2013-04-18 / News

Residents, councilors debate clubhouse

Taxpayer questions if lease with operator is profitable
By Margo Sullivan

The Town Council held a workshop Monday night to go over the plan and hear public comments on replacing the golf course building.

Council President Kristine Trocki said the town is about to obtain bids on the construction project and would incorporate resident suggestions into the building design. Trocki said the councilors do not yet know the actual cost to replace the clubhouse. The building has structural problems and could become a liability, she said.

Councilor Mary Meagher organized the workshop but was unable to attend due to an emergency. The council called on Planning Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury, a former chairman of the Building and Facilities Committee, to deliver the slideshow that Meagher had prepared. The slideshow summarized the 2011 structural report about the golf course building, Pendlebury said. The report said the building was unsafe due to problems with the foundation and roof.

“The existing stone rubble foundation is unsafe,” he said. Pendlebury referenced photographs showing interior columns “sitting up with no lateral support.” The slideshow also included several pictures of the roof.

“So we have some extenuating circumstances,” he said.

According to Pendlebury, renovation would cost $1.7 million, based on construction costs between $125 and $175 per square foot. Temporary space would be an additional cost.

However, the existing building is “basically a throw away.” The facilities committee had recommended a “replacement in kind.” According to Pendlebury, the golf course operator needs a building between 4,400 and 5,800 square feet for the clubhouse and storage.

The workshop preceded the regular Town Council meeting and was sparsely attended.

“Several people couldn’t make it,” Councilor Eugene Mihaly said, but verified some organizations are interested in the new building, including the community theater and community band.

“This really is a programmatic opportunity for the town,” he said, since the cost to add a second floor would be negligible. “I know people have ideas.”

However, some residents also questioned the cost.

Jerry Scott, president of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown, said the town has been losing money for years by leasing the property to the course operator. Scott said the lease was not priced correctly and argued Jamestown should be realizing an internal rate of return at about 12 percent on the lease.

Scott said the council should take a look at the investment’s history before it begins the design phase.

“I’m quite sure you’re going to see you lost money,” he said. “Golf courses are the riskiest class of real estate today. If we’re going to have a risky asset, we should get a 12 percent return on the lease. Can’t you do some projections?”

“The short answer is ‘yes,’” replied Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. He said the town would make adjustments when the lease is renegotiated. The current lease expires in 2016.

Scott also suggested the town should obtain a reliable building appraisal and said in the past the appraisals have been “way off base.”

Keiser said the town continues to conduct “a review of what options are available.” A new building potentially gives Jamestown opportunity to expand recreational programs for youth and adults, he said. He also mentioned the building could earn income as a venue for banquets and weddings.

The voters would have the final say, he indicated. “Obviously, those choices are made by the community,” he said.

Resident Donald Richardson questioned why the council wanted to replace the building. He argued repairs should be feasible and more affordable than new construction.

Richardson said he worked on four buildings, each over 250 years old, and all are still standing. He said it is unfair for the town to expect residents to pay for a new building after the town has failed to maintain the property.

“I’m 84,” Richardson said. “I had to go back to work.”

“We’re guarding your tax dollars,” said Trocki.

“No, you’re not,” Richardson shot back.

Trocki said the town will maintain the building. She also said Richardson has expressed the same views at other meetings, and it was time to move on.

“We’re not looking to do pie-inthe sky projects,” she said. “We’re not looking at this just in terms of the golf course.”

Trocki said the building is going to be replaced and the project would save money.

“We’re going to save taxpayers money because we’re looking at it as a whole, instead of just piecemeal,” she said.

“Where are you going to get the money?” Richardson said. He wanted to know if the town planned to borrow.

Yes, Keiser said, adding the town would go out to bond in 2015 and could “issue additional debt without raising taxes.” The reason debt cost wouldn’t increase is because school and library bonds will be retired the same year.

“Which isn’t to say the money couldn’t be returned to the taxpayers,” Keiser said.

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