Charbonneau organizations could merge
Charbonneau Country Club and Charbonneau Golf Club are discussing a potential merger that would entwine the golf business and the nonprofit homeowners association.
The specifics of the merger have not been fully ironed out and Charbonneau Golf Club President Joe Brouillette doesn't expect a decision to be made on whether to finalize the merger until at least the first quarter of next year.
In the meantime, the golf club is undergoing an assessment to determine the value of the shares owned by the 500 or so shareholders who have a stake in the golf course. After that, the shareholders who live in Charbonneau would vote on whether to allow the ownership transfer. If they agree, the golf club would buy the shares, paving the way for the new ownership arrangement (which has yet to be decided). The CCC board of directors also would need to vote to approve the merger.
Since its inception in 1989, the golf course has operated as an independent for-profit business and the country club oversees its facility and all homeowner business. Charbonneau homeowners are not necessarily share owners or golf club members.
"Technically speaking, it's premature to talk about the merger because we haven't gotten all of the facts yet. We know we would like to do it. We know it makes all the sense in the world, but until we get all the details done we can't say we're doing it for sure," Brouilette said.
According to Brouilette and CCC President Kathy Harp, the merger would allow the two sides that have been largely separate to work together for the benefit of the Charbonneau community.
With greater cooperation, they say, they could leverage a new clubhouse annex, which was purchased in 2018 for $620,000 and hasn't been renovated, into hosting more large-scale events like weddings and golf tournaments and thus bring more revenue to Charbonneau. They also highlighted the golf club's recent agreement to construct a solid cover over a patio area at the CCC property that will allow for events to be held there during rainy seasons.
"The obstacle before was we looked at each other as two separate entities," CCC Manager Jim Meierotto said. "We're setting up processes to make it easier for scheduling and availability and coordination."
Harp said the merger also would allow CCC to host more events on the golf course property, which is 105 acres.
"We're definitely going to do some planning to include the fact that it now belongs to the community, and the community should have events on it that the entire community is invited to," she said.
Options for ownership structure mentioned by Brouillette and Harp include the country club becoming a for-profit business alongside the golf club — or the golf club becoming a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit country club. Currently, CCC is limited by how much money it can bring in outside of homeowner dues because of its nonprofit tax-exempt status.
"Right now we're not taxable. We're a 528 (tax status). That means we can put money (from dues) into our reserves-not-taxed. That safe harbor is a really valuable thing to us," Meierotto said. "If we were to go for profit, we would need to be able to make enough money to offset that tax burden."
Brouilette has heard the perception among some residents that the merger is a way to keep the golf club financially solvent. And the club did sell its 7-acre driving range to a developer to bank some extra cash in 2016. But he denies the assertion that the golf club is struggling financially.
Brouilette said the club has implemented cost-cutting measures that reduced its budget by $100,000 last year and that he has "high seven figures in the bank to keep this golf course going for a long time." The golf club is not required to disclose financial information, so the Spokesman was unable to verify the information from Brouilette.
"You have a lot of people out here beating their drums, 'Oh they just want to raise our assessments.' No. I want to preserve your property values. That's why we're doing this. If down the road it keeps the golf course open, great, but that's not the purpose," he said.
Brouilette and Meierotto, though, acknowledged that the merger would allow for homeowner dues to subsidize the golf course if needed — and Meirotto said there is no limit to how much the dues can be raised.
"If we merge with the country club and should it be necessary sometime down the road to subsidize the golf course, they would be in a position to do that. We wouldn't expect that to happen," Brouilette said.
Harp said that because of the high turnover in Charbonneau, the people who might have to subsidize the golf course likely would not include many current residents. In the meantime, she said dues will increase to fund the clubhouse expansion.
"Definitely the expansion will affect dues somewhat, and we've been really honest with them about the fact that we're predicting as much as $23 a month (increase) possibly. It depends on the loan (they receive to fund the project) and how long we get it for, but we also reminded them that due to the turnover here in Charbonneau, the majority of people who are going to pay for that loan don't even live here yet," Harp said.
Charbonneau resident Terri Ogan, who says she has a golf club share, is skeptical that the merger would not result in homeowner due increases, citing the myriad courses in similar planned developments that have gone under in recent years.
And in a letter she sent to the Charbonneau Villager, which is owned by CCC and published by Pamplin Media Group, Ogan cited an article in the Wall Street Journal about declining property values in communities with golf courses, dues being increased to subsidize golf clubs, and golf club membership becoming a more common requirement for buying a home in such a community.
Ogan is also bothered by what she says is a lack of transparency by the country club and golf club about the details of the merger.
"I've gone over two years' worth of CCC board minutes and I've read very little about concerns or thoughts for those who are opposed to this project," she wrote in a letter to the CCC Board. "Few financial details have been shared with the community. I've been told by the General Manager that the board is within its legal rights to make this decision, without a vote of the Charbonneau community. I disagree. We elected the board to work on behalf of us, their decisions now, with this large of an expenditure, will cost us now
and possibly more in the future."
Brouillette posited that similar golf courses in planned communities have shuttered because of a lack of support from the local country club and that the current situation where the golf club and country club are separate is uncommon. He also said that based on information he has gleaned from Realtors, the golf course props up property values by 10% to 20%.
"We are not supported with any dues, from any of the moneys that come in to CCC, from any property owner. All the golf course support comes from revenues that go into the golf course," Brouillette said. "Golf courses that fall apart across the country fall apart because they're not supported."
The country club released a survey to residents that asked them their thoughts on certain questions related to facility improvements. Meierotto said more than 700 residents completed the survey, but he did not provide a copy of the results because he said they weren't finalized.
However, he did provide the results from one question: 78% of respondents agreed that the value of their property is tied to the golf course. However, the survey did not ask about the potential merger.
Ogan attended a CCC meeting in early August with others opposed to the plan to share their reservations about
the merger and qualms about how the process is being handled.
"After talking to many people in my neighborhood and others in Charbonneau, it's become clear that the residents didn't understand the financial ramifications of the Golf Club merger and the Country Club Expansion. We're asking the board to "slow down! The board has a fiduciary responsibility to ALL of the Charbonneau Community, not just the people who play golf and use the Clubhouse for their social outlet," Ogan wrote. "In my opinion, the process has been leaning toward the pro-expansion residents, with little or no thought given to the residents that have concerns about the costs of this project."
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