A special performance audit of the Avalon South Golf Course, which is owned by the city of Warren, is warranted, not only because of concerns that have been raised about the expenditure of public funds, but because of the facility's failure to break even financially.
What are other public golf courses doing to achieve profitability that Avalon South isn't? Does the greens fee structure need to be revised? How do the operational costs compare to similar courses in the region? Is leasing the course to a private entity, as the city has done in its agreement with Avalon South Management, the best way of maintaining such a government-owned asset?
Indeed, is Avalon South truly an asset, given the fact that city council was forced to take out an internal note to pay off a $425,000 bank loan that Tony Joy Jr., owner of Avalon South Management, secured from Second National Bank in 1995? Joy defaulted on the loan, forcing the city, which had guaranteed it, to come up with $345,000.
Comparative analysis: The questions we have posed are just a few of many that need to be answered by an independent entity, such as the state auditor's office. A special performance audit would not only look at the golf course's balance sheets, but would focus on the facility's operational aspects. As they have done with Mahoning County government, for example, state auditors could conduct a comparative analysis that would show how Avalon South stacks up against other golf courses.
Such a comparison would go a long way toward assisting Mayor Hank Angelo and city council in deciding what to do now that Joy's involvement will end on Feb. 22. The mayor wants council to designate the golf course a city park, which would have the effect of exempting it from property taxes. Angelo has suggested renaming it "Avalon Golf Park." The move would save the city about $25,000 a year in taxes.
A special park board made up of three members appointed by the mayor, with council's approval, and two named by the Warren City School District would be the governing body.
Some members of council aren't willing to embrace Angelo's recommendations without additional discussion with the administration, prompting council President Doug Franklin to announce that he will form a committee to work with the mayor.
As to the allegation from Warren resident Sally Shubert-Hall and Councilman James Pugh, D-at large, that the $425,000 loan was misspent -- they say the city authorized work at the Avalon South Golf Course that was never done -- state Auditor Jim Petro needs to consult with the FBI.
That's because Joy acknowledged to The Vindicator that he had been interviewed by the federal agency about the circumstances surrounding the construction of the clubhouse. The project was not bid out, even though council was told at the time that bids would be sought. Councilman Pugh and resident Shubert-Hall contend that city documents show a final estimate for the new clubhouse was to be $190,000, but that T & amp;J Construction of Warren was paid $230,330 for the work.
Former Mayor Daniel Sferra, now a state representative, and James Nicolaus, owner of T & amp;J, signed a contract March 1, 1995, outlining the $230,000 cost.