A Play-by-play of What Happens When a Town Assumes Nothing Will Change

“Change is the only constant in the universe.” If you assume nothing will change, you will get run-over by inevitability. Courtland could ‘run out of money’ if golf course doesn’t sell.

There was a paper mill in the town. They assumed that it would be there forever. It wasn’t there forever.

In 1999 – assuming that nothing would change – a small town built an 18-hole golf course complete with a clubhouse and a maintenance building, for a little more than 3 million dollars. (They still owe 1.4 million and are paying about $12,000 a month to pay off the bond.)

Then in 2014 the mill closed, and in 2016 the company stopped paying “in lieu of ad-valorum” which was about 700,000 a year. And now the city or town is in deep yogurt.

The course’s bond holders are guaranteed on their investment, [Farrell Hutto, town councilman and lifelong resident of Courtland] said. “If we don’t sell it, (the bond company) will. Then they’ll sell the Town Hall and anything else until they get their money.”

They tried to sell the golf course, but there are covenants and restrictions that limit what can be done, so the auction didn’t reach the reserve they set.

The high bidder that day, Mount Hope farmer Sam Spruell, said earlier this month he wasn’t certain the purchase would have been a good investment. He said the covenants on the property near the Courtland Air Base limit how the land can be used.

The property currently cannot be used for residential development or as farmland for raising livestock, according to county records. Hutto said the property has built-in irrigation and six lakes that could lure a row crop producer.

“I’d probably turned it into a mixture of sod farm and row-crop farm,” said Spruell. “I might have sold some of it off.”

Covenants and restrictions are the ultimate hubris of the time, limiting what can be done with a bit of land, has put this town in a position where they will lose everything. Everything that can be sold to raise money to pay off a bond they should never have taken on in the first place.

How many people do you know under the age of 50 who play golf? Under 30? In 1999 you really couldn’t conceive the idea that the mill might close? That happened so many times it is literally a cliche.

The mayor says there is no plan B. So why didn’t they accept the offer of 700,000 bucks?

Courtland, Alabama isn’t alone of course. A lot of major cities are paying off bonds used to build ballparks and football stadiums, while their schools and pensions are ignored. It is just that being a small town, they are running out of cash faster than places like Chicago.