Sell city land to retire golf course debt

June 21, 2006 11:00 pm

The city staff and the golf board are discussing a promising proposition: Sell the 15 acres the city owns adjacent to the golf course.

This could be a very happy ending to a sometimes convoluted story.

Baker City's first golf course involved "greens" painted onto alkali mud in the east part of town.

Needless to say, nine holes with grass fairways and greens was a tremendous improvement.

But nine holes can feel like half a club to a duffer. Boosters promoted the idea of expanding the course to 18 holes.

But in 1995, voters rejected a $600,000 tax levy, 59 to 41 percent, to expand the course from nine to 18 holes. That didn't stop city leaders from borrowing money from the city's own cemetery trust fund, with interest, to fund the expansion.

Added to that debt were operating losses incurred by a municipality trying to run a business. A scrumble of rate changes and a dearth of marketing cost city taxpayers dearly, but ended in a happy solution: leasing the course to a private concern, Seven Iron Inc.

While the solution has alleviated the red ink in annual operating costs to the city, there is still $267,000 in debt that the city holds on the expansion of the course.

But the city holds 15 acres, on an 18-hole golf course, with great mountain views, a short distance from the downtown core of one of Oregon's most liveable cities.

Under the current zoning, there's room on that property for dozens of homes or condos. (After all, who wants to mow a yard when he or she could be driving yards instead?) Those 15 acres could be worth a lot in the right hands.

We support the city selling that 15 acres as building lots —golf course homesites — but only if the revenues are used to retire the public's $267,000 debt.