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California

Burbank to lend $1 million to strapped golf course

City leaders in Burbank have agreed to lend $1 million to a cash-strapped municipal golf course, even as the city is considering cutting fire services, shelving library improvements and slashing youth jobs.

The City Council on Tuesday also agreed to defer loan payments on $2.1 million in outstanding debt for two years as the troubled DeBell Golf Course tries to recover from a sharp decline in revenue.

The council set aside an additional $1 million as a possible cushion for the golf course, bringing the total package to $2 million.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s a jewel up there that’s too big to fail in my opinion,” Mayor Jess Talamantes said of the golf course before Tuesday’s vote.

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The golf course has needed a financial bail-out from the city before and it was clear Tuesday that the council’s patience was being tested.

“It’s an awful lot of money to commit on good faith, and I think we’re in an awful situation right now,” said Councilman David Gordon.

The golf course deal comes as the city weighs roughly $567,000 in proposed cuts to public services, part of an effort to close a projected $8.7-million budget gap for next fiscal year.

The proposed public service cuts include shaving around-the-clock firefighter staffing from 37 to 36, delaying planned library improvements and reducing city youth jobs by roughly half.

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The golf course has suffered in the face of a tough economy, and the number of rounds being played at DeBell has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2001-02, the course registered 75,723 rounds of golf, a number that declined to 56,397 last year — an all-time low.

Parks officials said the golf course has been losing about $300,000 annually in recent years.

The drop-off, and the depreciation of a new clubhouse, combined to create an insurmountable deficit, but the golf course has a history of needing financial rescue.

The cost of the clubhouse, dedicated in early 2009, ballooned as construction expenses increased, forcing the City Council to approve an additional $1.4 million loan in 2007 to complete the project.

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Parks officials had sought a full $2-million loan but the City Council was unwilling to go that far, instead approving $1 million, with another million in a holding account, should more be needed. The council also requested monthly financial reports, and the formation of an oversight committee to review statements.

DeBell Golf Course director Scott Scozzola could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

gretchen.meier@latimes.com


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