The St. Paul City Council voted 4-3 this week to turn over operations of two of its four public golf courses to Prom Management Group, a family-owned business based in Oakdale. That’s the short story.
The larger story, one that’s been playing out across the country, is the ongoing struggle pitting amenities that cities have traditionally provided residents against the unforgiving demands of drum-tight budgets.
“There’s just been too much money going into this program relative to its benefits,” said Council Member Russ Stark, who voted for the Prom deal.
“This is one more way that the city is passing on the responsibilities that we have to our customers,” said Council Member Dave Thune, who didn’t.
City officials say that as golf’s popularity has waned, St. Paul’s four public courses have racked up a $7 million deficit in the last decade, which threatened the city’s top-drawer credit rating.
Their solution: hand over the Phalen and Como courses to a private vendor that would reap most of the benefits and absorb the losses, while keeping the courses under city ownership (the Highland courses will continue to be run by the city owing to financing restrictions).
The five-year contract approved by the council this week appears to protect residents against heavy-handed management. Prom must report regularly to the city and can’t raise course fees without the council’s say-so. The agreement will save St. Paul an estimated $400,000 annually. But it also means layoffs for three supervisors and 10 seasonal employees and reassignment to other golf or parks jobs for up to 20 full-time unionized employees.
Thune thinks Prom can’t possibly make money without cutting pay. Council Member Amy Brendmoen, on the other hand, called the contract “good and strong” and said she guessed Prom will make its money on food and beverage sales.
Clearly torn, new Council Member Dai Thao voted for the deal in hopes that the savings would bolster programs for kids. “Let it be a place for us … to do better for our city and our kids with the limited resources that we have,” he said.