By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — The impact of climate change is par for the course these days — and golf courses are no exception.
At the Board of Selectwomen’s meeting Wednesday, Jennifer Fava, the town’s parks and recreation director, explained how climate change is affecting the Longshore Club Park golf course.
“There are different pests, different fungus,” she said. “With changes in weather … we are now more in a mid-Atlantic situation, rather than the Northeast.”
Fava was explaining to the selectwomen why the town should renew its three-year contract with BrightView Golf Maintenance for professional maintenance of the golf course. The original contract with the company was signed with the option of extending the agreement for three more years, Fava said. The town has outsourced golf course maintenance since 2014.
Selectwoman Candice Savin questioned why the contract was not put out for competitive bidding. “Is there some assessment that we would be unlikely to do better out in the world?” she asked. “And that’s why we don’t necessarily bid it out and see what other options are available?”
Fava said that BrightView has been responsive to the needs of the town, has a good support system that would cost less than hiring individual workers and addresses any problems that arise.
Brad Brown, Westport’s golf superintendent, hired last year, has helped improve the course, and works well with the team from BrightView, she said.
Bringing in a new maintenance company would mean starting over again.
“There’s a learning curve when somebody comes in,” she said. “We are now seeing how different parts of the course react differently — the water side has a different growth pattern than the other side. Somebody coming in new wouldn’t understand that.”
Also, the number of golf maintenance businesses is limited and the town received only three or four bids when the contract was last put out for competitive bidding. Plus, many of the companies focus on Florida, where weather conditions are very different.
“They don’t have experience in the Northeast … We do not feel that we would get better management of the facility if we bid it out.” Fava said.
The cost of the contract is based on the Consumer Price Index “with a floor and a maximum,” according to Doug Lomonte, the lawyer for the town who drafted the contract-extension letter. The cost figures for the contract will be available in the future.
According to Fava, in each year of the contract the fee would rise 5 percent or match the CPI increase, whichever is less, over the previous year. Because of inflation, there will be a 5 percent increase for the first year, she said.
The selectwomen voted unanimously to approve the contract extension.
Tech to help claw back parks & rec expenses
Action on a second contract was requested by Fava for a consulting and licensing agreement between the town and Amilia Technologies USA Inc. The pact covers a software system and consulting to help the Parks and Recreation Department carry out its financial sustainability policy.
For a $2,000 annual contract fee and a $300 monthly licensing fee, the company provides software and support to analyze costs and revenues generated by the department. The service will be used to help parks and recreation staff make financial decisions on its operations and fees charged for programs and for use of town recreational facilities.
“This is all based on our cost recovery,” Fava said, “We want to be able to cover our expenses … It will help us — should we raise the fee, should we try to find sponsors for something.”
The technology will consider debt service and overhead costs, not just program expenses, she added. The town does not charge fees for certain large events, such as Memorial Day activities or general costs for maintaining parks, for example, but would expect to generate revenue from facilities like boat slips. “Why should the taxpayer be paying for that?” she said.
The selectwomen unanimously approved the consulting and licensing agreement for financial support.
Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.