County golf course contract renewal delayed

The Lycoming County commissioners will decide whether to renew a three-year contract with Billy Casper Golf for managing the White Deer Golf Complex next week, instead approving a motion to extend their deadline after intense discussion Thursday.

Comments from several community members before the vote proved that, while some see the golf course as an asset that improves the quality of life for county residents and others, they don’t necessarily agree that it makes it worth subsidizing with taxpayer dollars.

John Shireman, of Jersey Shore, said taxpayer dollars should not go toward the complex.

“It’s got to stand on its own,” he said.

Todd Lauer, also of Jersey Shore, took it a step further, saying the “golf course should be dumped as soon as possible.”

There are more projects that could use the funding to benefit all community members rather than just those with the financial means and an interest in golf, he said.

Larry Stout, of Clinton Township, saw things a little differently, instead pointing out that golf is an activity that brings people young and old together. He said, due to some physical impairment, it’s one of the few active games he can play with his grandchildren.

He also offered that Billy Casper has managed to improve the complex to the point that, despite such a rainy golf season, its revenue is nearly double what it was in 2017, year-to-date.

“I wonder how it is that there were more rounds that made less money than what they make now,” Stout said. “How many companies could lose a month’s worth of revenue and still break even? And they’re probably going to this year.”

“This was an anomaly year. When things are normal, they’re going to be making money,” he added. “I think it could be a revenue-producer.”

Sue Fullton, of Loyalsock Township, added that she agrees the golf course is an asset and would hate to see it go, but the funding that subsidizes it needs to be reflected in the budget for the public’s sake.

Jim Dunn, of Armstrong Township, recommended putting together a small committee to look into partnerships, new subsidies and other uses for the complex, to which the commissioners responded favorably.

“A small committee with some effective people … maybe we have a solution where we maintain our quality of life, but get the fiscal responsibility that I know all three of you are always very concerned about,” he said to the commissioners.

While considering what action to take on the matter, Commissioner Tony Mussare announced the Visitors Bureau has agreed to put up to $50,000 toward the golf course for 2019.

“They were gracious enough to say yes,” Mussare said. “That bides us another year without the taxpayers’ money.”

Combined with verbiage in the contract that allows the county to leave the contract at any time without a penalty, he and Commissioner Jack McKernan are willing to renew with Billy Casper.

“If they were to run and not make a profit next year, that then would trigger the ability for us to either terminate the agreement or Billy Casper Golf would write us a check to make up the difference,” McKernan said.

Before approval, however, the contract needs some work. Hence, the commissioners voted 2-1 to delay acting on the contract until next week after some questions and vague language have been cleared up.

“The contract is not in laymen’s terms,” Mussare said. “We need to tighten up the language in the contract, and there are some other issues that we want to address.”

If taxpayer dollars end up going toward the golf course in 2019, then he happily will look toward different solutions such as selling off parts of the complex, he said.

“When golf starts in March, they will have enough money to get started,” he said. “Once they get started, we watch the numbers.”

Commissioner Rick Mirabito, however, voted against pushing the contract deadline back.

The $50,000 commitment from the Visitors Bureau is based off an estimate from Billy Casper that the company will need a maximum of $60,000 to get through the slow winter months until rounds start to pick up again, usually in March.

“They’ve been needing more than $60,000 to keep going,” Mirabito said, adding the bureau’s contribution is a one-shot deal, not annual. “It’s $50,000 more than we had before, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

Further, if the county is going to renew, Mirabito feels the clause requiring the county to maintain a minimum of $50,000 in the bank for the golf course should be removed.

Whether the county keeps the course or not, the debt service owed isn’t going away.

“If we walk away from the golf course tomorrow, we’re still obligated to pay back the loans,” McKernan said.