RALEIGH – Sanford should get out of the golf-course business and focus on providing essential city services. That’s the key recommendation in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.
“Sanford Municipal Golf Course lost more than $1 million over the last five years,” said Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Research Director and Local Government Analyst. “The annual loss of more than $200,000 per year doesn’t include property taxes which private owners would have to pay on the same property. The city-owned property generates no tax revenue.”
The golf course is more than a drain on city funds, Sanera said. He and co-author Michael Moore, a JLF research intern, found that Sanford’s city-owned course uses tax dollars to generate unfair competition with private businesses.
“In the Sanford area, there are five private golf courses that pay property taxes that benefit Lee County and one city-owned golf course that drains tax revenues and benefits only those few golfers who use it,” Sanera said. “Along with the courses in the immediate area, this city-owned course competes with 45 golf courses within 30 miles of Sanford.”
Sanford’s problem extends to any local government that owns a golf course, Sanera said. “It’s no different from a local government operating a Mercedes dealership or Tiffany’s jewelry store,” he added. “Most citizens would consider that unfair competition with private business. No one would be happy to see that type of business operating at a loss while offering a benefit to a very small number of people.”
There’s no good reason for Sanford taxpayers to continue paying the bills, Sanera said. “Unlike police and fire protection, golf is not an essential city service,” he said. “If the course were sold, city taxpayers would gain the amount of the sale and avoid paying its annual operating losses. As a privately owned operation, the course would contribute to the city and county tax base.”
Selling the golf course could have a major impact on the city’s bottom line, Sanera said. “The sale price would bring a hefty sum and boost the city coffers,” he said. “The city and county would then benefit from annual property taxes, a benefit that might have prevented the recent tax increase and may help stave off future tax increases.”
Dr. Michael Sanera and Michael Moore’s Spotlight report, “Sanford’s Triple Bogey: The city government has no business being in the golf business,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].