City spending puts wants before needs

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City spending puts wants before needs

Mon, 02/03/2020 - 09:37
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Excelsior Springs Standard.


Excelsior Springs is a beautiful and historic community, and our current city officials have approved spending for several amenities here over the past few years. Every amenity comes with costs, though, and it’s important to understand the financial impacts to our community. 

What follows is a cautionary tale of how city officials ended up spending almost $6 million above operating revenues on the golf course in the past seven years, including over $1.5 million of money taken from the general fund to cover operating losses and $1.5 million borrowed from Kearney Trust Company. 

The golf course is just one example of the luxuries current city officials prioritize over the needs of the community. However, it reveals a deep divide between our needs, which often go unmet, and the wants of a few people. 

From 2013 through 2017, the golf course’s operating losses were $724,576, or $144,915 a year. During that time, city officials spent $915,734 in general fund money and $870,095 in capital improvements fund money on the golf course.

Despite the losses, in 2017, city officials approved a major project at the golf course, including a new clubhouse and restaurant and the development of building lots. As the project was completed during 2018 and 2019, costs ballooned from the originally estimated cost of $2,029,109 to $3,170,000. At least $1,670,000 in capital improvements fund money was spent on the project, over 229% of the originally authorized capital improvements funds. Additionally, city officials borrowed $1,500,000 from Kearney Trust Company for the project. 

One city official has claimed as much as $3.5 million may be generated from the project through a combination of tax increment financing and the sale of building lots. However, the 23-year TIF has only generated $16,900 in two years, and no lots have been sold. The city’s 2019 budget also included a $101,680 transfer from the general fund to the golf clubhouse TIF fund, and the 2020 budget includes a similar $105,294 transfer, likely to cover the debt owed to Kearney Trust Company during each year.  

In addition to the $4,955,829 directly spent on the golf course between 2013 and 2019, city officials have also been “advancing” general fund money to the golf course. Unfortunately, operating losses at the golf course have accelerated rapidly during and after the construction of the new clubhouse. The golf course lost $325,459 in 2018 and $485,683 in 2019. Since October of 2013, city officials have advanced $885,501 of general fund money to the golf course to cover operating shortfalls. 

Advances to the golf course are actually listed as assets on the city’s general fund balance sheet, presumably because the golf course might pay back the advances someday. However, since the golf course has lost an average of $219,388 a year over the past 7 years, the golf course may never be able to repay the debt. This is particularly concerning because almost 25% of our “assets” in the general fund have already been spent and may never be returned to the community. In fact, this already happened in September of 2013, when city officials wrote off $730,000 taken from the general fund for previous advances to the golf course. 

In total, city officials have spent at least $5,841,330 above operating revenues on the golf course over the past 7 years, including $1,801,235 in general fund money, $2,540,095 in capital improvements fund money, and $1,500,000 borrowed from Kearney Trust Company. During this time, the golf course lost $1,535,716.

Some city officials claim money spent on the golf course couldn’t have been spent on other things. However, general fund money can be used for many purposes, including funding our police and fire departments. Capital improvements fund money is meant to be invested in things like our sidewalks, streets, bridges, and water and sewer infrastructure. 

It may be true that once money has been allocated for a particular purpose, it can’t be spent elsewhere. However, in any given year, any of the general fund money allocated to the golf course could have been allocated for other purposes, like providing our emergency responders better wages. Any of the capital improvements fund money allocated to the golf course could have been allocated for other purposes, like building desperately needed sidewalks to make it safer for our kids to get to school. It’s troubling when city officials claim otherwise. 

City officials have spent millions of dollars subsidizing deep operating losses and new amenities for luxuries like the golf course at the expense of needs like emergency services and infrastructure. At the same time, they’ve claimed necessities like our water and sewer utilities should be supported entirely by user fees. 

With our own money, the vast majority of us would prioritize our needs over luxuries. We would buy food for our families before buying the newest gadgets for ourselves. 

Similarly, we would expect our elected and appointed officials to invest our money in the community’s needs before spending it on luxuries that only benefit a few people. It’s clear many of our elected or appointed officials have a different perspective. 

It’s time for us to come together as a community and tell our city officials it’s time to start prioritizing our community’s needs over the wants of a few people. April is several months away, but we can also send a clear message by voting in new city council members who are fully committed to stewarding our money as if it were their own. And we will persevere until votes are 3-2, 4-1, and even 5-0 for our community’s needs, instead of 5-0, over and over again, for the wants of a few people. 

The Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a long winter here in the Midwest. Let’s join together to make it the last one where the wants of a few win out over the needs of our community. See you next spring at the ballot box.