After several seasons of complaints about subpar conditions at the town's Longshore Golf Course, officials plan to review the prospects of hiring an outside maintenance firm to care for the public links.
The Parks & Recreation Commission was given an update Monday by Director Stuart McCarthy on his plan to seek proposals from professional golf course maintenance businesses. While McCarthy made it clear he is still gathering information and is not ready seek bids on the job, Fred Hunter, who chairs the Golf Advisory Committee, told the commission he believes an outside firm could provide better care for the same or less money.
"In all instances the quality of the course went up and the fees went down," he said regarding information he gathered from other municipalities that have handed over maintenance -- and other services -- of their public courses to outside management firms.
"The real objective is to improve the quality on the golf course at an equal or lesser cost," he said.
McCarthy said that sometime this week he planned to issue a request for proposals for the plans.
"We've done quite a bit of work with this," McCarthy said. "We are optimistic that we'll get some good competitive proposals."
McCarthy urged caution in moving forward, however, saying not all companies deliver on their promises. "There are examples where this has not gone well," he said. "There are companies that have gone out of business and there are companies that have failed to perform."
He said it would be important to receive proposals from "multiple legitimate vendors," rather than placing all their faith in just one possibility. "If that one proposal goes bad ... then you have some issues."
"It can be an expensive mistake, if you will, when you have to get back in the business," he said.
McCarthy said both unions representing the current five employees who maintain the Longshore course have been notified of the proceeding. He said the contract with a new maintenance company would require that it interview current employees for jobs, although it would not require that they be hired.
"They bring in their own labor," he said.
Commission Chairman Andy Moss said he hoped that "whatever we do, people get treated with real respect and care ... to make sure that our folks are looked after."
"In this particular town, the golf course is a huge aspect of the value of this town," Moss said. "I think we all need to pay attention."
"Obviously the benchmark is the product we have right now," McCarthy said. "The issue becomes, `Is a private vendor able to come in right now and do the same job or better' " for equal or less money?
"If we're not happy with the proposals, we'll do business as usual," he said. "There is no mandate to select one of these proposals."
He said several "informal" meetings have taken place with some maintenance firms. "We're aware there's at least two viable companies in this area," he said, noting that Fairfield also is considering the same kind of plan for its town golf courses.