The City Auditor's Office and the director of Portland Parks and Recreation disagree over the future of the city's publicly-owned golf courses.
In a report released Thursday, May 23, the auditor's office said the courses are financially struggling and face a declining future because interest in golf is decreasing.
"Portland Parks and Recreation's golf program is at a crossroads. Intended to be self-supporting, the program required an infusion of $800,000 of taxpayer funds in 2017 to remain solvent. While Parks has taken steps to cut costs and increase the number of golfers, it is fighting a national trend of a sport in decline and past ineffective program management," reads report, titled "Portland Parks Golf: Changes needed to ensure long-term sustainability."
But in a May 17 response letter, parks Director Adena Long said the courses generate surpluses and are in the process of being better managed.
"The Golf Program is unique in the City as it successfully promotes environmental stewardship and recreation opportunities, while being a self-supporting business model that responds to market forces," said Long, who was hired as parks director in April.
According to the report, the city has offered golf for more than 100 years. The parks bureau owns five coursesF. Four are in Portland: Colwood, Eastmoreland, Heron Lakes, and Rose City. One in Beaverton, RedTail Golf Center.
The 2018 budget for the golf program was $9.6 million, which was about 5 percent of the overall Parks budget of $213 million. The past five years left the golf program with almost no funds in
reserve, the report say, and little ability to absorb future downturns or additional employee costs.
But according to Long, her bureau is working its way through Golf Program Strategic Plan adopted in 2015 to increase participation, improve financial stability and sustainability, and demonstrate environmental stewardship. Although Long says the city needs to invest more in its golf courses, plans are underway to reduce operating cost. Among other things, Long wrote the bureau is aligning the expiration of the four eastside golf course management contracts to 2021 "in order to do a comprehensive request for proposals that allows for the option of single or multiple operators, with appropriate alignment and incentives."
"While maintenance of aging facilities remains a challenge, the Golf Program continues to be a good investment for Portlanders. PP&R's courses consistently generate operating surpluses and provide valuable ecosystem services over 800 acres of open space and natural area," Long wrote.
Both the report and Long agree the city needs to do more to increase interest in golf and attract more young people and minorities to the courses. Long is confident the bureau has started to do that.
"PP&R has prioritized historically underrepresented communities' participation by increasing the diversity of the Golf Advisory Committee, leading racial equity trainings for PP&R staff and operators on culturally-responsive customer service, and increasing social media, events and partnerships with culturally-specific organizations and communities as well as creating targeted women's programs," Long wrote.
The report lists a number of recommendations, including:
• Developing alternative financial forecast scenarios and present them to City Council for direction on how to proceed;
• Negotiating contracts to reflect current conditions;
• Improving contract monitoring;
• Presenting contracts to City Council for approval and renewal.
Long said her bureau will implement the recommendations,
PP&R is committed to implementing the audit's recommendations and looks forward to sharing updates with you and the community as this work progresses," long wrote.
You can read the report here.
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