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County Takes A Mulligan On Golf Fees Commission Approves Only Slight Increase As Large, Angry Gallery Of Golfers Fills Hearing Beyond Capacity

Greens fees at Spokane County’s three golf courses will go up this year - but not as high as Commissioner John Roskelley wanted.

Swamped by angry golfers Tuesday night, Commissioners Steve Hasson and Phil Harris voted for a more modest $1 increase as recommended by a new citizens golf advisory committee.

The rate for non-senior residents playing 18 holes now is $14.50.

Roskelley had proposed a $2.50 hike, with $1 going to aid the county’s decrepit parks system. Roskelley noted that the parks department has donated workers and equipment to help make the courses what they are.

He also said the county diverted nearly $1.8 million in tax revenues between 1988 and 1994 to add amenities to the Hangman Valley, Liberty Lake and MeadowWood courses. Roskelley suggested some of that money could have gone to parks.

The 2-1 commission vote came after two hours of testimony from among the 175 people - 50 more than the seating capacity - who packed the commission’s meeting room.

“This is the most amount of people I’ve ever seen in this room, ever,” said Hasson, in his eighth year on the board.

The vast majority of spectators were golf-addicted seniors. Several teed off on a statement last month by Roskelley, a renowned mountain climber, that golf is “recreation for the wealthy.” He later qualified his remark to say golfers are wealthy compared with parents “who take their children to the Hillyard pool.”

Wilson Conaway said, “Yes, there are some wealthy golfers as there are wealthy mountain climbers.”

Another man added: “I think the mountain climber should come off the mountain and get with the real people.”

Only a couple of people braved hecklers in the crowd and took the microphone to speak in favor of Roskelley’s proposal.

A county parks employee noted that MeadowWood and Hangman Valley are recognized nationally for their price and quality. Five of the county’s parks, meanwhile, have no playground equipment. What they had was removed after being deemed unsafe.

Craig Volosing, a member of the county parks advisory committee, applauded Roskelley for “paying a hell of a price” in exposing how underfunded the parks are.

But in the end, Roskelley was alone, getting his political baptism two months after taking office.

“I was told, ‘Don’t touch the golfers. They’re vicious. They’ll come back at you,”’ Roskelley told the crowd.

A loud scoff echoed back.

Before voting, Harris noted that the parks department no longer subsidizes the golf courses, which are now self-sustaining. MeadowWood, however, faces a balloon payment of $671,000 in the year 2006 to retire its debt.

Hasson said shifting golf revenues to the parks would open the door to any department in need of money, particularly law enforcement.

“It provides a great argument for the sheriff to say, ‘Hey, what about me?”’

Many in the crowd said they moved to Spokane County to spend golden years playing affordable golf. The county’s courses also draw tourism dollars to the community, they said.

And golf is among the few recreational pursuits available to seniors who have lost much of their physical abilities, Conaway said.

“The fees you propose will put golf out of reach …,” he said. “We can’t play softball or football. You eliminate golf and you have quilting and shuffleboard.”

Ultimately, commissioners and some in the crowd agreed, the county has to devise a scheme to adequately pay for parks.

Wyn Birkenthal, parks and recreation manager, said the county’s four swimming pools are “crumbling.” He said the parks system is besieged by “deteriorating infrastructure” while full-time employees are being reduced.

Birkenthal noted that fees for park users also are expected to climb this year - in some cases quadrupling.

“You can see the pain is being shared not only by the golf community but by the parks community,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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