About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wrong jobs to outsource?

For San Diego's North County Times

The August edition of Carlsbad Currents, the city's bimonthly publication mailed to city residents, carries the headline, "Carlsbad maintains good financial health."

The story boasts of a budget balanced by reducing the size of the city's workforce and operating more efficiently. The city's 2011-12 budget report explains the workforce was cut back by eliminating 10 currently vacant positions, including a fire marshal, a graphic artist, a building inspector and two custodians.

We learn from the newsletter that sales and hotel taxes are expected to grow, while property tax is projected to decrease slightly. Finance Director Chuck McBride assures us that investment in the city created by new hotel, retail and commercial projects puts the city "in a good position to capitalize on opportunities as the economy recovers."

It appears happy times are here again.

But maybe not for the city's worker bees. Here's why:
1. A projected $600,000 surplus in the 2011-12 budget will add to the city's current $53 million in reserve. That's 47 percent of the 2010-2011 budget. City policy requires only 30 percent in reserve.

2. There's enough room in the budget for a $1.8 million direct subsidy to bail out golf course operations again. City Manager Lisa Hildebrand explained it "no longer made sense" to call the annual bailouts loans that have to be repaid ("Budget plan gives and takes away," North County Times, June 6).

3. This year's contract with city employees imposed a 7 percent pay cut for the lowest-paid city workers, resulting from a wage freeze combined with shifting to employees the share of pension contributions the city has formerly paid on their behalf.

4. Despite the city's projected prosperity, council members are considering outsourcing city services.

Outsourcing leads to layoffs or lower pay or both. With the latest uptick in the local unemployment rate from 9.6 in May to 10.5 in July, you'd think outsourcing would be an acceptable option only if the city were going broke or if residents were complaining about the quality of city services.

In this case, there's no evidence of either. Word from City Hall is that the budget's in great shape. The city's latest "Public Opinion Survey and State of Effectiveness Report" showed 92 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with city services (60 percent very satisfied/32 percent satisfied), causing Councilmember Ann Kulchin to gush about city workers: "This is your report card. As a parent, I feel like I'd like to take you all out for an ice cream cone."

When it comes to confidence in city government, 78 percent reported they were satisfied (22 percent very satisfied/55 percent somewhat).

Comparing report cards, I'd say it would make more sense to outsource city government than city services.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Carlsbad's Taj Magolf's extreme makeover

For Carlsbadistan.com
Mark Twain once called the game of golf “a good walk spoiled.” Something like that could be said of Carlsbad’s $68 million public golf course--a splendid setting for weddings, dining and golf, spoiled by tilting fairways, undersized greens, and lost balls.

A struggling economy, the many affordable courses nearby, and its playability have been blamed for the course’s annual deficits. Hopes for a financial turnaround are based mostly on the attractiveness of the venue.

That was a summary of a consultant’s report for the city of Rockville, Maryland on the financial condition of its Redgate Municipal Golf Course. The recommendations? Modify greens and bunkers, build additional facilities for player convenience, and launch a more aggressive marketing campaign.

Sound familiar? The differences between The Crossings and Redgate are foreboding. Rockville’s course is 40 years old. You can play it for half of what you pay for a round at Carlsbad’s Taj Magolf.

The Crossings has failed to meet its budgeted number of rounds each year since it opened, plunging from 52,000 in 2008 to 42,000 in 2010. Despite a three percent loss in green fee revenue last year, a three percent increase was budgeted last November for 2011.

A consultant, who was paid $16,000 by the city to explain why golfers weren’t flocking to Carlsbad, explained the course is too difficult and the players need a lounge to build camaraderie.

A third party golf course architect recommended modifications to 10 of the 18 holes. The Crossings website boasts the course was designed by Greg Nash, “whose name is synonymous with beautiful, playable courses.” Maybe he should be given the chance to rebut the claim that more than half his creation needs a do-over.

After city staff identified the three holes most in need of fixing, the council agreed to the one with the lowest cost, $80,000 for the 18th green. Estimated costs to modify the 10th green and the 15th fairway were $179,000 and $264,000 respectively. If the average cost of these three is applied to the remaining seven needing work, the course will be acceptably playable after the city kicks in another $1.2 million.

City staff suggests the Boardroom be converted into a players’ lounge. That assumes the sweaty survivors of frustrating hours on an unplayable course will march happily up a couple of flights of stairs to relax with a cool one in a small, windowless room, surrounded by kitchen sounds, hall talk by diners headed for the restaurant, and the drone of TV sports commentators.

If revenue doesn’t increase this year as expected, will the city pin its hopes for next year on a friendlier 18th green and a comfy golfer’s lounge?

Stay tuned.