Proposed bond sale for golf course appears headed for approval

January 18, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Golfers cheered the County Council last night for a vote that has not yet happened.

The golfers are convinced that the council will vote next month to authorize the sale of $10.7 million in revenue bonds to build an 18-hole regulation golf course near Interstate 95 and Route 100.

And they probably are right.

A crucial vote -- pledging that the county will pay the interest on the bonds if revenues fail -- came last month. But some council members have been skittish about a pledge of county money.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and golf course planners sought to convince them in a 45-minute meeting earlier this month that taxpayers' money never will be needed.

County budget director Raymond S. Wacks reminded council members last night of the administration's belief: The demand for golf in the area is so great that the county never will have to make good on its guarantee. Indeed, the county will make a profit on the course, advocates say.

"I believe the numbers," Councilman Darrel Drown, R-1st, said after Mr. Wacks' testimony. "They look very reasonable to me."

If, as expected, the council approves the sale of the revenue bonds, construction of the 6,600-yard course could begin in mid-March. Mr. Ecker wants to open the first nine holes July 1, 1996, and the second nine on May 1, 1997.

Councilman Dennis Schrader, Third District Republican, said that like Mr. Drown, he is convinced that a study on the expected profitability of the proposed course by a San Francisco research firm is accurate. The firm, Economics Research Associates, predicted that the county would have a net income of $8,000 the first year with only nine holes. During the second year, with all 18 holes in service, the county would receive $715,000 in profits, researchers forecast. By the year 2004, the net income would exceed $1.2 million, they said.

Howard County Golf Association founder Donald Dunn and most of the golfers testifying last night spoke as though the golf course proposal had been approved.

"Speaking for golfers, we're ecstatic. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," Mr. Dunn said.

The seven golfers who testified in favor of the bill repeated the administration's belief that taxpayers never would have to underwrite the course.

Patrick Dornan, president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association, opposed the funding bill. He objected only to the guarantee, not the bond offering.

"My main concern is that taxpayers could end up paying for part of this course," he said. "If you delete [the payment guarantee], everybody will be happy. If severed, I have no qualms."

Rather than guarantee the bonds with county funds, the county simply could raise green fees if the revenues lagged, Mr. Dornan said.

Councilman Drown said the guarantee was a better option because it would save $200,000 a year in interest payments by enabling the county to get a lower interest rate. "Over 30 years, that's $6 million. That's worth the risk for me," Mr. Drown said.

In other action last night, the council heard representatives of Howard Community College ask for a transfer of $150,000 to cover the cost overruns of a $2 million air-conditioning project.

The council will vote on both the golf course bond bill and the community college request Feb. 6.

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