PRINCETON -- Patoka Township's advisory board unanimously agreed to buy the 60-acre Princeton Country Club property for $208,500 Wednesday evening.
The action came after board members agreed to submit an additional appropriation request to the State Board of Accounts to spend the money from about $1 million that is invested as a fall-back reserve if the Princeton Fire Territory were to dissolve and the township had to re-start its own fire department.
The board is buying a 9-hole golf course, driving range, clubhouse and other buildings and will be responsible for maintaining the buildings and the insurance, but is not getting in the golf course business, according to Patoka Twp. Trustee Bruce Fisher.
Princeton Country Club will continue to operate the course and will pay liability insurance for its operations, leasing the property for $1 per year in a 15-year renewable lease agreement. Country club spokesman Chuck Kennard said the club's 28 stockholders approved the township's offer last week.
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Township advisory board member Ed Prior told Kennard the country club needs to increase membership and attract more people to use the course. "If you don't build it up, you won't get to keep the lease," he said.
The agreement contains provisions that if the country club dissolves, the township can either find another entity to operate the course or can sell it for residential development or agricultural use. The property's appraised value of $441,000 is more than twice the purchase price, which Prior and Fisher said makes the purchase a safe investment for the township.
The country club will first pay off a $140,000 mortgage and $20,000 line of credit on the property with some of the $208,500 proceeds to release the property to the township, Kennard and Fisher confirmed.
Fisher said he researched and confirmed the township has the statutory authority to buy the land, even though 47 acres of the 60-acre package is in White River, not Patoka Twp. The country club, organized as a social club, does not pay property taxes on the land, so the sale to Patoka Twp. doesn't hurt White River Twp. property tax revenue.
He said that if the country club goes out of business, it's more likely the land would be used for residential or agricultural purposes, which would bring more property tax revenue.
The main reason he favors the purchase, said Fisher, is to preserve the course as a quality of life asset and to diversify the township's investments. Fisher said if the state ever succeeds in eliminating township-level government, he doesn't think it will be as interested in taking possession of land as it might be interested in taking the township's $1 million in reserve funds.
Fisher, a former golf club board member, said the club has experienced financial difficulties. "That's not our (the township) problem, but (the interest in) golf just isn't what it used to be," he noted.
The facility is used for several local fundraisers and events, and the high school golf team uses it as a home course. Fisher said it can be an attraction again as it has been over its 90-plus-year history.
"I bailed them out three times to keep them in business when I was a banker," Prior said. He said the club purchased additional property with plans to expand the course but then sold the property back.
If the country club wants to re-purchase the facility from the township, it must be purchased at the appraised value, Fisher confirmed.
But he reiterated, "We don't want to lose the golf course. It's been there for nearly 100 years."
Gibson County Auditor Sherri Smith asked the board why buying a golf course property is the best investment of township funds. "You're buying property and there's a likelihood that they would go under?"
"We're hoping that for a $1 a year lease, there is a better chance for the golf course," Prior said.
Fisher said the property retains its value no matter what happens, but acknowledged the purchase is "a desperate attempt to try to keep the golf course in the area alive." He reiterated that while the township doesn't intend to operate the course, it's possible another entity might run it or it could be used for other purposes.
"We don't want the golf course to go away," Prior said. "But if it did, we would make a heck of a profit (on the land)," he said of the half-price purchase.
Gary Dawson asked how much money the township has. Fisher said there's $1.974 million in funds including investments.
"Why not return it to the taxpayers?" Dawson asked.
Prior said if the Princeton Fire Territory ever dissolves, the invested money is the township's assurance that it can operate a fire department.
Fisher said he hopes to try to find things the township that can invest in that the people of the township can use.
"We all know it's easy to spend other people's money," Dawson replied.
"I don't give away money for free," Fisher said, assuring Dawson that he believes the purchase is a safe investment for the township.
After about 45 minutes of discussion, the board unanimously approved the purchase.
A neighbor on the north side of the property questioned why someone was photographing his property, and inquired about future infrastructure improvements. Board members said they don't know why anyone would be photographing his property, but they're not interested in buying any more land neighboring the golf course. Fisher said he doesn't know about future infrastructure investment for the property yet.