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SHENANGO VALLEY Buhl Farm Trust official is optimistic deficit will be cut



Published: Sun, January 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A private fund-raising drive and other revenue sources have wiped out nearly 40 percent of the deficit.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- The Buhl Farm Trust's request for direct financial aid from four local municipalities to help offset a $160,000 budget deficit didn't get any positive responses.

However, a separate fund drive and some appeals for financial help elsewhere should wipe out all or most of that deficit during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, said James E. Feeney, president of the board of trustees.

The trust, a nonprofit entity that maintains the recreational facilities the late Frank and Julia Buhl set up for public use in 1914, sent a letter to Hermitage, Sharpsville, Sharon and Farrell at the end of October, saying it was facing a $125,000 deficit in its 2001-2002 budget of $900,000.

The letter asked the first three municipalities for $15,000 each and Farrell for $5,000, indicating that the money would go to the nine-hole Buhland Golf Course, one of the few free golf courses in the country.

Turned down: Officials in all four municipalities said the Buhl Farm Trust request came in late during their budget processes and all said they would give no money at this time.

Officials in Sharon, Sharpsville and Farrell told The Vindicator there was just no money to spare in their 2002 general fund budgets. Both Sharon and Farrell increased property taxes this year and Sharpsville had to borrow money from its capital improvement account to meet anticipated expenses for the year.

Sharon and Farrell officials noted most of their recreational contributions come from federal Community Development Block Grants, which can be used only to benefit low- and moderate-income people. It would be difficult to document that the people using Buhland would fit that economic category, they said.

Hermitage officials said there was little support for a direct cash contribution to the trust, though the city will continue to lend equipment and personnel to Buhl Farm for improvement projects.

Patrick D. O'Mahony, general manager for the trust, said the initial estimate of a $125,000 deficit proved to be too low and trustees soon learned they needed $160,000 to balance their budget.

Contributions: However, Feeney said a letter-writing campaign launched a few weeks ago and recent publicity surrounding the trust's plight have already generated enough money to offset $60,000 of that deficit.

The letter campaign alone, primarily targeting individuals in the area, has netted $20,000 so far, he said, calling it "a very gratifying response."

There have been promises of additional funds, and one foundation has increased the amount it will give to the trust this year, he said, predicting that all or most of the shortfall will be covered by the end of the fiscal year.

Feeney said the trust understands the financial predicament local municipal governments are facing and that trustees are grateful for the various "in-kind" services they are able to provide, such as police and fire protection.

Cuts: "We did a lot of cutting," he said, adding that the trustees stopped short of cutting salaries and laying off people.

"It's the general economy," he said.

Maintenance items, supplies and some capital improvements were cut out of the budget to offset the deficit, but no programming was cut, O'Mahony said.

Buhl Farm, commonly referred to as Buhl Park, runs the golf course, a tennis program and a summer play school for children, and maintains a public swimming pool and the park's landmark Casino building, among other things.

It's uncertain how many people use the park -- there's no easy way to count the walkers and joggers who enter the park on foot -- but thousands of area residents gather at the park each Labor Day for the annual Buhl Day celebration. Also, approximately 40,000 rounds of golf are played at Buhland each year, O'Mahony said.

There's no charge, but the golf course has begun to ask golfers for donations. Most don't donate, he said.

The trustees did build a golf driving range adjacent to the course several years ago for which users pay a fee. That money goes to support the golf course, O'Mahony said.




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