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Rochester golf funding plan tees off

Rochester Park Board backs proposal to increase fees while seeking steady commitment of property tax revenue for golf course operations and improvements.

Rochester City Golf Courses
Eastwood Golf Club on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A proposal aimed at securing $500,000 for added golf operations and improvements by 2025 is headed to the Rochester City Council.

The Rochester Park Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to recommend a plan that calls for increasing fees to generate $250,000 in revenue beyond operating expenses of the city’s four golf courses, while also securing $250,000 in annual tax revenue.

“We are pursuing to maintain all four courses at this time,” Park and Recreation Director Paul Widman told the Park Board in presenting the plan.

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Park Board member Marty Cormack voiced the sole opposing vote among the members present, citing concerns about asking the City Council to commit $250,000 in property tax revenue to the golf program.

He said residents have reached out, asking how the plan would affect their future property tax bills.

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“I can’t tell these folks who have concerns how that tax levy will impact them,” Cormack said.

Widman said during the 90-minute discussion that property tax revenue used for golf operations and improvements in recent years has averaged $300,000, with peaks in years that major improvements have occurred.

He said the goal is to level out the tax contributions to provide a fund to secure golf operations and facilities.

Additionally, he pointed out any tax commitment will need to be revisited each year.

“The council would not be bound by that because the budget is set every year,” he said, pointing out the first year for the request would be the 2024 budget, since plans for 2023 are set.

The current 2023 budget recommendation includes as much as $266,000 in property taxes could be committed to golf operations, as well as $80,000 for course improvements.

This year, $158,000 in tax funding was budgeted for golf operations, but only $26,000 was needed through October.

The city’s golf operations generated nearly $1.33 million during the first 10 months of the year, while expenses reached $1.35 million.

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Since 2014, annual tax needs for operations have ranged from nearly $350,000 in 2019 to nothing in 2021, when operating revenue exceeded expenses.

Park Board member Dick Dale said he’s more concerned about the proposed 10% increase on green fees, for golfers who play by the day.

“It’s not a major concern, but it’s something I think we should look at down the road,” he said. ”We don’t want to make people not be able to pay and play.”

Widman said the increase is more than has been suggested by golf groups, and Jeff Gorman, the golf pro overseeing city operations, advised against it, but it was also an effort to address increasing costs and level out the increases.

The plan calls for a 20% increase on seasonal passes next year, followed by 14% and 12% increases the following years before hitting an annual 3% increase to cover anticipated inflation.

The plan would start generating $250,000 in added revenue in 2025, if golf participation meets expectations based on averages from the past five years.

Again, Widman said the plan isn’t set in stone, since participation could fluctuate and point to adjusting the fee increases.

“We are going to take this year by year,” he said.

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While community engagement efforts in recent months led the city’s Parks and Recreation staff to propose keeping all four golf courses in operation, a pair of surveys conducted in September and October didn’t point to a clear funding option.

“There is no clear mandate,” said Peter Leatherman of The Morris Leatherman Co., which the city hired to conduct a phone survey.

The survey of 400 random residents and 206 municipal golfers showed 22% of overall respondents preferred the approach of combining fee and tax increases, while 30% favored putting all the cost on green fees and 23% didn’t like any options presented.

When golfers were divided out, 33% favored a combined fees and taxes approach, 29% favored using tax revenue to cover all costs, and 26% said fee increases should pay the expenses.

When asked about closing a golf course, only 3% of the overall respondents and 1% of the golfers said they supported that option.

The Park Board recommendation, along with the survey results, are slated to be presented to the Rochester City Council during a Nov. 28 study session.


What happened: The Rochester Park Board approved a recommendation that would raise golf fees and seek to dedicate property tax revenue for a combined $500,000 a year to fund municipal golf operations and improvements.

Why does this matter: The Rochester City Council asked the board to make a recommendation to optimize operations at the city's four public courses. Options included increasing revenue, changing golf courses or maintaining the status quo.

What's next: The Rochester City Council will be updated on the proposal during a Nov. 28 study session.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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