The Augusta Commission is reviewing the municipal golf course's financial operations, apparently with a fine-tooth comb.
But the committee is hardly turning over every rock: It's determined to shape up the golf course, nicknamed "The Patch," in any way other than privatization.
Why limit ourselves that way? If we're in the market for solutions, why rule one out from the get-go?
Committee Chairman Bill Lockett says it's to avoid fee increases that might come with privatization. Fair enough, but isn't that a determination that could be made after studying all options? Why pre-judge and conclude, without looking at the facts, that privatization would be more expensive?
Otherwise, we appreciate the newfound inquisitiveness on the commission for the golf course operation. Lockett and others want detailed information on the past few years' financials, for instance.
Amateur sleuths on the board have occasionally made careless forays and reckless allegations. But some real problems have indeed emerged: A Chronicle story in 2006, reporting on an audit of the Patch, said, "the city's purchasing policies often were ignored; inventories not listed; credit card sales unverified; cash receipts mishandled; and sales tax collections fouled up. Even a 'substantial amount' of beer was unaccounted for ..."
Isn't it just possible that a privatized operation might help avoid such problems and introduce new efficiencies that could help the course stop being such a drain on the city's coffers -- about $300,000 a year -- without substantially increasing green fees?
At the time of the 2006 audit, the city was also considering getting into the dragstrip business. As we said at the time, considering the mess at the course, having the city build a racetrack was the last thing taxpayers needed.
These are important questions, as the city faces a delicate balancing act: You'd like the course to be self-supporting if possible, but the municipal golf course serves a vital role as an inexpensive entryway into a wonderful sport for beginners and the green-fee challenged.
One other thing to like about the committee's work is that it is asking for information about other municipal golf course operations. Great idea. Find and implement the industry's best practices.
The other reality the committee should consider is the condition of the course. Despite the dedication of course employees, the course could use a major investment.
This may be an area in which privatization could, indeed, work to our betterment: Would a private entity be willing, for example, to upgrade the course with his own money in return for a longterm contract to operate it?
Unfortunately, we won't ever know the answers unless we ask the questions.