City_COUNCIL (copy)

At a previous City Council meeting, Mark Finks, theater manager for Court Square Theater, gave a presentation about the theater at the meeting. 

Council tees off on the fate of city golf course

Over its nearly two-decade lifespan, city-funded Heritage Oaks Golf Course has lost $21 million, and Councilman Chris Jones said no data suggests the city should save it. 

“We don’t make money in Parks and Rec,” Jones said. “But … should we be losing that much on one particular amenity that soaks up so much land when we only have 17.4 square miles to work with anyway and land is our most precious resource?”

The facility’s annual revenue has declined from $721,000 in 2017 to $616,000 in 2019. However, Genevieve Chandler, the administrative services manager at Parks and Recreation, said the 153 days of rain Harrisonburg experienced in 2018 caused the loss.

Instead of the golf course, Jones said he’d like to see affordable housing for people who work in the city on the property, which sprawls behind Hillandale Park. He made a motion for City Manager Eric Campbell to research potential outside contractors who could provide a “ballpark price” to investigate the transformation of the 191-acre property.

Councilman Richard Baugh said tasking a contractor with the job would be a “big lift” considering the “800 different variables” that could derail the estimate’s validity. 

The motion died 1-4, with Jones being the sole proponent.

The chamber promptly emptied when those who scrawled notes during the presentation realized the item wouldn’t go up for public hearing.

Baugh said the golf course’s opening in 2001 was a “sensitive subject” at the time. Residents led a “revolution” against the city-funded golf course at the turn of the century, plunging council chambers into chaos. The group Taxpayers Against Golf Spending formed to dethrone three councilmembers by running a single-issue campaign.

Their political coup was successful. However, Baugh said the newly elected seats on the council were too late to halt the construction of the golf course. Baugh said he believes the former council’s moves to cut initial funding of the facility doomed it.

Heritage Oaks Golf Course’s expenditures in 2019 totaled $1.2 million.

On the other hand, Chandler said the golf course made $186,000 more than all other Parks and Recreation facilities and programs — including the Westover Pool and Simms Center — in the 2019 fiscal year combined. Heritage Oaks Golf Course also spent $2.4 million less than those combined amenities.

Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Brian Mancini said the golf course is Harrisonburg’s equivalent to “Central Park.” The sweeping greenspace plopped in the hub of the city is home to deer, geese, an eagle and once, a runaway cow.

Mancini also cited the golf course’s conservation efforts, including its participation in the city-wide pollinator project, which plants pollinator gardens in the urban ecosystem.

Reed agreed with Mancini that more community and private events like weddings and reunions could save the property if residents realize the space’s potential for “more than golf.”

Jones said he was “frustrated” with the presentation of the golf course’s strengths.

“Regardless of history, let’s just look at the economic impact and what that means for the city, and that’s what I was looking for,” Jones said. “I wasn’t looking for how awesome the golf course is.”

SPCA reports spike in pets given away by owner

In 2019, many feline friends got the boot.

Huck Nawaz, the new executive director of the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA, said it took in 40 fewer dogs in 2019, so cats constitute the total jump in intakes.

The local SPCA revealed to the council that its intake of pets in 2019 increased by 19%. Owners surrendered 1,371 animals in 2019 to the organization as compared to 933 in 2018.

Nawaz speculated that the rise in intakes is an unintended consequence of the center’s increased engagement with the community, which is now more aware of the SPCA’s shelter service.

Adoption has increased by 70% in 2019 compared to 2018, however. Nawaz said 1,089 animals were taken home in 2019, while only 642 found families in 2018.

The Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA partnered with 25 new rescue group partnerships, including Anicira, which handles the majority of the SPCA’s surgical cases. These partnerships allowed the shelter to transfer animals to other facilities that had more available space and resources. Transfers at the SPCA increased 173% in 2019.

Last year, the SPCA euthanized half the animals that it did in 2018 as a result of the increase in adoptions and ability to transfer animals to different shelters.

Councilmembers expressed their satisfaction with Nawaz’s management of the facility. Romero offered to share information on adoption opportunities with families at city schools. Jones said he faced daily complaints about the SPCA before Nawaz arrived, but now, he’s received none. Mayor Reed thanked Nawaz for his leadership.

“You’ve been here a year, now,” Reed said. “I like the way the numbers are looking.”

Middle schoolers cluck for chicken raising

Eight 6th graders shuffled single file to face City Council and ask for permission to raise chickens at Great Oak Academy in Harrisonburg.

The students researched the best design for a mobile chicken coop and how to properly care for chickens. Each student delivered a few short words, peeking over the towering podium, before tottering to the side so the next person in the queue could speak. The residents in attendance beamed at each kid who took the stand.

Romero worked with the students as they drafted their proposal, sending them questions he knew the council would want answered.

“Of course I’m going to support you guys in whatever you guys want to do ‘cause that’s a great thing for our schools and for you guys,” Romero said. 

Contact Brice Estes at estes2ba@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.