December 05, 2001 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

With no discussion, two Union County commissioners agreed Wednesday to enter into a partnership agreement with the City of Union to operate and manage the Buffalo Peak Golf Course.

According to the terms of the two-and-a-half page agreement, the county will have the final decision-making authority for all business and management decisions regarding the course and will commit that all revenues from the course will be used only for improving the golf course and paying off its debt.

In the agreement, City of Union will commit to budgeting to assist in the marketing of the golf course or improvement projects as they come up and provide public works assistance as appropriate. The city will also have the option to repurchase the golf course at five-year intervals.

The agreement is what Union City Councilor Barbara James this morning called a gentlemans agreement, saying that there are still many details to iron out.

James, Union Mayor Dave Thomas, City Administrator Bill Searles, county general services director Dennis Spray and county administrative officer Marlene Perkins had met at least twice prior to Wednesdays commissioners meeting to work out details of the agreement.

The terms are very generous from Union County, Thomas said.

The decision to seek county support came when Union found itself with our backs against the wall, the mayor said.

While the city has the money to make the next bond repayment thats due, it doesnt have operating revenue available to keep the course going. The problem, in part, came from the course opening more than a year later than planned because of problems with access, neighboring property and the need to move the citys landfill to a new recycling center.

These details, James said earlier this autumn, meant that the city didnt have the time it expected to get the course open and start earning revenue prior to the bond payments coming due.

At the commissioners meeting, Commissioner Steve McClure excused himself from voting on the agreement because of a possible conflict of interest as a relative by marriage is the golf courses current manager.

I think this is a step in the right direction, Thomas said this morning. Its a step to protect the interests of those in Union and in the county.

For James, who has worked on the golf course project since it was first proposed, the partnership agreement is, while perhaps disappointing, a way to keep the course going and bring visitors to Union and more money to the towns businesses.

We already have more people looking at Union, she said, and the prospect of new homes going up near the course will increase the towns tax rolls.

She looks at the work thats gone into the golf course and still sees the positives.

We can sit on our butt and do nothing, she said as she recalled the thinking behind the decision to go ahead with a golf course in the mid-1990s, or we can get off our butts and do something that will bring money into this town.

Union County already has given cash assistance to the golf course, according to Perkins. The county spent $60,000 to assist the courses operational budget, and gave $22,000 to help the city finish reconstruction of Fulton Street, the main road to the course.

The county also owned the building that is now being used for a clubhouse and it built the cart shed.

The agreement with the county will hinge primarily on the county making an application for and receiving a state loan of $150,000 for short-term operational use.

The county will also be seeking to secure a reduced long-term, low- interest loan to purchase the golf course from the present financing company.

The partnership agreement does end with a clause that if the county isnt able to secure a long-term loan, the agreement will be null and void and a different agreement would have to be approved by both the city and the county.

The partnership agreement is expected to be presented to the entire Union City Council Monday evening for signing.