Why Lake Villa Township wants to buy a failing golf course
About half of Lake Villa Township's $1.4 million reserves would be spent in a plan to buy a failing golf course located mostly outside the township.
Lake Villa Township Supervisor Dan Venturi said his plan to buy the nearly 100-acre Antioch Golf Club for around $750,000 would preserve the value of homes adjacent to the 18-hole, par-70 golf course. Most of the homeowners live in Lake Villa Township.
Besides depleting the township's reserves, a purchase by the township would take the property off the tax rolls, requiring other taxpayers to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, finances at most publicly owned golf courses in the suburbs have been trending down for years.
Venturi, who worked at the golf club in his youth, believes he can make the Antioch Golf Club profitable.
He said the owners of the course are operating at a deficit of about $200,000 each year, but half of those losses are from paying off debt.
If the township bought the golf course outright and eliminated the debt payments, the operating deficit would be $100,000, he said. Venturi also expects to spend about $200,000 in the first year to improve the course and facilities.
"I've run the numbers, and the way it's operating now once we eliminate the debt service, I believe strongly that it can be run within a year or two as break-even and afterward as a positive revenue generator," Venturi said.
But others aren't quite so sure of Venturi's proposal.
"The purchase of a golf course is a prime example of the excesses of township government," said state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat who has pushed legislation to make it easier to eliminate and consolidate township governments. "If Lake Villa (Township) has $1 million lying around, they need to refund this to taxpayers and not buy a golf course that's not even located in their township."
Lake Villa Township's reserves were 118 percent of annual operating expenses at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, according to the township's audit. While there's no limit to what government agencies can keep in reserve, most government accounting experts suggest somewhere between two and six months of annual operating costs.
Unlike many golf courses that abut homes, the Antioch Golf Club has no covenant requiring the golf course remain in perpetuity and prohibiting development for other uses. Venturi said developers are interested.
Venturi has approached Antioch Township officials, where the majority of the course is located, to gauge their interest in partnering with his township on the purchase. Venturi is planning to make a presentation Thursday to that board.
Antioch Township Supervisor Steve Smouse doesn't believe his board will partner with Lake Villa Township, citing financial constraints.
"If it's such a bargain-basement price, maybe the homeowners association should buy it since they benefit the most from keeping it a golf course," Smouse suggested.
Most publicly owned suburban golf courses aren't moneymakers. A Daily Herald analysis of suburban courses' finances last year showed 22 of 36 golf courses owned and operated by municipalities or park districts lost a combined $3.3 million in 2015.
The Lake Villa Township board has scheduled a special town meeting for 7 p.m. Monday, May 22, at Caboose Park at the intersection of Fairfield Road and Grand Avenue in Lake Villa for a vote on whether to authorize the township board to purchase the golf course. State law requires such special meetings where any registered voter of the township can cast a ballot on land purchases. Voters must show proof of residency to be able to vote, Venturi said.
There is no law that prevents townships owning property outside their boundaries, according to Lake Villa Township attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer.
If approved by voters, the township board could vote that night to buy the golf course and its buildings, which include a banquet center and pro shop.
The purchase would knock about $31,000 off the tax rolls, which other taxpayers would make up, officials said. According to the Lake County treasurer's website, owners of the golf course have paid an average of $31,538 in property taxes since 2004 and as much as $39,753 in 2011. This year, the property tax bill is $31,516.
"Lake County has among the highest property taxes in the nation and the more property that comes off the tax rolls, the more property taxes others are going to have to pay," Yingling complained.
Among homeowners adjacent to the golf course are Lake County Administrator Barry Burton. The golf course is in an unincorporated portion of the county, so if a developer purchased the land to build on it, the county board would oversee that proposal.
Former state Rep. JoAnn Osmond also is one of the homeowners adjacent to the golf course and said covering the loss of the course's property tax revenue is "a small price to pay" to retain a community asset and maintain the residential property value she and her neighbors enjoy. The roughly 100 single-family houses that abut the course are valued at between $250,000 and $400,000, according to assessment records.