Out of bounds at golf course

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It's time for Beloit to seek professional management.

IN RECENT YEARS there have been tense budget discussions in which it appeared the venerable Krueger-Haskell municipal golf course was on the bubble for possible closing. With revenues not meeting expenses some public officials openly suggested maybe it was time to shut the place down.

We heard from citizens as well - those who don't play golf - complaining about their tax dollars being used to subsidize a golf course they never use.

At the time we urged city officials to find another way. A decent golf course is part of being a full-service community. When officials try to attract developers and investors to do business and create jobs here, such quality of life amenities matter. Likewise, when businesses recruit employees, prospective workers consider such things. And when people pick a place to live they usually pay attention to the availability of recreational interests for themselves and their families. Preserving the golf course is good for Beloit.

NOW COMES NEWS that, apparently for years, a number of people - certain city employees, family members, friends - have been helping themselves to free golf, with carts, at the municipal course. They've been treating it as a perk of the job, according to information revealed at the conclusion of an investigation ordered by City Manager Lori Curtis Luther.

Officials say the potential revenue lost to the city was somewhere between $80,000 and $111,663. And that covers just the time period from 2014 forward. The freebies may have been going on for years before that, but record-keeping was inadequate to the task of finding out.

The investigation cost Leisure Services Director Brian Ramsey his job, and golf course supervisor Mark Young will serve an unpaid suspension.

But the cost to taxpayers for off-the-books play is what really matters, considering the significant subsidies rolled up over several years to keep the golf course solvent.

THE CONCLUSION IS inescapable - Krueger-Haskell needs to be professionally managed. Janesville's two public courses are managed by the Kemper organization, which has golf operations all across America. Luther says she is involved in talks with Kemper, and perhaps others, to ascertain the feasibility of privatizing management operations at the Beloit course.

When the city looked at such options in the past it was believed revenue opportunities were not sufficient to attract the interest of serious private management firms. If everybody on the course is a paying customer, though, that dynamic may change.

Krueger-Haskell is not a great course, but it's a good one. Beloit should devise a plan not to lose it. That means running it right and making it fiscally sound.

The current situation is an embarrassment to City Hall. Citizens have a right to demand the highest ethical behavior from the public sector. Whether everybody at the golf course realized it or not, Krueger-Haskell is as much a public entity as a schoolhouse or a fire station. Thus, anyone involved with operating the course is subject to the same high ethical standards.

As another municipal budget-building cycle nears the pressure is on - and should be - to find a better way to run Krueger-Haskell so taxpayers are off the hook.

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