said she is angry that in addition to overspending, the board failed to solicit bids for any of the materials or work.

Grove said the board did ask several local contractors to estimate the buildings cost. Those estimates ranged from about $75,000 to $80,000, he said.

The golf board had $40,000 available, all from Leo Adler Foundation grants.

Grove said he hoped to defray construction costs by having golfers and other volunteers do some of the work.

Several people did volunteer, but not enough, Grove said.

At that point, earlier this year, he said people were asking when the building was to be finished.

Grove said he then considered offering golf course memberships to contractors in lieu of cash, and on that basis arranged for construction to continue.

But Grove said that by the time he learned the board couldnt legally substitute memberships for money, the building was almost finished and the bills were coming due.

Here were are, he said. Theres no other explanation than that.

The explanation did not satisfy the council.

You dont spend money you dont have, Councilor Chuck Phegley said to Grove. If we bail you out let this be a lesson to you. Youre broke now keep that in mind.

We know were broke, Grove said.

Zimmerman said that when he learned what was happening, he immediately halted all work on the building.

The city is spending only money needed to maintain the course, he said.

Grove said the building is almost finished, needing only paint and texture for the interior walls and a sink and toilet installed.

He agreed with Calder and other councilors who said the city should prevent the golf board in the future from spending money with little or no oversight from city officials.

That will require changing the city charter, Collins said.

The charter designates the city manager as the purchasing agent for all city functions except the golf course.

That means the golf board chairman rather than the city manager signs off on bills such as the ones for the storage building, Collins said.

The council is asking voters to change that part of the charter via a measure thats on the May 21 primary ballot, Zimmerman said.

Another charter change thats not part of that measure, but that Zimmerman wants to enact, is removing himself from the golf board.

He said he would prefer that the city manager oversee the golf board but not serve as a voting member, as is the case with other city boards and commissions.

Councilors werent the only critics in City Hall Tuesday.

Golfer Kathye Corn urged the council to not spend the golf courses contingency.

If I ran my office the way this (building) operation was run Id be in the poor house, Corn said. This is just bad business. I dont think you should allow the golf board to make these decisions if theyre not capable.

Grove pointed out that thus far all the money spent at the golf course, including the contingency, came from golf fees, not taxes.