Staff Editorial

Keeping Jones open makes no fiscal sense

A groundskeeper mows the course at Jones Golf Course in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. The course is partially under water due to flooding of Prairie Creek and the Cedar River. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A groundskeeper mows the course at Jones Golf Course in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. The course is partially under water due to flooding of Prairie Creek and the Cedar River. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

City leaders will be asking local residents to pay higher property taxes over the next 10 years to help pay for critical permanent flood protection measures. It’s a course of action that will put fiscal responsibility under an intense spotlight.

With that in mind, it’s tough to see how repeatedly repairing a flood-prone Jones Golf Course makes budgetary sense.

Each time Prairie Creek rises from its banks and floods Jones’ back nine holes, the city spends $15,000 to $20,000 repairing the course, not counting lost golf revenues. A city report found that Jones experienced 25 such flood events between 2001 and 2016. Again, this month, the back nine flooded.

Those frequent costs are cast against the backdrop of a city golf department that’s been losing money for years. Operating loses averaged $342,000 each year from 2013-2015. Over five years the department lost $1.1 million, with Jones responsible for $803,719. Property taxes are being tapped to cover losses.

In December 2016, city staff analyzing the situation recommended Jones’ closure. But a reluctant City Council heading into an election year didn’t take the advice.

We believe closure was the right recommendation, especially now as the city prepares to raise its property tax rate for the first time in a decade.

We concede, closing any city facility is a tough call, especially one that’s been serving golfers since 1959. And it’s true that cost-saving measures have sliced annual golf deficits.

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But it’s also true that fewer people are golfing. Rounds played on city courses have slipped 30 percent since 2006. So more cost-cutting measures will be necessary in the future to keep the golf department’s budget balanced.

More frequent heavy rain events that have repeatedly pushed the Cedar River from its banks also will soak Jones more often. The cost of repairs will continue to add up.

We agree golf is an important recreational amenity. Closing Jones still leaves the city with three quality municipal golf courses at Ellis, Twin Pines and Gardner. That’s the same number of golf courses operated by the city of Des Moines.

Jones can be converted into other recreational uses. And its closure would be a clear sign that the city understands raising taxes also raises the stakes on all city spending decisions.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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