FARMINGTON — The next two or three months could hold the key to the future of Piñon Hills Golf Course.

The course's fund has a $113,000 deficit from fiscal year 2013, which ran from July 2012 to June 2013. The city council voted Tuesday morning to give the golf enterprise fund a $170,000 loan from the city's parks fund to cover the deficit and about $57,000 in accruals from fiscal year 2012.

Ultimately, the council is scheduled to decide whether the city-run course continues to operate independently from the city's public funds. Keeping the course under an enterprise fund would likely require rates to be raised.

The council could incorporate the golf course into its parks fund to avoid raising rates.

The $170,000 loan comes on top of a $112,000 loan made to the golf enterprise fund last year, bringing the fund's outstanding loans to $282,000.

The golf enterprise fund is run apart from the city's parks fund and must be self-sustaining, said City Manager Rob Mayes.

Cory Styron, the city's Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs department director, will bring a report on golf course operations to the council late this summer or early this fall, Mayes said.

"The challenge is to find the right mix of cost," said Mayor Tommy Roberts. "The last two years we've had opportunities to work on policies for Piñon Hills Golf Course. My concern is that the (fund) isn't carrying its weight."

Mayes stressed that the $113,000 deficit is not due to poor or inefficient management.

The city as a whole maintained efficient operations in the last fiscal year, he said.

From left, Bruce Hammon, Jim Matthews, Dale Ely and Virgil Artle play a round of golf, Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at Piñon Hills Golf Course in Farmington.
From left, Bruce Hammon, Jim Matthews, Dale Ely and Virgil Artle play a round of golf, Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at Piñon Hills Golf Course in Farmington. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

"In the general fund, overall, we operated at a surplus of $3.5 million," Mayes said. "There's nothing wrong with it being an enterprise fund or not. It's about quality of life. The idea is to have a well-rounded, full-service city. That's what the council will be wrestling with."

In the meantime, it appears that the deficits at Piñon Hills Golf Course are not out of line with the financial situation at other local, public courses.

San Juan County operates Riverview Golf Course out of its internal budget, not through an enterprise fund.

Although operating costs vary year-to-year, the county operated the course last year with a $250,958 subsidy, said Kim Carpenter, county CEO. The course's total operating budget was about $1.04 million.

"We view it as a service, rather than an enterprise fund," Carpenter said. "There are not many municipal or public golf courses that are operating in the black."

Numbers at Piñon Hills Golf Course paint a mixed, but hopeful picture.

Play is down about 10 percent from January to June of this year compared to the same period in 2012, said Chris Jones, course general manager.

"As an enterprise fund, we're kind of at the mercy of how much business we generate," he said. "We just didn't get off to a good start. We were closed for six weeks because of ice and snow in the winter, but the last few weeks have been better. Tournament play and corporate events are up a little bit."

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.