In October 2017, the City of Liberty Lake received a risk assessment summary which stated, “The city has a high liability exposure for this driving range with the number of golf balls being hit over/through the fencing.” The report also indicated that there would be a follow-up within 45 (forty-five) days to verify that the issue had been remedied.
Limiting liability by raising the nets around the course and range was estimated at around $1.5 million. In addition, the City was also considering an upgrade to the golf course irrigation system. The irrigation system was upgraded at a total cost of about $1.3 million, but the nets remain the same height.
At the time, there was some urgency to the issue, but seems that the insurance provider is willing to accept the risk while the community figures out a solution.
City Council is exploring options for additional improvements to the driving range, course, and facility. Last month, they spent about 40 minutes discussing a need vs. want list and contemplating how they would proceed with this process.
Here is a rough summary of that meeting broken down by participant:
Scott Bernhard, City Engineer
Scott presented a list of the “must have” vs. “nice to have” options. Here is a rough outline of that list:
- Pro shop
- Banquet/Meeting Room
- Putting Green
- Driving Range
- Business Plan
- Deck or outside eating area
- View restaurant
- Reconfigure course to have signature hole (example: tee pad on property on other side of Liberty Lake Rd)
- New driving range net
- Golf cart charging station
- Replace with course Top Golf building
- New facility or fix up old
- Golf cart repair shop
- More putting – Putting Course
- Indoor Simulators
After this list has been refined, they would go out with an RFQ for a consultant who has experience with similar project requirements.
Some of the criteria will come from a citizen committee and the RFQ will be prepared from that.
Review of the current Trailhead building is underway, but not yet complete.
Some of the known issues are:
- Some ADA issues
- Nets not perfect
- Deck structure issues
- Banquet/meeting room is marginal
- HVAC issues
- Building is “tired”
- Might need more parking
Cris Kaminskas, Council Member
- Patio is closer to must have
- New net is needed
- New facility depends on evaluation
Dan Dunne, Council Member
- Agrees outdoor seating must have
- Putting course on natural grass for families would be nice (not mini golf)
Odin Langford, Council Member
- Why isn’t the net a must have? Answer: it is functional, but might have some upcoming repairs
- Need more info about costs to decide
- What is Top Golf?
- What is signature hole?
- Many must haves cover the like to haves as the person you choose will have the skills to perform both
- Doesn’t think charging station is needed
- If anyone was looking to hire an expert, you would look for experienced person
Steve Peterson, Mayor
- Top Golf defined for those who don’t know (Gazette provided link: https://topgolf.com/us/)
- Who would run Top Golf? How would money flow?
- Revenue from sales tax and developed by Top Golf – not in golf business
- Would need a lot of parking
- Nets – estimates net heights are 185 ft
- $1.7 mil for netting estimate
- Last 2 or 3 years talking about it and need to define why we are doing this
- How much money do we want to put at this? We don’t know exactly.
- Council can discuss, but is it market driven? What does the market want?
- Council and Mayor want citizen input; trying to moving forward
- Ask for RFPs to choose from
- Ask the citizens what they want
- Next action, need somebody to put this together
Mike Kennedy, Council Member
- Reminded that the net was reviewed last year and nets already were determined to be deteriorated
- Jan presentation was made and committee interest list was formed and the volunteers have yet to be contacted. Slow molasses movement.
- Process is still open but need input during RFQ process
- Scott agreed to follow-up but was waiting for more direction and Harvard Rd has taken front row
- Is project plan still valid?
Shane Brickner, Mayor Pro Tem
- Agrees with Odin… premature as we need to assess the building first
- Too early to weigh on like to haves
- “The why” is on the must have list – That is the driving direction
- Don’t know if a building is feasible
Katy Allen, City Administrator
- Need to find clear direction before hiring a consultant so we can get best result from them. Premature on the building side and should get info in a couple weeks.
- Need a business plan for operation associated with anything we do.
Bob Moore , Council Member
- Boring course at Trailhead
- Played many courses and signature hole and water feature would be nice since we have new irrigation system.
- Don’t rule out someone else to develop the property – joint venture or selling of property if in the best interest of community
- We already have a course, how to enhance the existing facilities. Is there a better way to develop that and do it more effectively?
- Like Mayor, demand driven is important. Need expertise for options on how it should be developed.
Listen to the whole conversation in this video; for 40 minutes of excitement.
(estimated time 1:19:00 to 1:58:00)
(analysis and opinion)
As we learned in $1.5 Million: Nothin’ But Net last week, a bid was received to replace and extend the netting around the driving range at Trailhead Golf Course. This got me thinking about the value of $1,500,000 and what you can buy with it. I was not thinking about what the city could buy. Instead, I was thinking about what could be built and sold at retail for that amount.
The more I looked, the more it amazed me how the installation of some poles, netting, and fencing could equal the amount of an entire 6,000 sq ft finished home. Or, that the proposed amount to enclose the driving range is equal to the retail cost of 26 brand new Mercedes.
Take a look at what you can buy for $1.5 million.
Before more hate mail comes in, please remember this is not a campaign to close the golf course or the driving range. It is a reminder to pay attention to government spending and ask that city council spends responsibly.
Based on the title one might think that I have my sports jargon mixed up. However, this story is about golf. Specifically, it is about a proposal for $1.5 million to replace and extend the netting which surrounds the driving range in Liberty Lake.
Lets start with some background and numbers
The City of Liberty Lake owns and operates Trailhead golf course. Opened in 1973, the course was acquired by the City about 15 years ago to provide recreation to the residents and preserve the open space. According to the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, it appears the golf course will profit about $30,000*.
It is interesting to note the Facilities – Outside Labor & Materials, Golf-other Improvements, Golf-Furniture, Computers&Equip, Golf Cars – Furniture, Computers& Equip expenses are estimated at zero for 2018. Most of these expenses had balances in previous years. Golf-Other Improvements expense had a cost of $30,000 in 2017 and includes a note which states, “Waiting on Irrigation Estimate”. The cost for the irrigation is expected to come in between $850,000 and $1.2 million.
Now lets talk about nets
The net surrounding the driving range has been described as too short for the distance of the range and too short on the sides. This means it is possible for golf balls to travel outside the perimeter of the range.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal. So what if a golf ball breaks a window, dents a car, or damages any property? The percentage of property damage in relation to the number of balls hit each day barely registers. Many times the balls hit City-owned buildings. Costs for repairing the potential damage is relatively very low. A drop in the bucket of the City’s overall budget.
Unfortunately, it is possible (still unlikely) that there could be personal injury from a ball leaving the perimeter of the range. The current liability insurance provider is not willing to assume this level of risk and would like to have the risk mitigated. Costs associated with potential litigation and personal injury could bankrupt a city the size of Liberty Lake.
The city has a high liability exposure for this driving range with the number of golf balls being hit over/through the fencing. It is only a matter of time before someone gets hit by a golf ball causing serious injury or death. We recommend following the recommendations by the specialist you are working with concerning these items, including his recommendations regarding the metal poles and the height of the netting. We highly recommend the City begin the process of budgeting for these repairs in the near future.
The report goes on to state, “There will be a follow-up within 45 (forty-five) days to ensure that items identified in this report have been corrected.”
In order to limit liability, one solution is to raise the nets around the perimeter of the driving range. Seems like a simple and straight forward solution. Like most improvement projects, it is not that simple.
To accommodate the required height, the poles supporting the net would need to be replaced with metal poles versus the current wood poles. The estimated base cost for this is $1,370,600 plus sales tax and options which easily bring this project to over $1.5 million.
Back to the numbers
Liberty Lake is considering the solution of spending $1.5 million on the driving range nets and between $850,000 and $1.2 million on the golf irrigation this year. Neither expenditure increases revenue or provides a service that doesn’t already exist. Just limiting the liability and replacing the irrigation system would total over $2.5 million dollars.
- Law Enforcement: $2.2 Million
- Library: $505,000
- Streets Operations: $1.1 Million
- Operating Revenue: $7.6 Million
- General Expenditures: $9.1 Million
Imagine you own a lemonade stand. You sold $900 per year in cookies at your stand. Because you have good cookies customers also buy $2,200 per year in lemonade and $500 in bottled water. Then imagine the health department comes by and tells you you have to spend $15,000 to upgrade your oven to avoid someone getting sick on your cookies. It doesn’t change the flavor or add any benefit to your productivity or sales, but is required if you want to keep selling cookies.
Would you keep selling cookies knowing that it would take over 16 years of selling cookies to earn that much in cookie revenue (not profit) to pay for the new oven?
Or, would you shut down your cookie operation and look for a more profitable product to compliment your lemonade and bottled water?
These are the type of questions city councilmembers have to answer.
The driving range (cookies) will bring in about $90,000 in fees this year. Green fees and season passes (lemonade) should bring in about $220,000 this year. The pro shop (bottled water) is expected to sell $50,000 in 2018. A cost for the new driving range net (oven) is expected to be $1,500,000. It would take over 16 years of driving range fees just to pay for the net assuming you had no other direct expenses or capital expenditures and did not borrow money with interest to make the purchase.
Are there other, less expensive solutions?
City Council is holding a special meeting on December 12, 2017 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m to help answer this question. The meeting will be a workshop for Council to better understand their options. The meeting is open to the public. It is my understanding that public comment will be minimal as this meeting’s purpose is to allow the Council to discuss, better understand the issue, and work on solutions.
Keep in mind you may always contact councilmembers to share your opinion or ideas. Here is a link to their contact info: http://www.libertylakewa.gov/184/City-Council
Some of the things they are likely to discuss at the special meeting:
- Does the entire perimeter need to be rebuilt from the ground up?
- Is there a different insurance underwriter who would assume the current risk?
- Could the projected be done in phases over a number of years?
- Is it worth $1.5 million so that a few residents can practice their swing?
- Could the current nets be moved closer so they don’t need to be as tall?
- Should we get more than one bid?
- Does the city need a driving range?
- Should the prices for all golf services be increased?
- Are there other capital improvements which could benefit from $1.5 million and provide a benefit to residents?
Resident and councilmember-elect, Mike Kennedy, has two main questions he would like to have answered before making a recommendation. They are:
1. Do we (Liberty Lake) want to be in the golf course business?
2. If yes, what are the costs?
As a taxpayer and/or golfer, what are thoughts?
*Removed Unreserved Beginning Cash/Investments and Unreserved Ending Cash/Investments to arrive at $530,515 income minus $502,714 in expenses. Total is $27,801.