HARLINGEN — After years on the drawing board, the $3.1 million project aimed at turning the Tony Butler Golf Course into a money maker is short about $1.2 million.
Now, city officials are mulling ways to fund the project’s completion after the Harlingen Community Improvement Board’s budget squeezed out about $1.9 million before falling short of funding the entire $3.1 million plan last month.
At City Hall, officials are weighing three options, City Manager Dan Serna said.
“Ideally, the best scenario would be to make improvements to holes one to 18,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mayor Chris Boswell said the improvement board would serve as a better funding source than the city’s $48 million general fund budget.
While the general fund is open for such infrastructure projects as drainage upgrades and street repairs, the improvement board budget is funded through a one-eighth-cent sales tax earmarked to finance so-called quality of life projects such as the golf course overhaul, he said.
“The money is restricted to parks,” he said, referring to the improvement board’s budget, funded to finance quality of life projects. “It’s better to use money specifically earmarked for parks rather than money used for drainage and streets.”
As part of the overall project, Serna is calling for a $1.9 million overhaul of the golf course’s old irrigation system.
Meanwhile, the project is also calling for a $575,575 upgrade of the grounds, aimed at pushing up the greens while pumping $264,000 into developing drainage in low-lying areas.
Last month, the improvement board earmarked about $1.9 million to help finance the project — nearly all the money remaining in its fund balance.
However, the board continues to maintain about $6 million in the bank as officials wait to spend about $4.1 million tapped to fund the second phase of the project that’s turning Lon C. Hill Park into a multimillion-dollar destination park.
So the improvement board will have that money available until the park’s second phase is completed in about two years, Boswell said.
Meanwhile, sales tax revenue projections show the improvement board’s budget will climb by about $3.5 million during the next two years, he said.
“They would be able to fund some more on the golf course if they wanted out of future revenue in that 24 months,” he said.
Officials could also request commissioners consider dipping to the city’s general fund budget to finance the project’s $1.2 million balance, Boswell said.
When commissioners approved the $48 million general fund budget last year, it included a $17.6 million cash reserve, enough to run the city’s operations for 132 days in case of emergency, more than the state’s recommended minimum of 90 days.
“That’s a decision we’ll be discussing during the budget process,” Boswell said, referring to the option of dipping into the general fund to finance the project’s balance.
As part of a third option, officials are considering spending the improvement board’s $1.9 million to help fund the golf course project’s irrigation and drainage system overhaul.
“The irrigation is the priority,” Serna said.
Under the plan, officials would delay the greens’ upgrade.
“The money could pay for irrigation and drainage,” Boswell said. “They might be a little short but the city would fund the difference and then do the greens for another year.”
Officials are counting on upgrades to draw more players to the 91-year-old golf course carrying a $400,000 deficit.
Since 2011, the golf course’s rounds of play have plunged from 59,132 to 16,418.
In 2019, officials paid $22,000 to hire the National Golf Foundation, a national golf consulting firm, to recommend upgrades aimed pulling the golf course out of the hole.
In a 97-page report, the consultants recommended as much as $3.7 million to $7 million worth of improvements aimed at overhauling much of the golf course.
Recommendations included rebuilding or replacing “major infrastructure components of the 18-hole course — greens, irrigation system, bunkers, drainage” at a cost of $3.75 million, the report states.
“We recommend, at a minimum, replacing and/or upgrading all major infrastructure components, including greens, irrigation system, bunkers, drainage and tees.”