Golf

Pictured is an outlook of some of the greens and fairways at Oswego Country Club.

OSWEGO — State lawmakers are proposing legislation that could be a major hit to golf courses, and local officials and course owners say the law could drive local courses out of business.

Bills in the state Assembly and Senate would authorize local governments to pass legislation to allow property valuations for golf courses to be assessed on the “highest and best use,” rather than current use. The county Government, Courts and Consumer Affairs Committee earlier this month unanimously agreed to express their opposition to the measure, and the full county Legislature is expected to vote on the matter today at its 7 p.m. meeting.

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church described the legislation as proposing to impose property tax levies on golf courses “not based on what their current use is like every other property in the state, but what is their highest and best use.” Church said a memo to county officials from local golf clubs and courses opposed the legislation, citing fears that it imposes an unfair tax on the properties, as other properties aren’t taxed based on highest and best use.

“I personally spoke to everyone on that list,” said Will Weimer, a PGA golf professional and co-owner of Stone Creek Golf Club in Oswego Town, of the memo sent to the county. “And they’re very adamant about at least just being on record, if possible, that they’re in disagreement with this legislation.”

According to the legislation’s Democratic sponsors, assessors would have the ability to consider valuing golf course properties based on the possibility that the properties might be located in a prime real estate area in which developers are willing to pay a premium for land.

County Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said local golf clubs employ local workers, and noted golf courses are a significant economic driver in the county.

“I just think the economic impact, if this was to pass, would be so significant,” he said.

County Real Property Director Betsy Knapp said the legislation “makes no sense,” and likened it to saying “farmland should be assessed as condos.” Legislator David Holst, R-Amboy, noted the legislation could lead toward skyrocketing assessments as state officials decided to value other types of property based on their best use.

Weimer said the Stone Creek Golf Club employs more than 20 people, and the proposed legislation could make it difficult to continue operating.

“It’d be a shame,” he said. “I’d go back to teaching golf and I wouldn’t own a golf course if this was to pass.”

Oswego Country Club PGA Professional Ryne Varney said the bill would “kill golf in New York State,” if passed. Varney noted the legislation could impact all privately owned golf courses in the area, which would include nearly ever course in the county.

“You’re taxing one specific industry over another,” he said. “You begin to ask yourself, ‘where does it stop?’”

Varney said the Oswego Country Club and other courses could be shut down within a few years if the legislation were passed and local municipalities and assessors opt to use it.

“I’d like to think Oswego wouldn’t do this,” he said. “Hopefully people realize that this will effect a lot of places.”

Varney, who moved to Oswego two years ago, said all four of the state’s four regional PGA sections are opposed to the measure.

Legislator Heather DelConte, D-Oswego, called the legislation “ridiculous” and wondered about the impetus behind the policy change.

“There has to be some rationale behind it, it had to start somewhere unless it was just to find one industry to eke a little more money out of,” DelConte said. “I don’t understand it.”

The bill’s sponsors say golf courses are unique and often challenging to value, and pointed out there are several types of courses, including private, semiprivate, public, nonprofit and municipal, with varying business models and economic returns.

Others would say the legislation is a direct attack on New York golf courses owned by President Donald Trump.

Varney said the legislation appears to be specifically aimed at Trump-owned golf courses in New York.

“I know it’s politically motivated,” he said. “Aiming this bill on one person that will also effect over 60,000 people in the state isn’t fair.

Weimer, who worked at Oswego Country Club for nearly two decades, said there are differences between private, member-fee facilities and public, daily-fee facilities, and there may be some legitimate concerns about how the funds are accounted for, but in the short six-month season in Oswego County there aren’t that many differences.

Under the proposed legislation, local assessors would ultimately have the discretion to decide the best use for the properties. Church said if the legislation were to pass, the county could encourage local assessors to determine the best use for such properties was a golf course. 

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