County tables decision on golf subsidy

Published 9:43 am Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The issue of whether to give financial support to the Cypress Cove Country Club was tabled by the Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday evening. The decision came after a lengthy public hearing and discussion among supervisors. The majority of speakers said they oppose what amounts to subsidizing a private business with taxpayers’ money.

On Aug. 28, the board talked about contributing $30,000 to the club so that non-members could have an opportunity to play only golf at $25 a round; the other amenities would not be available. If approved, this would be a shared services agreement with Franklin. The council had voted 6-1 that same night to approve its participation — which would also mean $30,000 from the city — contingent on how the board would vote.

The motivation for such an agreement is to maintain what some supervisors and councilman say is an asset to the area. By which they mean more specifically the golf course, which is also used by area high school teams in competitions.

Last spring, the board had included in its 2018 Fiscal Year budget what County Administrator Mike Johnson called a $30,000 “placeholder” under the Parks, Recreation and Cultural category for “Parks and Recreation Shared Services.”

During the citizens’ comment period, Larry Rose voiced the first support for the idea. He said he was the first African-American to become a member 28 years ago, and recalled that money raised by the club went back into the school system.

“I do believe it’s worth spending $30,000,” said Rose, adding later “What do we expect our kids to do?”

Among those who urged the board not to contribute the money was Earva Sumblin, who said, “I am standing not only for myself but also others in direct opposition to giving money to the club. I do not think you are at the stature to do so,” she said, adding her thanks to Rose for his efforts, but suggested the schools might like to partner with Cypress Cove.

Jean Cutchin said she believes that supporting the club “sets a poor precedent for the board.”

When she mentioned about the board supposedly already giving the club $10,000, supervisor Barry Porter immediately interjected that did not happen.

“There have never been special favors to anyone,” he said, adding that the country club had discovered it had been assessed twice the amount it should be. A court award the club relief, and the appraiser agreed with the court. The county attorney advised the board to not to waste money in a frivolous lawsuit.

Jimmy Lee said he was active in the club, and is still a stockholder, but urged the board “not to consider giving the money,” calling it detrimental and could lead to legal action. “It’s a very slippery slope. I urge you respectfully to deny this.”

Dr. Carolyn Modlin of Boykins district said, “We need to consider all the children in this county and what’s best for them.”

Steve Griffith said, “I simply don’t believe we should bail out any business. It’s not up to us to bail any business with our tax dollars.”

Rose was not the only supporter. Jerry Grizzard of Franklin, who’s had family farm in Southampton since 1944, supports the idea. He had returned to the area a few years ago and the availability of the golf course was a draw for his return

“It’s an attractive thing for people to come back to,” said Grizzard. “The county club is an asset. I get no direct value from schools, but I recognize their value.”

When it came to the board’s views, vice chairman Ronnie West said the club is desperate and in dire need.

“I’m going to say yes. It’s a business that’s important, viable. The club is a business that helps brings people in the county. It’s a one-year, one-time [contribution.] I do agree that we need more for schools.

Porter said, “When I think about the prospect of losing an asset such as the Cypress Cove, it makes me sad. This is survival. I don’t want to see this club die.

“You’ll lose many times more than $30,000 if the club closes. It’s not a black-and-white issue. There would be a significant impact. Your taxes would go up, not down.”

Carl Faison said, “I’ve always considered it to be an asset to the county. I’d be willing to try it for one year.”

Randolph Cook of Newsoms added that the tournaments hosted by the club raise thousands of dollars.

“It’s amazing what people will pay to play golf,” he added. “It is an asset to the county.”

In contrast, Dr. Alan Edwards said he’s “fully convinced the people are not in favor of this. I’m not in favor of bailing out the club. [To give the money is] a short shot in the arm. It’s going to have to go on year after year. It’s extremely selfish of the board [to do this]. People have to have confidence in this board. To vote will be a great loss of confidence. It’s a foolish endeavor.”

Bruce Phillips, who said he also considers the golf club as an asset, suggested a compromise of making the club a public facility. But further study would be needed to discover if the community wants a golf course.

“What we propose now is not a positive,” said Phillips. “We’re not under a deadline … I think we’re going about it the wrong way. I want to see if club directors would consider the place to become public.”

With the exception of Porter, all other supervisors agreed to wait another month. Chairman Dallas Jones told everyone after the break that the country club “has not asked for a dime.”