RIGHTS vs. ENTITLEMENTS: A Case in Point — by Todd Macfarlane

Some interesting discussions have been occurring in recent Millard County Commission Meetings.  It has been very refreshing to see others in Millard County who care enough about issues that are important to them to take time off work, attend county commission meetings, and provide input about relevant issues.  We commend anyone who cares enough to attend public meetings and make their voices heard.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 9.38.23 PMThe most recent example of this involved continued discussion of the Sunset View Golf Course in Delta.  And it is gratifying to know that it’s not just people on one side of this issue who read the Pahvant Post, and take action based on what they read.  Although the golfers who attended the most recent county commission meeting repeatedly attempted to criticize those they have labeled and characterized as “the vocal minority,” they also continually referred to what they have been reading “in the paper,” and because  the Pahvant Post is the main place where a majority of that discussion has been taking place, it’s good to know they’re closely following the discussion.

The golf course discussion also provides a perfect opportunity to discuss the difference between fundamental rights versus perceived entitlements.

Now that the issue of golf is squarely on the table, I want to set one thing straight right at the outset: although Mark Twain said “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” this discussion has nothing to do with the merits of golfing, and whether golf is a great sport and a worthwhile pastime.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.34.27 AMContrary to what some people may think, I’m a golfer.  I love to golf.  In addition to spending plenty of time, in my past lives, golfing, I have also written extensively about golf.  I have long been an admirer and collector of the artwork of Russell Houston.  In my past life, my law office walls were covered with golf prints.  One of my favorites has always been “the Writing on the Wall,” which depicts a petroglyph of ancient Native Americans golfing.  The subtitle of a book manuscript I worked on at one point was “Lawyers are Supposed to be Golfers.”  The bottom line is, I’m as big a proponent of the combination of fresh air, sunshine and exercise/recreation as anyone alive.  So this has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the merits of playing golf.  And this definitely isn’t an east/west issue, which makes no difference to me.  If the same thing were happening in Fillmore, I would be saying exactly the same thing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.04.30 PMOne of the growing concerns and undercurrents in the United States is a continually growing sense of governmental entitlement, coupled with continual erosion of fundamental rights, which include, but are certainly not limited to, freedom of speech, religion, and property.  It is pretty well-established that property rights are entitled to the status of fundamental rights.  While there seem to be a growing number of Americans and governmental officials, whose actions indicate that they care less and less about such basic rights and freedoms, at the same time more and more people have their hands out, and there is a growing expectation of government entitlements.  This includes the growing sense that government, including local government, should provide more and more, less essential services.

At the January 6th Millard County commission meeting and public hearing, a number of residents, from all over the county, made the effort to attend the meeting, and to comment about the proposed revisions to the enforcement provisions of the new land-use ordinances.  The public hearing that was scheduled to last 15 minutes ended up lasting over two hours.  Many of those who commented talked about the importance of protecting fundamental private property rights, and the need to balance property rights against legitimate concerns about public health, safety and welfare.  Some of them said how “passionate” they were about the protection of fundamental private property rights.

By comparison and contrast, at the January 20th county commission meeting, there was a similar, if not even larger, turn-out to talk about the Sunset View Golf Course.  Although only 2-3 spoke, clearly there was strong support for their position. Those who spoke used some of the very same terminology as those who had spoken at the previous meeting.  They said, “We are passionate about this issue — we are very passionate about recreation, and especially about golfing, and our right to golf at Sunset View Golf Course.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.24.34 AMWhether the right to golf itself can be considered a fundamental right, there is no question that as human beings, and as Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with a fundamental freedom of choice.  That includes the right to choose how we want to recreate and spend our leisure time.  Whether people choose to seek recreation and entertainment on the golf course, ball field, in the gym, in the mountains, or in their bedrooms, is up to them.

We all have a fundamental right to make that choice.  And if there is one thing I definitely believe in, and am a strong defender of, it is fundamental liberty, and the freedom to make such choices.

But regardless of our fundamental right to make that choice, whether we have an inherent entitlement to have government and our fellow citizens subsidize our recreational choices is another issue entirely.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

One thing that has been amusing — if not downright hilarious — is to observe how the Delta area golfing crowd has repeatedly attempted to label and characterize those who have been so audacious as to ask questions about the Sunset View Golf Course as “the vocal minority.”  That has become the flavor of the week label of choice.  But the reality is, if you added up every current living Millard County resident who has ever played a round at the Sunset View Golf Course, it would be a very small minority of Millard County residents.

At the recent county commission meeting, Sunset View supporters made a presentation to the county commissioners.  That presentation included many numbers and statistics to support their case that they should be entitled to have the rest of the residents in Millard County subsidize their ability to golf in Delta.  They did a great job with their presentation.  Indeed, the numbers and statistics they presented are very telling — especially in the context of a discussion where people are throwing around words and labels like “minority” and “majority.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.48.01 AMAccording to the relevant numbers and statistics, at its height, the Sunset View Men’s Golf Association had about 200 members, which is less than 2% of current Millard County residents.  According to the numbers and statistics as presented by Steve Styler, today the men’s golf association currently has 85 members and the women’s association has 25 members.  That combined total is just 0.08% of Millard County’s current population.  That’s right — less than 1%.

According to Styler, in 2014, Sunset View sold 85 season passes and 115 punch cards.  That’s a total of 200 people — or 1.5% of the residents of Millard County — playing golf at Sunset View on a regular basis.

He said that in 2014, approximately 16,000 rounds of golf were played at Sunset View.  What does that figure represent?  No one knows for sure, but for the sake of discussion what it probably means is that if 100 regular golfers each played three rounds a week from April through November (34 weeks), that would account for 10,200 rounds of golf.  If another 100 people played just once a week during that same period, that would would be another 3400 rounds.  If another 300 people played just once a month, from April through November, that would be another 2400 rounds, for a total of 16,000 rounds.  Based on these hypothetical figures, at most, not more than about 500 people would have used the Delta golf course.  Although that number also includes all the people from outside the area who the golfing crowd claim play golf in Delta, it is still less than 4% of Millard County’s current population.

Now, let’s consider the fact that of Millard County’s total $ 1 Million dollar annual recreation budget the golf course consumes as much financial resource as all the other county recreation programs combined, and operates at a net loss of over $200,000/year.  If 16,000 rounds of golf were played, that is a subsidy of $12.50/round.  If that figure is divided over the 500 people who might occasionally use the golf course, and play those 16,000 rounds, it amounts to a subsidy of at least $400/person.  But the obvious reality is that the 100 most active golfer receive by far the most benefit.  On a per round basis, the financial subsidy to the 100 most active golfers would be $1275/person.

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 5.46.36 AMAccording to Mr. Styler’s figures, in 2014, a total of 1772 individuals participated in some form of west side county recreation programs.  That is 13.6% of the county population that participated in any west side county recreation program, which is over three times the 3.8% who golfed, yet the golf course consumed roughly 50% of the county’s total recreation budget.

If Styler’s total west-side recreation numbers (1772) are simply doubled to estimate possible total recreation participation, county-wide, in all county recreation programs, which include the swimming pools, ball fields, leagues, tournaments, and all other county recreation programs or activities, approximately 27% of Millard County residents participate in some form of county recreation program.  While that number is over seven times higher than the 3.8% who might use the Sunset View Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 6.24.15 AMGolf course, any way you cut the numbers it is impossible to get away from the fact that even when all possible county recreation users are counted, we’re still talking about a fairly small minority of Millard County residents.  Yet, the pro-golf crowd insists on attempting to cast themselves as the majority, as they label and characterize those who ask questions as “the vocal minority.”

The reality is, if you took everyone who has said anything about any issue associated with the Sunset View Golf Course, whether pro or con, anyone who has showed up at a meeting to talk about it, anyone who has been vocal about it in any way, shape or form, and added all of those people together, it would still be a very, very small, vocal, minority.  So, where do the golfers get off on acting like they speak for the silent majority?

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Elite Entitlements

This discussion goes back to a previous article about the the High School Pecking Order.  What it really boils down to is the undeniable reality that there is an elite group in Millard County who believe they are entitled to have the rest of the county pay to subsidize their chosen recreational pursuits.  Their basic message is:  How dare you question our entitlement?  And the first thing they do is attempt to label, criticize and marginalize anyone who would even consider asking legitimate questions — which goes back to several other previous articles, including an article about the “difference” in our respective perspectives and policy priorities, and another article about the difference in our respective operational approaches

The prom kings, cheerleaders and sports heroes from the “best” families start to believe they are entitled to occupy positions of social status and dominance the rest of their lives. In most cases there are certain families who, after several generations, establish themselves as local aristocracy and seek to dominate, control, and “govern” everyone else. . . . How dare anyone else question anything?  Don’t they recognize the long-established social order? . . . .Once a person takes a step back and takes a serious look at that is happening, this pattern becomes unmistakable in Millard County.  The long-standing high school pecking order is alive and well. . . .  As a general rule, people from the Delta area have a superiority complex.  Many of them have been conditioned over generations to believe they are the “haves” in Millard County. They have the water, the money, and the power and influence. . . .  Fillmore and the so-called “East side” of Millard County are the “have-nots” and have developed a corresponding inferiority complex. . . . The ultimate purpose of the pecking order is to continually remind everyone of where they fit int he pecking order, and to exercise power, dominion and control over others [and to receive the corresponding benefits and entitlements].                                                                                       Delta Rose

In this situation, there are three main groups who receive the primary benefit from the vastly disproportionate amount of money Millard County spends on the Sunset View Golf Course.  They are: 1) the real estate Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 11.12.00 PMdevelopers, who developed Sunset View Estates Subdivision;  2) the community that lives around the golf course — the golf course almost serves as a private park, with lots of lawn, open space, green grass and water, etc., which virtually everyone finds desirable — at public expense, and; 3) the active golfers in the Delta area.  These groups all claim that the golf course benefits the entire county, and they adamantly assert that it is critical for economic development.  But they haven’t been able to show that any significant employer has actually relocated to Millard County because of the golf course, and the unsubstantiated arguments and assertions they offer in this regard are purely anecdotal.  If they want to make the claim that the golf course actually benefits economic development, they need to provide solid evidence to support that claim.

Because these groups are the epitome of special interest groups, with a conflict of interests, and an elite attitude about their entitlement to receive a disproportionate amount of the Millard County budget to fund their favorite recreational pastime(s), all their assertions deserve careful scrutiny.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.49.29 AMThere is nothing whatsoever wrong with special interest groups.  Any group of people that genuinely cares about something is a special interest group.  It is good to see people passionate about what they enjoy doing, whether it is business and making money, or pleasure and having a good time.  That is not the question.   The question is whether special interest groups should receive “special” treatment by government. The corresponding question is to what extent a small, miniscule special interest group, comprising a real estate developer, a handful of homeowners, and a small group of golfers should be entitled to have everyone else subsidize their narrow recreational pleasures?

There is no reason whatsoever that all of these groups should not benefit from the golf course.  It was built, and is maintained for their intended benefit.  The real question is to what extent Millard County can justify forcing everyone else in the county to to pay for something that benefits such a small group of people at everyone else’s expense? Is the structure and approach reasonable?  Do the numbers make sense?  These are the kinds of questions that deserve to be asked.

Millard County is certainly not the first place this issue has surfaced.  The same question has arisen all over the state, and especially in areas that have experienced more growth.  In those areas it is not uncommon for new residents to want “better” infrastructure and services than previous residents have been satisfied with.  The Utah State Legislature has created several mechanisms to help address such situations.  One mechanism is a Special Service Area (“SSA”). Another is Special Assessment Area (“SAA”).  And yet another is a Basic Local District.  When new developments want “special” treatment and perks, including better parks and recreational infrastructure, than everyone else has, rather than force everyone else to pay for it, the legislature has created these “special” mechanisms to allow those who benefit most from the things they want to have the opportunity to pay for it — because everyone else can see that those who receive the benefit should be the ones to pay.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.47.00 AMIn most such developments throughout the state there is no issue about local government and the rest of the residents paying for such improvements.  When similar residential communities are developed, they often include common areas, including clubhouses, and recreational facilities like swimming pools, exercise rooms, tennis courts, and/or racketball courts.  Rather than seek to pay for such private benefits with public resources, however, most communities and developments address these issues through the mechanism of a Home Owners Association (“HOA”) that is responsible for such facilities, including both the initial cost, and ongoing maintenance.  In cases where this isn’t done on a purely private basis, mechanisms like SSAs, SAAs, and Basic Local Districts are used, to avoid having everyone else in the entire jurisdiction pay for something that they receive little or no benefit from.  Almost anywhere else in the state, the possibility of having the entire county pay for such limited benefits is a long-settled issue, and the parties involved know better than to even propose such unreasonable arrangements.

And there does not appear to be any reason this shouldn’t be the case at Sunset View Estates.  I don’t know how many undeveloped lots there are in the development, but for the sake of hypothetical discussion, let’s assume there are 100.  Let’s assume that an average lot elsewhere in the Delta area has an average fair market value of $30,000, but because of proximity to the golf course, etc., lots in Sunset View Estates are worth $40,000.  That means proximity to the golf course creates a $10,000 premium.  This is an extra $10,000 that goes into the developer’s pocket because of the golf course.  That means when the development is completely built-out the developer will have received an additional $1 million dollars because of the golf course — primarily at county expense. And the 100 active golfers receive a $1275 subsidy per person/year — at county expense.

There is no reason the developer shouldn’t receive more for the golf course lots. These lots offer access to an amenity that other lots don’t have.  But if this had been structured differently, with an SSA, SAA, or a Basic Local District, that amount might have been, say, $500,000 instead of our hypothetical One Million $$, entirely at county expense.  The county would have been reimbursed for a good share of what it spent to develop the golf course, and both the SSA and HOA would chip in a significant amount for annual maintenance.  And if that small special interest group wanted a new club house — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a new, upgraded clubhouse; it’s just a matter of who should pay for it — they would figure out a way to pay for it, without simply insisting that it has been budgeted in the county general budget, and therefore they have an entitlement not only to have the money spent and the new clubhouse built, but also staffed, stocked and maintained, and fully funded, entirely at county expense — and without anyone having the audacity to ask questions about it.

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Final Thoughts

Although Delta area golfers and the applicable real estate developer seem to resent what they apparently perceive as the necessity of engaging in this discussion, and attending county commission meetings to make their case and explain why they should be entitled to have everyone else in the county subsidize their recreational passions, this is exactly the kind of public discussion that should be taking place.

As Americans, we have the right to see what our governments are doing, and why, and to ask applicable questions.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with others coming in and seeking to answer those questions; to make their case and explain why they should be entitled to what they are asking for.  This is, by all means, a discussion that should be playing out on the public stage — because it is a public matter, involving the expenditure of public funds — a significant amount of public funds — that disproportionately benefit a small group of people.  Open and transparent public meetings are where these sorts of issues should be debated, and any and all deals should be made in full public view, rather than in private, with little or no public scrutiny.

Why would any such group resent the necessity of engaging in this kind of discussion?  There is only one reasonable explanation:  Because they feel like it is an entitlement that cannot reasonably be questioned.

What is most amusing about the discussion is how this special interest group is seeking to label, criticize and attack those who are asking questions as the “vocal minority.”  That is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black.

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