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Westwind Barn’s financial losses increase: Los Altos Hills leaders study ways to balance loss


Photo By: TOWN CRIER FILE PHOTO
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Although West- wind Community Barn is a prized community asset – a space for gatherings such as the annual Hoedown, left – Los Altos Hills staff and councilmembers are raising red flags about the facility’s ongoing losses, projected at more than 0,000 for 2012-2013.

Grassy green pastures surround the 13-acre Westwind Community Barn property, but rising costs without rising revenue are leaving the town deeper in the red than expected.

According to a financial review conducted by the town’s administrative services director this fall, Westwind – a town-owned and -operated facility – is projected to carry a deficit between $170,000 and $180,000 during the 2012-2013 budget year.

“It’s an asset, it’s a great community resource, but can we afford this community resource?” asked Los Altos Hills Councilman John Radford at the Nov. 15 council meeting. “If so, we’re going to have to change the budget or make some decisions.”

The town of Los Altos Hills purchased Westwind from Countess Margit Bessenyey for $25,000 in 1976 and has since offered the space for horse boarding and riding programs.

In addition to boarding 34 horses, Westwind – located on Altamont Road adjacent to Byrne Preserve – is home to the Westwind 4-H Riding for the Handicapped program, the Pacific Ridge Chapter of the United States Pony Club, a year-round riding program, Ohlone day camps and dozens of classes annually through the Parks and Recreation Department.

Subsidizing nonrevenue-generating programs and facilities is not uncommon for Los Altos Hills. In addition to Westwind, the city funds Little League activities at Purissima Park and the town riding ring. But large deficits are prompting ideas to make Westwind more financially solvent.

According to the 2011-2012 budget, Westwind operations and boarding will cost the city $293,594. Only $190,899, or 65 percent of total operational costs, are recovered through revenue generated by boarding at the barn. Although the town is willing to incur facility maintenance and operation costs as a public service to the community, officials did not expect overall losses to multiply so rapidly. In 2009, the town also invested $888,000 toward a $1.04 million seismic retrofit and renovation of Westwind.

“With the Parks and Recreation Committee, we’re searching for ways to enhance the revenue of the barn,” said Councilmember Jean Mordo, who attributed the increasing deficit to a number of factors, including below-market-rate boarding prices at Westwind.

Mordo estimated that West-wind’s rates – $355 a month for pasture board, $705 a month for stall board – are 10-15 percent lower than other local facilities.

Although town staff proposed a concessionaire model – hiring a contractor to manage the barn, which could save $40,000 to $50,000 annually – Parks and Recreation Committee members unanimously rejected such a proposal, fearing the city would lose autonomy and access to the facility.

“This is like a park … it’s one of our greatest assets,” said Parks and Recreation Committee member Scott Vanderlip. “We’ve worked so hard to make it this thing.”

Vanderlip said the committee’s Westwind Barn subcommittee, led by Rebecca Hickman, is expected to study the issue and report potential solutions for reducing the barn’s monetary losses.

Mordo noted that the committee has already identified several ways to recover costs, such as adding four to six more horses in the barn or paddocks, raising boarding rates and increasing the profit margin on the year-round riding program.

“With all this, we hope we can reduce the loss on the barn at the time of the budget,” he said.

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