The cost of Pierce County's planned waterfront golf course apparently is going up by at least $3.8 million.
This week, some County Council members were upset to learn that the $20.77 million bonding package they approved in September to build the golf course wasn't enough.
And they were surprised to learn that County Executive John Ladenburg's administration approved the additional $3.8 million without telling them.
The $3.8 million would come from the county's sewer construction fund and would pay for three more projects to support the golf course: lighting, an entry road and a trail.
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Council members found out during a routine budget hearing Tuesday when they asked Public Works Director Brian Ziegler about the proposed 2006 sewer construction fund.
On Wednesday, Council Chairman Shawn Bunney (R-Lake Tapps) said the council was still seeking answers.
Are the additional projects "in the public interest, and should we fund them in the way they were presented?" he said. "Did John (Ladenburg) legally get out in front of us on these projects?"
Ladenburg said the contract that includes the additional projects was written to allow the council to still say no to those projects.
And the council knew about the additional projects, Ladenburg said, because "we told them there is a master plan here to build all these things."
The budget flap concerns Ladenburg's plan to build a 250-acre, 18-hole Scottish links-style golf course at Chambers Creek Properties in University Place.
It's planned as a championship-caliber course that will appeal to deep-pocketed golfers.
It all boiled over Tuesday when, under questioning by council members, Ziegler confirmed the plan to dip into the sewer fund to pay for additional projects to support the golf course.
Three projects became the center of an often tense discussion after the council learned that Ladenburg's administration had already approved them.
The projects are $1.1 million for a "Soundview Trail" through the golf course, $1.4 million for "site infrastructure" including lighting, and $1.3 million for an entry road.
At Tuesday's hearing, the extra projects surprised council members.
Addressing Ziegler, Council Chairman Bunney asked: "Is this the first time we've seen this in writing?"
"Yes, yes, " replied Ziegler.
Ziegler told the council that if it doesn't approve the lighting and entry road projects, "then we don't have electricity and gas to run a golf course, and we don't have a road to get people to the golf course."
Councilman Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup) said the council should have been told about the extra charges when it approved the $20.77 million package to construct the golf course.
"I grant you we should have told you that there were additional charges beyond the bond . . ." Ziegler said.
"Wow, " Goings interrupted.
". . . in order to make, " Ziegler continued, "uh, connect the golf course to the site."
Later in the hearing, Ziegler apologized for not asking the council to include "the site infrastructure work at the same time we brought the golf course to you as a (capital facilities plan) amendment.
"It was an oversight on our part."
In an interview Wednesday, Ziegler downplayed his use of the word "oversight, " saying he was "trying to be polite about it."
Pierce County legally is allowed to do the additional projects, Ziegler said, and the projects benefit park and trail users - not just users of the golf course.
Ziegler said the sewer utility owns Chambers Creek Properties and is responsible for rejuvenating the former gravel pit under the master plan.
He emphasized the council can still delete the three projects from the budget.
"We signed a contract in one sense, but, no, we didn't sign a contract in another sense because we're still awaiting council approval on those options, " he said.
Ziegler said current sewer funds are enough to cover the three additional projects "as long as we do not exceed the bottom line for 2005."
Next Tuesday, the council is slated to approve the county's overall budget for 2006.
If this latest golf course issue isn't resolved by then, Council Chairman Bunney said, then the council might freeze Ladenburg's request.
"I'm going to give them every benefit of the doubt, " Bunney said of county managers, "but we are going to do our due diligence on this, that I can assure you."
The golf course is intended to rejuvenate Chambers Creek Properties, enable expansion of the county's wastewater treatment facilities, generate revenues to build other park projects and pump up the local economy.
County officials broke ground on the golf course in October.
They hope to open Chambers Bay Golf Course in May 2007.