Seniors who enjoyed a deep discount when they played on Prince William County's public golf courses are seeing their costs increase since the Prince William County Park Authority started charging them for carts last month.
The carts, which used to be included in seniors' annual fees, cost about $15 per round. The change comes at the same time the authority, which has struggled with its finances in recent years, revealed that it ended fiscal 2005 in the black.
At a Board of County Supervisors meeting Tuesday, supervisors praised the Park Authority's significant turnaround from just last year but questioned why the agency is charging seniors for carts if it is more financially stable.
Director E. Jay Ellington said in an interview that the Park Authority wanted to be cautious and ensure it has money to improve services and facilities in the future. Although revenue is expected to increase by about $1.4 million in fiscal 2006, the Park Authority's $28 million budget still relies heavily on the county's subsidizing more than half the expenditures with taxpayer dollars.
The past year was dry and good for golf, Ellington said.
"Those rainout days really affect us," he said. "I could come back again next year and have a horrible story based on the weather."
To save up for rainy days, the Park Authority decided to charge for carts, he said.
The authority would like to reduce the county's subsidy, and running the county's four golf courses accounts for nearly $5 million of the budget.
"Our goal is to make them self-sufficient fully," Ellington said.
Rick Washco, communication services director for the authority, said the agency also wanted to reduce the gap in charges between daily-fee players and seniors.
Seniors pay just $850 for an annual pass, while other players pay about $1,200 a year.
"I play about 70 to 75 rounds of golf a year," said John Castro, 66, who plays at Forest Greens Golf Club in Triangle. "Under the new fee structure, my cost has just gone from $850 to $1,900."
Castro said seniors would feel better if they knew where the money was going and why the Park Authority needs it during prosperous times.
"The letter we received from the golf manager was very vague," he said. "Our concern is that if there is a legitimate, logical reason to increase fees . . . tell us what it is."
Ellington said the seniors' concerns will be addressed in another letter, which will outline the authority's goal of improving facilities. He said the agency will ease into the new charges by offering seniors free passes for golf carts but didn't have details on how those passes would work.