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Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she wants to explore setting up a special taxing district to fund operations of the financially troubled golf course along the North Shore Channel.

At a Evanston Human Services Committee meeting Monday night, Fiske said the new taxing district could be formed to include both Evanston and Wilmette — the two towns that the golf course spans.

“For a lot or reasons, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Fiske said, noting that she already lives within and pays taxes to the Lighthouse Park District, one of two districts in the city that operate independently of the city’s recreation department.

“The golf course serves all of us,” Fiske said. “It’s a wonderful resource and I’d like to find a way to put it on a firm footing now and in the future.”

She said she’d asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to explore how such a park district might be established.

Meanwhile, Perry Weinberg, the new president of the Evanston-Wilmette Community Golf Association, the non-profit that operates the course on land leased from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District by the two municipalities, said the association is on the verge of settling a lawsuit filed last year by two board members.

Golf Association President Perry Weinberg.

And Weinberg says the association has managed to come up with the money to pay half of its unpaid debt to the municipalities for water used to irrigate the course.

He said the association, which has struggled to find a full complement of board members in recent years, has now lined up 22 candidates for board seats at a meeting to be held on Jan. 24.

And he said the board is in the process of setting up strict new financial controls, which, along with the expected settlement of the lawsuit, should help with fundraising for the course this year.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, thanked Weinberg for the progress on resolving the golf association’s problems, and said she’s been working with association members and MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore to determine whether the course could safely pump irrigation water from the North Shore Channel to reduce the amount it needs to buy from the municipalities.

The committee asked Bobkiewicz to prepare a new agreement further extending the time granted the golf association to pay off the rest of the overdue water bill.

Related document

Golf course 2013 plan

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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22 Comments

  1. Proposed golf course tax

    Is she insane? This is a good example of top wage earners not paying their own way and expecting the 99%rs to pay more. How about increasing dues or seeking (their favorite, tax-free) donations from those who actually use the golf course and not burdening others (non-users of the golf course) with an unnecessary tax burden?

    1. 1% versus 99%

      Not to interfere with your political rant, but the overwhelming majority of people using that golf course are not exactly the upper crust of society. The course is a dump and I've even seen people wearing jean shorts there.

      Add in the people just randomly walking their dogs on the course, the nonpayers just jumping on wherever and the cyclists just cruising through and the place is a pretty bad experience. Unless they could actually run it like a real golf course with limited access (which they can't) the place will always be a subpar facility.

      1. For real?

        OMG. You have "even seen people wearing jean shorts there." Definitely, a low class place… Are such comments for real?

        Tax monies should not subsidize a very inefficient association — this . The Evanston-Wilmette Community Golf Association should be kicked out and it should pay what it owes in water.

  2. No more gifts

    In no manner or form should the taxpayers be paying for the golf course, its management or water/other bills.

    Those managing it do not even take the simplist measures to obtain the possible fee revenue available.  People come on to the course away from the starting tee—clearly to avoid paying the fees.  In all my years jogging along the course, I've never seen anyone checking that the players have paid their fee.

    The course should pay for itself or not exist.  The public should not pay for the sport of the very few.

    This is how the city has come to the sad shape it has—paying for every alderman and other parties special interest.

  3. What about shutting golfing and keeping the open space?

    If you look at their proposed 2013 budget, about half of it is dedicated to golf operations–as opposed to the simple maintaining of open space.  

    The National Golf Foundation studies golfing trends and over the past decade there has been a nationwide decline in golfing.  It is expensive and time consuming and declining in popularity with young people.

    You can find the report here: http://www.ngf.org/pages/free-reports

    Last year nationwide there was a 2.5% decrease in golfing rounds played.  In the Chicago metro area that decline was 7%

    It goes without saying that the open space component of the course should be protected.  But taxpayer support for the golf operations is not necessary for the protection of open space.

    A better solution would be for the city to work out an arrangement with MWRD to incorporate the land (in Evanston) into our parks system and maintain the area as passive or low-impact green space.

    You could expand the parking opportunities during NU games for more revenue while offering the space for multiple uses–dog walking, jogging, community gardening, frisbie, etc…

    You would not need the large scale irrigation which got the Golf Association into the problem in the first place.

    If the taxpayers take over the space as Fiske suggests, then it should be managed for multiple uses as opposed to golf.

    Golf has a limited long-term future and should be left to the private sector to meet declining demand.  By no means should the taxpayers fund their nearly $1 million capital improvement plan.

    The golf course board either needs to raise fees & cut expenses or get out of the game and let the community turn the space into something more inclusive.

  4. Serves us all?

    Maybe all you golfers Judy, but not all taxpayers play golf and don't want to support a failing business!

  5. Not one thin dime.

    The golf course is too big to fail? Really? Let it fail like we should've allowed all failures to fail. Enough already.

  6. Wha?

    I have nothing against golf, but I have never set foot on a golf course in my life. Serves us all? We pay enough in taxes already without footing the bill for the amusement of a few.

  7. Don’t speak for all golfers

    This golfer does not want this golf course to remain open. If you can even call it a golf course.  The condition of this course is terrible and I live in Evanston, but never play there for this reason. In addition to the course condition, the cost to play there is unreasonable for the layout and condition of the course. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses.

  8. Change it or close it

    This golf course is a mess and has been that way for at least 40 years. One of three things should be done with it:

    1. Make it into a good 9 hole coarse and use the unused land for other purposes.
    2. Use the entire track of land for other purposes.
    3. Give it back to the MWRD and let that taxing body worry about it.

    Don't make it a burden on taxpayers.

  9. Again, where’s the data?

    "…serves us all." It does seem like a benchmark for jumping to conclusions without information to back it up.

    So, if we are to determine if this is a jump or contains some truth, who does it serve? How many people, and how often? From where?

    If it's a "wonderful resource" then I might think it provides something other than golf? The Evanston-Wilmette Community Golf Course Association 2013 Plan from the HSC agenda packet says that, "In the past, the Golf Course has participated in Evanston Park District-run youth training programs that had a diverse audience." This seems to be related to the 'wonderful resource' comment. But, ok, how long "in the past"? For how many years, how many kids, and what do you mean by 'diverse'?

    And is it providing a golf course all that well? I'm not going to pretend that I know a thing about the game, but a previous golfer comment seems to disagree that it is someplace to seriously play the sport. In the 2013 Plan it states, "This past golfing season, we did receive a lot of positive feedback on the conditions and hope to do even better this coming year." What was the positive feedback? From whom? Was there also other non-positive feedback? Can we have a third party verify the course's value as a golf course? And can the course pay for that as part of their capitol improvements?

    Claims made all around, but again this town provides not a visible piece of data to back it up.

     

     

  10. No More Taxes

    We have enough taxes here in Evanston without Alderman Fiske proposing a golf tax be added as well. This is a good example of Ald. Fiske looking after her buddies and not after the welfare of the community. 

  11. The golf course is ALREADY getting a sweet deal from taxpayers

    Let us remember that the Metropolitan Water District who owns the land and leases it to the Golf Association–a PRIVATE, non-profit organization–IS A MUNICIPAL TAXING BODY.

    Look at your property tax bill and you will see a line going to the MWD.

    If you read the link in the story, you will see that the golf association's deal with the MWD seems to involve no real rent other than 25% of any non-golf related revenue.

    So something like rent for parking during NU games would constitute non-golf related revenue, yet they haven't paid the taxpayers their fair share or parking revenue for a number of years. and now have the audacity to get the MWD to strike that term from their lease.

    This is AN EXTREMELY SWEET DEAL that the golf course gets from MWD taxpayers: free rent and thumbing their noses at paying what little they are required under the lease.

    As a point of comparison: in Evanston, if my non-profit organization wants to tie up public land for a picnic, we have to pay $100 + $100 security deposit.  We also can't engage in any commercial activity while we control the space.

    The golf course, on the other hand, pays nothing to the MWD and makes $200,000/per year renting out MWD land to golfers while excluding other users from this publicly-owned space.

    The pressure should be put on Debra Shore to terminate the lease with the golf association.  They are deadbeats and monopolizing publicaly-owned land.  

    1. Get a clue

      The sweet deal is comparable to those in place with numerous other park districts throughout Cook County. The MWRD has made a conscious effort to make many of its vacant properties available for recreational purposes on relaxed terms.

      Obviously, you do not get out too often or you would be familiar with the nearby Skokie sculpture park and numerous other properties that the MWRD makes available for public use. The fact that you do not play golf does not give you license to fault the MWRD for making this one particular tract open to golfers. It is hardly a private country club catering to the wealthy.

      1. The golf course is not ‘public’ space

        There is a fundamental difference between the golf course and the Skokie sculpture park—anyone can access the latter without cost and it serves multiple use.

        The golf course is tying up space for a small and dwindling number of users and the non profit organization running the course brings in thousands of dollars a year and they don't even meet their obligation to the MWRD under the terms of their lease.

        No one is denying that the MWRD can or should make arrangements on "relaxed terms" for use of their land.

        The problem is that this deal is with a horribly incompetent organization which is tying up land for a single use–a highly specialized use that is declining in popularity. 

        Combine mismanagement and a poor market and we need to question whether this is the type of deal that serves taxpayers.

        It clearly isn't.

  12. Fiske’s plan is nuts–but there is actually a silver lining

    I totally oppose setting up another taxing district.  In fact, the Lighthouse District and Ridgeville really should be abolished and their land and management should be absorbed by the city.

    But one advantage to having a taxing body like Fiske proposes is that it would require an elected board of trustees to set policy for managing the place.

    If you look at the lawsuit you will see that the plaintiffs alleged massive mismanagement and lack of transparency.  It would be a lot harder to get away with that sort of stuff if it were a public body.

    Secondly, the elected body could respond to the interests of the citizens and shift investment priority in the district.  The golf course has seen a decline in use over the past few years and national trends in golfing are not positive.

    An elected body could sideline golfing and make the place a large passive-use park.

    There is the matter of the lease between MWRD and the City.  It expires in 2032 and mandates that golfing be accommodated on the land.  The City–I assume–has an arrangement with the Golf Association to run the course.

    How all those relationships would be resolved with the introduction of a new taxing district is unclear.

    The best course of action for the community would be for the Golf Association to continue its descent into insolvency and then have the city and the MWRD renegotiate the lease getting rid of golf on the property.

     

     

    1. Elected board not always required

      Not all taxing districts require an elected board.  There are plenty of taxing districts without "elected" but rather appointed boards, including the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District.  I believe, but am not certain, that boards like Fire Protection Districts and Special Lighting Districts also have appointed boards.  Special Service [Taxing] Areas generally have no board, appointed or otherwise.

      1. Fiske was calling for a new park district

        The article states that Ald. Fiske wants a new park district, which according to Illinois municipal law would have to be governed by an elected board of commissioners, like Ridgeville or Lighthouse.

        It is true that some taxing districts rely on appointed boards, but park districts are explicitly required to have elections. 

    2. National trends in golfing

      "national trends in golfing are not positive."

      Where did this statistic come from. Malarkey.

      Passive use- we have plenty of that already.

      How about good constructive use for a change-with good management.

      The gold course has trended down because the upkeep is expensive- and golfers have many options for nice local courses. Guess what- proximity would fill that course up every night of the week if the greens alone were in good shape.

      1. Golf stats from National Golf Foundation

        Look at the link in the other comment:

        http://www.ngf.org/pages/free-reports

        The latest "Rounds Played Report" from the National Golf Foundation found a 7% decrease in rounds played in the Chicago area.

        Also, if you look at the lawsuit mentioned in the article it indicates that rounds have declined at the Evanston-Wilmette course in particular.  Point 48 from the lawsuit says "fewer and fewer golfers patronized the course in 2009, 2010, 2011."

        I would support the golf course if it a) fulfills its part of the lease with the taxpayers of the MWRD by giving us the money that is owed for revenue from non-golf operations, b) pays back the City of Evanston with interest the outstanding balance of their water bill,  c) they stop looking to the MWRD and municipalities for handouts and d) they operate the golf course under a solvent model, meaning they balance costs with revenues.

        Then in 2032 the lease should be terminated so the space can be used more to the benefit of the community instead of a declining slice of the population.

  13. Is this how aldermen spend their time?

    The aldermen certaintly don't spend their time trying to improve business or reduce crime.

    So how do they spend their time ?   This joke of an idea about the golf course shows it must be dreaming up ways to spend the taxpayer money and get their names in the papers.

    Brainstorming ideas is good, but then you have to filter them through common sense, budgets, priorities, etc..

    Clearly the aldermen have no personal 'filter' and don't ask others to filter them [including other alderment or taxpayers].  No they just blurt them out and taxpayers have to spend time and money to stop them.

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