Golf balls, pastry and cops
By Chris Voccio
Niagara Falls, NY, Councilman
First, I should disclose that I am not a golfer. I took a few lessons years ago but I just never took to it.
Second, I should also disclose that I believe public safety to be the primary role of government.
Public safety, not golf.
So the long-running argument over the City of Niagara Falls’ Hyde Park golf course isn’t very controversial to me. But I went to DiCamillo’s Bakery on Niagara Falls Boulevard recently to satisfy my sweet tooth and one of the ladies working behind the counter, recognizing me as a Council member, told me she hoped that the golf course wouldn’t go away.
I assured her that it wouldn’t. The questions related to the golf course relate to who should operate the course and what that may mean for the rates and services that golfers pay for and receive during their recreational pursuit. And, of course, this matter impacts the financial condition of the city. But the course will not “go away.”
Our city controller recently presented to city council information that shows the golf course cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars last year, meaning that non-golfing taxpayers had to subsidize golfers. I love golfers, but perhaps the financials of the golf course should be self-sustaining and not require taxpayer subsidies. But that often happens when government is involved.
Some argue that the city should make some adjustments as to how the course is run, that we could operate it more efficiently. That’s a legitimate point, and if we decide the city should continue to operate the course, then digging in and looking for efficiencies will be important to the course’s sustainability.
A question pertinent to all of this is whether the private sector can operate more efficiently than the public sector. When I was speaking with the lady at DiCamillo’s I suggested to her that the DiCamillo family probably operates their bakery more efficient than the government could.
If you believe that private sector operators are more efficient than government operators, then you can see where allowing someone to come in and manage the Hyde Park golf course might make sense. And that’s why the city may be able to find an operator willing to pay us, via a lease arrangement, to manage the affairs of the course.
A private-sector operator might come in, make some adjustments to the operation, including adjusting pricing (up or down) to maximize market opportunities, and turn it into a profitable enterprise.
I’ve heard some argue that prices would go up if a private operator took over. Perhaps. But maybe a private operator would try to gain market share by lowering prices to attract golfers from other courses. Pricing decisions would be untethered from political pressure, and instead be based on market forces.
To those golfers concerned about higher prices or anything else related to private operation of the course, imagine this: What if, years ago, city government decided to open a bakery. Imagine that prices were kept low because taxpayer subsidies could always be pumped into the operation. Then imagine that the DiCamillo’s paid the city to run the bakery. Do you think service and quality would get better or worse?
Imagine if Michael’s Restaurant was owned by the city. Then one day the Capizzi family paid the city to run it. Would food quality and service get better or worse?
I’m sure we would all agree that government is inherently unsuited to run bakeries and restaurants. So why a golf course?
I’m not sure which way the city will go with the golf course, but my preference would be for us to find a private-sector operator who would lease the golf course and pay us for that privilege. Instead of taking taxpayer dollars and pumping them into the golf course, perhaps the city could invest those resources in public safety. In cops on the streets.
Maybe someone from DiCamillo’s or Michael’s could take over the course.
Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Council member and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com.