Shortage of funding, water, could force closure of Oak Knoll Golf Course
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission is prepared to make between 5 and 10% cuts to its park services budget, as directed by Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard.
Commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday evening to accept a list of areas where the Commission Director Michael Black could suggest cuts. The proposed cuts are in response to a memo sent by Lessard to city department heads calling for budget cut plans to be submitted by Friday, April 15.
The next several months will present some challenging decisions for the Parks & Recreation Commission due to financial and drought-related woes.
“We’re looking at forced reductions in general fund revenue, which will cause us to have to cut all over the place,” Black said, in a followup interview with Ashland.news on Thursday, “and then … we’re looking at a golf course (Oak Knoll) that we don’t have the money to water, so if there’s no water available, if TID’s not available, I don’t see how the golf course can be sustainable through the summer.”
Black told commissioners Wednesday evening that he sees the potential to cut $175,000, or 5%, of the commission’s $3.5 million budget through a combination of cutting materials and services, including but not limited to: reducing vehicle replacement by one-quarter, consulting fees, training, office supplies and rentable spaces, including Pioneer Hall.
Black said it’s uncertain if Pioneer Hall, which costs APRC approximately $25,000 per year to operate, will accumulate enough revenue this year. He sees APRC moving away from managing the building as a potential way to cut costs.
“The other area that we can cut is in personnel,” Black said.
The city is currently in a hiring freeze, so Black suggested identifying which positions could be absorbed by other positions, as a possibility for cost savings.
If APRC needs to cut 10%, the Commission would need to cut $350,000. These cuts would include potential cuts already mentioned, in addition to reducing staff by upwards of one full-time employee and/or severely reducing the number of temporary employees, as well as some furloughs of upper level employees and/or a suspension of cost-of-living expenses for management level employees.
The North Mountain Nature Center, Daniel Meyer Pool, Oak Knoll Golf Course and the Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink use numerous temporary employees to operate.
Commission Chair Rick Landt emphasized that, while Lessard is asking for the information, it’s up to Ashland City Council to make any definitive changes.
“We don’t know if it’s 5 or 8 or 10%,” Black said. “We do know that there will be a need to make some cuts based on reductions in revenue.”
Black said he’s hoping that cuts don’t end up being 10%.
“This is really an exercise so that we can show that we have the ability to cut the necessary cuts, based on what the revenue reductions are going to be, so that we’re not sitting here again hoping for the best, and not planning for the worst,” Black said.
While commissioners were split on the vote, Landt emphasized the majority supported the motion to accept the possible cuts.
“It’s just not the right time to be giving a bunch of detail on the exact cuts we’re going to make when we don’t even know how much we have to cut,” Black said.
“When we find out how much the cut actually is, then I’ll be able to bring back line item detail and say, ‘this is how much I plan to take from here … and on down the list,” he added.
Oak Knoll update
Black said it’s likely not feasible to hire a longtime manager to replace Patrick Oropallo, whose last day at the course was March 31. A longtime golf course employee is serving in the role since Oropallo left his position.
“Just common sense, you don’t bring somebody on knowing you may have to let them go in a couple months,” Black said. “We’re up against a losing situation. Even the best (golf) pro can’t create their own water.”
Black said the commission still doesn’t know what the reality is in terms of the irrigation season and the impact on the golf course, though the future isn’t bright.
“We’re kind of waiting and seeing how things go,” Black said. “I think this weather is buying us some time. This is great weather, it’s keeping things really green right now and it’s really helping us out. But until we really know what the plan is with TID, I think we’re just kind of in a holding pattern.
Black said the course has a pond that can irrigate the golf course and is already full.
Rainwater has filled that up, and Black said the golf course can use that water to irrigate the greens for “I don’t know how long.”
Black said using the golf course pond for irrigation won’t cost the APRC any more money than “what we’ve already spent.”
While uncertainties remain, Black expressed optimism about being able to keep the course open to start out the summer.
“I’m not optimistic about the summer, though,” he said. “I think, overall, we’re still looking at a very dire situation and we may have to make some really hard choices.”
Eventually closing the golf course is among those possibilities, according to Black.
“I don’t know that we really will have much of an option,” Black said.
When asked if a 25-day irrigation season from TID would be enough to keep Oak Knoll open this summer, Black said it would not.
“It could keep us open until August,” Black said.
Black said last year the irrigation season was short and the majority of money was spent on watering.
“So I know what it takes to run the golf course with steady water and we don’t have what it takes,” Black said.
He also addressed concerns over using TID water when it will be so scarce this year, impacting many farms and orchards in the Rogue Valley.
“Even if we didn’t have the fiscal drought, and we had the money to pay for city water, will it be available, and is it the best use of that water to water the golf course?”
APRC’s Golf Course subcommittee meets next April 28, and Black anticipates members will make a recommendation to APRC at that time.
“We’re just trying to plan for the worst-case scenario so we don’t get in the situation where where we’re hoping for the best,” Black said. “I will use whatever resources we have to keep the golf course open as long as we can.”
Talent Irrigation District directors vote on their upcoming water delivery season at their next regular meeting in person at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the district office in Talent.
TID water is stored in Emigrant, Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes, which are currently at 13% capacity. The district usually provides water to Oak Knoll Golf Course, portions of Southern Oregon University and the city of Ashland, in addition to its Talent and Medford patrons.
Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at firstname.lastname@example.org.