Council cuts funding for golf course

A city Parks and Recreation Department slide shows the Heritage Oaks Golf Course property.

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

The Heritage Oaks Golf Course would take a 36.5% cut in city funding, following the Harrisonburg City Council’s latest version of the 2021 budget, which got its first reading at Tuesday’s meeting.

The city’s contribution to the golf course was already looking leaner in the early budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, but additional cuts would reduce the city’s contribution to the golf course by a total of nearly $470,000. After an amendment made by staff Tuesday morning, the council voted unanimously to approve the budget draft that includes about $487,000 for grounds management and $330,000 for the clubhouse — down from $733,000 and $554,000, respectively, in the current year’s budget. The course also covers some of its operating costs with revenue from golfers. 

The council is expected to take up the second reading of the budget at its May 26 meeting in order to adopt the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget by May 31. The council is bracing for a tight budget after sharp reductions in tax revenue because of the pandemic. 

Heritage Oaks is currently closed for golfing, as City Manager Eric Campbell explained in the meeting, because so many staff have taken time off due to the pandemic. Even with the budget cuts, the city still intends to reopen the golf course along with all other city facilities when it is safe to do so.

Communications director Michael Parks told The Citizen in an email that he did not have additional information about how the Parks and Recreation Department intends to absorb those budget cuts or when the golf course and other facilities might reopen.

Vice-Mayor Sal Romero asked if Gov. Ralph Northam starting Phase One of reopening the state on May 15 would affect the golf course.

City attorney Chris Brown said that it’s up to Campbell when city-owned facilities will reopen. 

Campbell said he is assembling a committee to plan “our reopening as a city government.” 

While they will likely use the same phase-in approach that the governor has presented, “given our current cases of COVID-19, I think we have to be very strategic and deliberate,” Campbell said.

Federal money to support small businesses and city’s homeless 

Funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, will likely add $314,000 to city coffers this year. 

This funding, which would come through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant program, is not guaranteed until HUD approves the city’s annual action plan later this summer. 

Deputy city manager Ande Banks presented staff’s funding request to the council on Tuesday. Staff recommend the expected $314,000 in COVID-19-related funds be spent on:

  • $250,000 for a small business grant or loan program,
  • $24,293 to the Suitcase Clinic, which provides healthcare to those staying in homeless shelters throughout the city,
  • $20,000 to the local Meals on Wheels program, 
  • $10,000 to the organization Way to Go, and
  • $10,000 to reimburse the city for the cost of hotel rooms they are currently bankrolling to isolate unhoused persons diagnosed with the virus or awaiting test results.

The council is expected to vote on the CDBG Annual Action Plan in their May 26 meeting.

Also at the meeting:

  • Mayor Deanna Reed announced that the city will host another round of free COVID-19 testing this Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. at Spotswood Elementary and Skyline Middle Schools for any city resident while supplies last. She also started a donation drive to distribute masks to those in need. “If you don’t have a mask, call me, email me, text me; I will get you a mask … my goal was 1,000 masks,” Reed said. Within just one day, “I already have 600.”

The city council unanimously approved a $2.5 million supplemental appropriation for the school capital projects fund to allow the Harrisonburg School Board to pay what they currently owe Nielsen Builders, Inc. for construction on the new high school, which was suspended on April 30.

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