The Boonville City Council moved forward with a step toward the purchase of Quail Crossing Golf Course.
Last week, the council passed on second reading an ordinance that would permit the issuance of $950,000 in bonds to secure the money needed to purchase the golf course. Despite discourse from the public, the matter passed on a 4-1 vote with councilmen Steve Byers, Larry Lacer, Dave Talley and Mike Webb voting for the ordinance and councilman Bob Canada voting against.
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Prior to the vote, the council heard from several residents opposing the move.
Jim Miller, of Miller's 5 and 10 and a Boonville resident, told the board that he had concerns about whether or not the city is ready to make such a major purchase.
"With the current debt service that Boonville already has and the time it would take to make Quail Crossing profitable, I question whether this is the right time for the city of Boonville to take on nearly $1 million in additional debt," he said.
Miller said the reliance on a nondisclosure agreement in the purchase is disconcerting. He said the push to keep quiet the particular information about the financial history of the course allows a person to speculate on a reason to keep that information secret.
"Has Quail been losing money at a rate that could cause public backlash?" he asked the council.
Boonville resident Paul Foltz simply asked the council if any information or argument would change their minds. He said several people have spoken out against the move, but the council has remained steadfast in their mission to purchase the golf course.
Councilman Byers said his decision had already been made and wouldn't be changed.
"You can't do nothing, my mind's made up," Byers said.
Warrick County Auditor and Boonville resident Debbie Stevens said she is concerned about the potential for raising taxes. She said the city will either have to raise their debt levy by raising taxes in the area or set up a tax increment financing (TIF) district to use funding from the area's future tax increases to cover the costs of the improvements to the property.
"But, I was told that that's not going to happen. How is that not going to happen?" she asked the council. "If you increase debt, you have to pay the debt."
Boonville Attorney Mark Phillips said the council doesn't believe that tax money will have to be used.
"The [council's] intention, from what I understand, is to pay it with sources other than property tax," he said.
Stevens said it is evident that the golf course isn't making money based on the interest in the property. If the golf course had been making money, other intersted investors would have already purchased the property or shown interest, she said.
"What is the big idea that the Parks Department has told you, that the professionals have not already done, to make that place profitable?" she asked the council.
Byers said the finances can't be released, but it is public knowledge that the golf course was making money prior to it being purchased by Warrior Golf in 2013. He said it's his belief that the course was purchased by the company as a tax write-off.
"I think we can turn it around. I think we can make money off of it. I think we can have a jewel, because it was a jewel before," he said.
Wayne Harris of Boonville asked the council why they would want to buy the course. Byers said he wants to buy it because it's a potential revenue stream for the city.
"I think we'll make money off of it. We'll turn it around and make money off of it," Byers said. "It think it will be something we'll be proud of for years to come."
Byers said his mind is stil made up. He said he doesn't see any reason to change his mind.
"I just think that's a poor way to represent your consituents," Harris said.
"I've looked at the figures," Byers said. "I think we can turn it around. I think it's going to be a jewel."
Councilman Lacer supported Byers in the belief that it isn't a stretch to see that the property had been purchased solely based on tax incentives. He said the company has been very inactive in the course since it was first purchased.
"Warrior hasn't been down here," he said. "The only time they were down here was to put cameras in the office to watch the employees. As far as getting equipment down here, they haven't done it."
Lacer also stated that his belief is that the city will not have to use tax revenue for the course. He said the course will be used as an alternative revenue stream.
"We're looking to make a profit off the golf course and the profit off the golf course will pay for the bond and it will give us extra revenue to use in the city other than tax revenue," he said. "We have no other revenue than tax revenue right now. So, we're looking to have some other source of income other than tax revenue."
Lacer continued by saying that the information that has been provided to the council has reinforced the notion that local input will itself be a major change compared to the input from an invesment company located across the country. He said, based on the information he has seen, he is confident in the choice to move forward with issuing the bond.
"If I thought we'd have to do a tax increase to buy it, I wouldn't go for it," he said.
Ultimately, Lacer said the city will still have options even after a potential purchase is final. He said if the city finds that the golf course isn't profitable, then the city can sell the property.
"If it doesn't show a profit, then we'll regroup," he said. "We can always sell and liquidate the property for what we paid for it."
Byers said the council is "aggressive and progressive" in the options it has been seeking to keep from raising taxes. He said if the council had steered clear of other options in the past, the city wouldn't be where it is now.
"If we would have done what some wanted us to do, we would have sat here and homes would have dilapidated. The population would have left," he said.
While the ordinance to issue the bond for the purchase passed, the council will still have to vote to finalize the purchase of the course. The council's next regular meeting will be held on Thursday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m.
Also in the regular meeting, the council approved a resolution to protect existing residential and commercial developments from adverse effects of surface and underground mining and fracking within four miles of the city limits.