Committee tees up DeBell Golf Club improvements

Two months after a nonprofit consulting firm issued its recommendations for turning around the struggling DeBell Golf Club, an oversight committee this week implemented some of those recommendations, which involve cost-cutting measures and course improvements.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the golf subcommittee recommended shifting 14% of the cost associated with paying city staffers to oversee the course to the Burbank's General Fund. That could save DeBell $53,828 next fiscal year.

The cost savings would come about as a result of efficiencies, said Jonathan Frank, an administrative officer in the parks department.

“It's about taking the duties from upper level staff, where possible, and delegating those to a lesser position level,” he said.

Frank acknowledged there would be an impact to the General Fund, but eventually the impact would be somewhat reduced because there will likely be fewer oversight meetings, taking less staff time.

Another option that the committee discussed, but did not act upon, called for hiring someone to manage DeBell for the city. Hiring a course manager could mean paying a salary of about $105,000, including benefits. But committee members said they wanted more information before making any recommendation, especially with budget considerations looming.

“It's something we should look at,” Mayor Jess Talamantes said of a dedicated staffer to manage the course. “I don't want to discard any possible way of doing business better.”

Utilities and the cost of paying city staff for oversight of the course are the two largest expenses for DeBell, according to the National Golf Foundation, the nonprofit brought on to help turnaround the struggling course.

Utilities are estimated at $400,000 annually, and the cost of paying city officials for overseeing the course is about $432,000, the foundation reported.

One area of savings has come from renewing the landscaping company's contract at about $48,618 a month, down from $52,760 a month, Jan Bartolo, deputy parks director, said. The contract will expire in Dec. 2013.

And Scott Scozzola, who oversees golf operations, proposed a new, 18-month contract to tie in with the landscape and food and beverage contracts. In exchange, he would lower his monthly rate from $12,444 to $12,000. The City Council would have to review and sign off on that proposal, Talamantes said.

Meanwhile, the golf subcommittee already had moved ahead with a number of the National Golf Foundation's other recommendations, such as:

A call-box on the ninth tee now is operational, allowing golfers to call in, and then pick up, to-go style food from a snack bar window. When the to-go window is open, golfers do not have to enter the clubhouse to pick up their food.

New lighting and signage were installed.

Restrooms were recently power-washed and the city is looking into minor upgrades.

Finally, a cart barn and repair building, along with a storage building, likely will be demolished, but the council will weigh in on that.

Burbank TV Channel 6 is airing an ad designed to promote the course, Talamantes said, and an ad in the parks and recreation newsletter that goes to all residents is in the works.

With all the changes, DeBell is doing better financially, but still is losing money, Talamantes said.

Last year's $1-million loan covers course operations through the end of this fiscal year, while an additional $1 million that was set aside is in a holding account has not been used, Talamantes added.

In February 2011, revenue was about $1.08 million and expenses were about $1.34 million, city documents show.

Talamantes stood by earlier comments made when the bailout package was approved that DeBell was “too big to fail” — a reference to President Barack Obama's assertion about the financial and banking industries that were bailed out by the federal government.

“It's a jewel in the community. We're going in the right direction,” he said. “It took us years to get into this situation and may take years to get out, but the changes and decisions and recommendations are all positive.”

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