BRIGANTINE — Officials shaved a few cents off the tax rate of the city budget introduced Wednesday while taking a step toward seeking a private operator for its municipal golf course.
The proposed budget features a tax levy of $23 million and a local tax rate of 71 cents per $100 of assessed value, a 36 percent increase from last year's 52.2-cent tax rate. However, a 23 percent decline in average assessments following the citywide revaluation means most property owners will see a significantly lower increase.
Last year, properties valued at the average assessment of $475,000 would have seen $2,480 in local taxes. Assuming the same property's value fell proportional to the citywide decline, the owner would owe $2,599 if the current rate stands.
Budget and golf course discussions went on for more than six hours Wednesday, with the meeting adjourning after midnight. In a 5-2 decision split down political lines, City Council ultimately approved seeking a consulting service to help it put together a request for proposals to attract a private operator for The Links at Brigantine Beach.
The municipal golf course, purchased by the city with the help of Green Acres funding in 2002, has seen declining revenue since 2007. This year, the golf course’s $765,000 deficit is included in the general fund, meaning taxpayers will cover the shortfall.
According to data in an auditors’ report, revenues have fallen from more than $2 million at its peak to $905,000 last year.
If the request for proposals comes to fruition, the city could lease the golf course to a private operator for up to 24 years.
Councilman Anthony Pullella, a Democrat, said a contractor the city hired to create a golf course master plan last year estimated the cost of making the golf course desirable to players at about $2 million. That includes $1.1 million for a new irrigation system and drainage repairs at nearly $290,000. The cost for a full revitalization is about $4.5 million, Pullella said, but such a cost is unfeasible.
The city’s goal is to find a third party who would be willing to front those costs — and lift the burden off taxpayers — in exchange for the long-term lease.
“What we’re trying to achieve is eliminating this type of subsidy from the taxpayers to the golf course utility,” he said. “The way you do that is by bringing in a third-party professional who has skin in the game.”
But Mayor Phil Guenther, a Republican, said he believes the request for proposals is premature. Revenues could rebound without having to encumber the golf course in such a lengthy lease, he said.
“This is the first time in 12 years taxpayers are putting money into the golf course, and I think a lot of it is attributed to Superstorm Sandy,” he said.
Guenther said he doesn’t believe the golf course’s infrastructure is as dire as some of his colleagues have asserted.
Pullella said the preliminary measure approved Wednesday will lead to the hiring of a consultant to help the city assemble the larger request for proposals. Such a consultant is necessary because of how complicated the process could be, he said.
“It’s very important to have somebody with this expertise to draft this RFP and make it in the best interest of the city,” he said.
The full process, ending with the hiring of a third-party operator, is expected to take about six months, Pullella said.
A public hearing for the introduced budget will take place during the May 7 council meeting.
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