MARY ANN ANDERSON
More than a dozen motions unanimously flew through last week’s workshop and regular session of the Hazlehurst City Council, but some not without controversy, especially in discussing the 2021-22 budget.
The preliminary $3.94 million budget was crafted with a $298,348 combined shortfall in the general fund and Hazlehurst Municipal Golf Course, which the city owns. That shortfall of $115,300, added to the $176,173 for the general fund, led to sometimes-heated discussions between Mayor Bayne Stone and the council members.
The budget for the golf course, Stone said, is $175,300, but revenue is estimated to be only in the $60,000 range, which leaves a deficit of $115,300.
That led Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett to emphatically state, “Shut it down.”
But Ward 4’s John Bloodworth countered immediately that golfers still like to play the course and to not act in haste but table the matter.
Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay pointed out that the City has been carrying the financial burden of the course for quite some time.
“It’s not a drop in the bucket of what we bring in to be able to afford it,” Ramay said. “I have no problem with golf. But I do have a problem with just expenditures of what we cannot stand.”
Stone gave a brief history of the course, saying that he helped build it and had put a lot of his life into it. After private ownership, it was then city-owned, then county-owned, and then turned back over to the city once more.
“City taxpayers are carrying the burden for the golf course,” Stone said. “It’s not fair, and not right, and it doesn’t need to continue.”
The mayor said that he was “crazy” about the 9-hole golf course, and that he wanted to save it. He said that while it’s not expensive to run, the city has “worked and struggled” to maintain it.
“Let the word be that this old faithful lover of the golf course is getting mighty weary,” he said. “I cannot in good faith continue to ask the people of the little town of Hazlehurst to continue to support it at this expense level.”
Stone said that he had spoken with Jeff Davis County Commission Chairman Brad Crews earlier in the day to gauge the county’s interest in helping with the course.
Bloodworth noted that in the past few years that a golf course board consisting of local golfers and business owners had worked to get corporate sponsors and memberships but had fallen by the wayside, adding, “I just don’t understand how we allowed somebody to come in here and rip that whole thing apart … I think the last thing we need to do is try and get rid of our golf course.”
He was also visibly disappointed that Stone had called Crews without the knowledge of any of the council members.
Ramay then interjected, saying that he wanted to see a “cooperative venture” among the county, the recreation department, the school system and the City for the golf course so that the City would not have to continue to carry the entire financial burden.
Stone backtracked to Bloodworth, telling him that he had called Crews only that afternoon to look into the possibility of the county’s contributing to the golf course. He then suggested Bloodworth take the reins to get in touch with the Board of Education to assess its interest in becoming involved.
Ward 1’s Dywane Johnson, in looking at the entire shortfall of $298,348, said that he thought it wasn’t too overwhelming to tackle, adding, “If everything is there, the [shortfall] is not too much.
Johnson also stated, “People love to play golf, and they love to have a place to go . . . it’s a headache for us, but we can do it.”
Stone concluded that portion of the meeting by telling the council that he had asked Crews if the county could come up with $75,000 to help with expenses, and that Crews had “sounded favorable.” Stone added into the mix that the City would be receiving money from the American Rescue Plan Act, so that could also be a possibility in helping out.