Fore your eyes only

A nonprofit arm of the city of Boston is continuing to lose money operating two municipal golf courses.

In the past, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and other city officials have insisted that the George Wright and William J. Devine golf courses are well-managed, well-maintained, and turning a profit, or at least breaking even. But tax records that city officials didn’t want me to see indicate the courses have now lost money two years in a row — $135,626 during the year ending June 30, 2009, and $422,565 the previous year.

The losses don’t have a direct financial impact on the city’s cash-strapped budget, but they do limit the operations of the Fund for Parks and Recreation, a nonprofit created by the city to solicit private donations for park maintenance and recreational activities. City officials, including Antonia Pollak, the commissioner of the city’s parks and recreation department, oversee the fund.

The city took over management of George Wright in Hyde Park in 2004 and one year later took control of the William J. Devine course in Franklin Park. The courses were previously leased to private operators, who paid the city a total of $850,000 during the last year of their leases.

Menino ousted the private operators because he said they were doing a poor job of managing the courses. The courses today are in good shape and appear to be attracting lots of golfers, but they are losing money.

The back story on the tax records is revealing. All nonprofits file annual tax returns, called 990s. Nonprofits that operate income-generating businesses unrelated to the charity’s core function are also required to file separate 990T forms, which detail income and expenses for the business and require the charity to pay taxes on any profits.The Fund for Parks and Recreation files a 990T for its golf course operations.

The Internal Revenue Service requires nonprofits to release 990Ts to the public upon request, but the city’s Parks and Recreation Department refused to hand the documents over to me. Mary Hines, a spokeswoman for Commissioner Pollak, said the agency’s legal department concluded the 990Ts are not public documents. “We will not be making them available,” she said in an email.

Peggy Riley, a spokeswoman for the IRS, said the 990Ts should be available to the public. Her agency sent me copies of them after I made a formal request.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The documents show that the city’s two golf courses generated revenue of $2.45 million during the year ending June 30, 2009, about $270,000 more than the previous year. Expenses were nearly $2.59 million, slightly lower than the year before. The resulting loss of $135,626 meant the fund didn’t have to pay any taxes on its golf course operations.

Few details about the golf courses are included in the documents. The expense breakdown lists only broad categories such as contractual services ($1.5 million), supplies ($250,926), utilities (209,790), and “other golf course expenses” ($253,959). Compared to the previous year, most expenses declined with the exception of contractual services, which increased by more than $100,000.