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Members of South Windsor Town Council Split on Rink/Rec/Pool Proposal

In a poll of all nine councilors, two outright oppose the proposed $10.5 million project, while three have expressed some support, three have reserved judgment and one is recusing himself.

With more information becoming available with regard to the proposed rink/recreation center/pool project, South Windsor’s nine town councilors are split as to their positions on the matter.

Two councilors - Mayor Tom Delnicki and Dr. Saud Anwar - have at least spoken negatively, if not outright opposed, the proposed $10.5 million project, which calls for using a 63-20 not-for-profit corporation to construct two ice skating rinks, a recreation center, a pool and an extensive multi-use trail and bike path system connecting The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk with the Town Center.

The 63-20 corporation, which would be eligible for federal, tax-exempt bonds to fund the project, would lease the complex to the town for an agreed-upon price. Estimates have varied how much the lease payment would be for the town, with the cost starting at $600,000 for a period of 30 years. The arrangement would allow the project to move forward without a referendum from the town’s voters.

But a recent opinion letter from Town Attorney Dwight Johnson sparked Delnicki to express his doubts about the project.

Specifically, Delnicki said that he was concerned over Johnson’s opinion that the project would “probably” require paying prevailing wage to the labor force, which would increase the cost at least by several hundred thousand dollars.

“One of the selling points on the 63-20 had been the fact that we would not have to pay prevailing wage labor costs, which are a significant portion of the bill,” Delnicki said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “If you are paying 20 to 30 percent more on labor, that is a significant addition to the project.”

Delnicki also said that he was concerned about not sending such a significant project out to a referendum so that all registered voters could have a say on the matter.

“People have a right by referendum to vote on an issue of this complexity and size,” Delnicki said. “We're locking the public out of voting this project up or down. Referendums are checks and balances on projects.”

What’s more, Delnicki added that there are other pressing needs in town, including the possibility of renovating numerous schools in town.

“That should be one of highest priorities as a Town Council and as a town,” Delnicki said. “Shouldn’t that come before a discussion like this? I have 26,000 people to look out for.”

Delnicki also said that he was concerned about the cost of defending the town in a lawsuit should one arise. Johnson said in his memorandum that it would cost the town between $25,000 and $100,000 to litigate the matter, depending how far the case went.

Similarly, Town Councilor Dr. Saud Anwar wrote in a blog on Patch that he, too, opposes the project for the following reasons: the South Windsor Arena - the ice hockey rink located in town - is an existing business in town that is an adequate facility; the proposed complex could run at a deficit that would cost the town between $890,000 to $1 million; and there are other more pressing projects such as the schools that need to be addressed in town.

Anwar, without elaborating, also said that the project was “developed secretly by a few of the Council members. Others Councilors were not privy to the information or the process. I believe that all proposals and Council business should be transparent and done openly whenever possible. Based on the realities of the proposed project and in the interest of the greatest number of residents, I will not be supporting this proposal.”

But while Delnicki and Anwar have expressed their opposition, there are others who have at least said that the project has merit, though more information was still needed.

Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano and Town Councilors Kevin McCann and Cindy Beaulieu on Thursday all expressed at least some support for the project in theory.

Beaulieu said that she wanted to see “how the numbers bear out.”

She also added that she thought that it was inappropriate for other councilors to weigh in on the merits of the project without having a public discussion.

“Do I think the town needs a recreational facility? I absolutely do,” she said. “I think it would be a huge shot in the arm for the town. … I also don’t see a problem with helping out the largest taxpayer in town - Evergreen Walk. I’m optimistic that we can make it work where it won’t be a huge burden to the taxpayers.”

McCann and Bazzano offered more measured support for the project.

“I support the idea of the project, but I’m waiting to hear the details,” McCann said.

“Conceptually, I like the idea of adding services such as this to the town,” Bazzano said. “Do I think it makes sense [economically]? I don’t know yet. I don’t have enough information. … I want to hear all the facts.”

Three councilors - Keith Yagaloff, Jan Snyder and Cary Prague - said they were either withholding any opinions until they had more information or did not have any comment at all.

“We have limited data to make an analysis at this point,” Yagaloff said Thursday. “I’m keeping an open mind.”

Snyder said that any further discussion would best be made at the Town Council’s next meeting on Monday.

Prague declined comment for this piece.

The final councilor, Ed Havens, said in a telephone interview that he had to recuse himself from the matter because the South Windsor Arena is a customer of his business.

Town Attorney Johnson stated in his answers to the town that a total of five councilors were needed to pass a resolution or ordinance. As of now, with Havens recusing himself, there are eight councilors left to determine the project’s fate.

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Bob Feher November 16, 2012 at 11:47 AM
We're renting not buying-town is protected-we spend $1.1 Mil on soccer fields, project recommended by BOE & Rec Dep, we can spend $600k-for the entire community, bid process will lock price. This is our shot to do something special. Trails-all paths will lead to Evergreen,Seniors, Businesses, swimmers, hockey, families. Absolute no brainer, innovatitive, win/win, largest hockey retailer will be ok-said so themselves. "He Who Dares Wins"
John Dawson November 16, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Have never seen a project that benefits so many. Council approved a 63-20 for movie studio-bike paths-how could they say no now. SW Arena have said they will renovate and turn into an indoor soccer/Lacrosse facility. Better for them and they will still be the biggest hockey supplier. A must do, we can't afford to miss out on another opportunity.
Cheryl Casagrande Darby November 16, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Some Town Council Members are "grasping at straws" to find something negative and are trying to "scare" residents of South Windsor. Why would Mayor Delnicki bring up "prevailing wages" when that is a CT STATE LAW and there is nothing this proposal or anyone can do about this law?? It is a complete side-note argument on how this Connecticut LAW prevents construction/building and puts a major stress on companies who want to do so in the State Of Connecticut. Very ironic Town Council Member Havens has a business arrangement with SW Arena. You can also say that Stop and Shop put Highland Park Market out of business at Evergreen Walk, but no one "up in arms" about that. Let the Town of South Windsor Recreation Center keep their cramped, bottle return riden teen space. Our teens and pre-teens would competely enjoy a NEW space where they are not a side-note stuffed in a tiny room.
Jeanne November 16, 2012 at 01:54 PM
This project is about so much more than just the rink. It is about growing this Town into something more than it currently is. We need to attract young homebuyers with families, otherwise renovating the schools is for nothing. The goal is to continue to make South Windsor a desirable place to live and to grow old. This project could offer so much to this community. Who is going to be responsible when Evergreen Walk fails and there is vacancy after vacancy in that development, beyond what is already there. I have spoken to numerous people from other towns around the State who come to SW to play hockey and they all are thrilled with the prospect of having a rink at Evergreen so they can shop and go grab a bite to eat while in the area. Everything will be centrally located and this has the potential to make Evergreen more successful than anticipated. Let us not forget what it could mean to the swim community. Has anyone looked at the girls’ swim team record this year? They are outstanding and this Town should be supporting that program and applauding their success. How inconvenient for those families to have to drive to another town for them to practice on a regular basis. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the numbers to come to you, why don’t you work together to collectively to find a way to make this project work, instead of constantly negating it in the media.
Bob November 16, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Bob, while I think this would be a good thing for South Windsor, and I am in favor of it, although not sure about the outside hockey rink ( never see these things make money). I wouldn't start pitting hockey against soccer. First off, nothing for soccer fields was ever fully approved! Second, there are over 1000 kids in town who play soccer, and these fields are public and free to anyone who wants to play on them, and many pick-up teams do, I do not think your hockey facility will be able to say that. Third, the soccer fields are also used by lacrosse. Fourth, the $1.1 mil you speak about is not an annual number I do not believe, while the $600k I believe is. Again, I am in favor of the hockey facility, let's just not throw one sport under the bus for another while you are trying to make your point.
Michael Pollack November 16, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Bob who replied to Bob, agreed. But I don't think that Bob #1 was pitting one sport against the other. I think it's just a point in order to show the amount of money relatively speaking. Hypothetically, if the numbers work out that it would cost South Windsor $600,000 per year to lease the new facility from the 63-20 corporation, I don't know about everyone else, but initially, that seems to me to be a lot of money. That's first impression. But then when I look at the overwhelming benefit to all segments of the South Windsor population, I think that the number is probably worth it. Then, when I look at the dollar figure as approximately .5% of the Town's overall budget of approximately 100 million dollars per year, and that the dollar figure is only a fraction of what it costs to maintain outdoor athletic fields (just as an example), it puts the number in perspective as a very affordable investment, with wide ranging benefits far beyond any one sport.
Chris November 16, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Mr. Anwar says, "Other Councilors were not privy to the information or the process. I believe that all proposals and Council business should be transparent and done openly whenever possible". These politicians need to get off their power trip and figure out what makes sense for our town. It is out in the open now so why get into politics, just do what is best for YOUR town!!! Do not express your negative opinion because you were not privy. Look at the numbers and make a decision. I think that the short sighted people in this town are looking for a figure as to what it will cost in taxes a year per household. The board needs to get that information out and this should stifle a lot of negativity.
Michael Sullivan November 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Cheryl says: “You can also say that Stop & Shop put Highland Park Market out of business at Evergreen Walk…” I disagree & say: Evergreen Walk put that Market out of business. To those who lament Highland Park Market’s departure, & prefer use as example why the hockey/swim project needs “save” Evergreen Walk & that we should just TRUST THE DEVELOPER: I suggest you take a hard look at circumstances for their exit & ask yourselves why? As commented on an earlier Patch item: Highland Park Market actually fought to get into Evergreen as the zone didn’t allow grocery store (or residential) at the time. Contemplating the Market's fate, owner Mr. Devanney later appeared before P&Z after one of Evergreen's residential proposals had failed. He complained that representations were made to him by Evergreen that residential units would be built. Otherwise he predicted that his Market could not stay. Residential was eventually approved, but much too late - and of course these units have never been built much to Evergreen’s own disadvantage. What should be of interest for this project's supporters is that, if true, any promises from Evergreen would have been made to Highland Park at a time when residential was still not permitted by regulation in the zone! The lesson is that some developers will say & do anything to get their projects approved, and get willing folks to back them & participate as they formulate their plans. Regardless of the consequences for others.
Kathy Kobrzycki November 16, 2012 at 03:57 PM
This isn't just about a hockey rink. Let's not forget swim, Community Center, trails, bike paths, foot traffic to spend money at Evergreen Walk and many more positive outcomes. If we lost Highland Park and other Evergreen Walk businesses because not enough people shopped these businesses, if we had more people coming and shopping it would help with keeping businesses in business and potentially open up additional business opportunities.
Pam Petersen November 16, 2012 at 03:57 PM
The proper ethical move was made by Ed Havens to recuse himself....he has been a business owner in town for over 50 years so of course he has MANY commercial and residential customers - your point is well, pointless and irrevelant. Stop and Shop didn't "put HIghland Park Market out of business", rather it was the promise made by prior Town Councils to bring in customers via a residential neighborhood located at Evergreen that brought the demise of Highland Park. Those folks at Highland Park were promised condos and apartments full of people who would bring much needed revenue to town....again another empty promise from the Council. The current Community Center is overcrowded and desperately needs space, why can't we move the teens, seniors or rec dept over there? Why can't the town put a hockey ring in Geissler's plaza using existing infrastructure and save a few bucks in the process? What about using the Sullivan Ave post office for all town residents instead of a "business center" for a select few? We need new ideas regarding the future use of existing infrastructure before we go spending an unknown amount of money to build any new buildings.
DJGonsa November 16, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I find it very interesting in that so many people are so interested in this proposed project.I have lived in South Windsor for six years and have attended approximately 85% of all council meetings .Most of the time I am the only taxpayer in attendance at these meetings. Where are all of these interested people when it comes to the normal affairs of the town. In my opinion why is there so much urgency on this project. To have only one meeting on such a large project and expect a almost immediate decision is pure insanity especailly with out a public meeting.These people are totally out of line on their request.
Diane Abrahms November 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM
The Rink group has been acting like bullies. Anyone who has spoken of the poor merits of the rink has been harassed and bullied by the SWYHA members. I am appalled when one of you guys asked a community member to leave town as the person had concerns about increasing taxes. You and your sell out buddies in Council should be ashamed to act in the most unprofessional manner to have the entire town pay for your project. This is financially dead on arrival. Now if someone is finally standing up to you, you are harassing the person as well. We are fortunate to have Mayor Delnicki and Dr. Anwar to stand up to your stunts. Many of the people in SW are scared to speak out against this even though they want to. They are scared for their own wellbeing and that of their children as you all have been acting like Hockey bullies.
Tony Fornuto November 16, 2012 at 05:45 PM
The Mayor is ABSOLUTELY correct that this is just another stunt to get a project through by circumventing the referendum process. What is going on with this town when we have 5 elementary schools in that have NO HANDICAP ACCESS, out of date libraries, and inadequate classrooms and instead we try to railroad yet another luxury item to the Parks & Rec crowd??? Here is the underlying issue: we're headed into ANOTHER election year, so let the pandering begin! We need some real charter reform in this town to stop this constant campaigning and to put some power back into the hands of the people. Maybe if we had representation by district, we would have some realistic policy making and not nonsense like this!
Bob Feher November 16, 2012 at 05:50 PM
The $1.1 mil is an annual cost-and worth every penny. This would be worth every penny and will eventually make every penny back. Did we vote on that? Or the scores of other projects funded by the General fund? No excuses, this is right for our town, now or never. I encourage everyone to attend Monday's Town Council meeting. Speaking out and expressing an uneducated opinion is not what we expect from our elected officials. You can call it bullying-I call it the truth.
Diane Abrahms November 16, 2012 at 05:55 PM
We the community members want to know about the financial interest that the following people have from this project - Bob Feher - Michael Pollack - How are they directly and indirectly related and know Councilor Beauliou - Dick Kelley - John Finguerra - How are these 2 related to or connected with Councilors McCann and Bazzano Why even the Mayor did not know about this project when three Council members knew about it? Did the Manager know of this back in June? Who were the people who planned this in June 2012? What are their financial links? Why the secrecy from the entire town? Why was this not on the referendum? Do the SWYHA minutes reflect that this is a unanimous view of the Association or the Association has been hijacked by a few? Why should we the tax payers pay for small angry mob which does not even have its own Association with it? Have any of the previous SWYHA presidents resigned? Why? Did it have to do with the ethical concerns? Is our town government doing secret deals with some business people? Do all businesses in South Windsor now have to be worried that a small manipulative group can use some easily available councilors and the town with the residents’ tax dollars and become competition of their businesses?
Tony Fornuto November 16, 2012 at 05:56 PM
$600,000 could add 12 teachers to the school district to relieve classroom overcrowding. $600,000 could keep the IT in the town up to date with newer technologies (the WHOLE town, not just the schools). $600,000 could add more police; could upgrade the ambulances; keep the fire department with up to date equipment; provide at least a 25-30% increase in road maintenence, etc. $600,000 is MORE than the difference in the Teacher's contract that was REJECTED by Messers McCann, Bazzano and Prague in 2005, yet today it represents a fair number?? Where are YOUR priorities?
Michael Pollack November 16, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Okay Diane, I'll bite. I have no financial ties to this proposed South Windsor community and recreational center. I am a volunteer. I strongly believe in volunteerism, perhaps too much if you ask my wife. I am a volunteer member of a search and rescue team, and I volunteer with the local hockey association where my nine year old son and my seven year old daughter both play. My understanding is that a few individuals from the hockey association had an idea for a new rink and then started to develop the idea which evolved into a public-private partnership with the Town itself as part of a larger project benefiting everyone. Once the numbers were put together and a plan that was perceived as viable was established, the idea was presented to the Town Council at the October 15, 2012, meeting. Since the 10/15/12 TC meeting, it's my further understanding that the Town Manager and the Town's independent numbers person (don't remember his name) were to review the particulars of the proposed community and recreational center, including the numbers, specifically checking to make sure that the numbers in the proposal were vetted and legitimate. That's where it stands now, and I fail to see any issues of uber secrets or naughty conspiracies. Call me naive, but I thought that's how a plan unfolds. There is an idea and it is fleshed out. If it is fleshed out enough to be viable and presentable, then it is presented for scrutiny, discussion and ultimately for consideration.
Michael Pollack November 16, 2012 at 07:22 PM
part 2 As for me, Diane, I learned about the proposed community and recreational center about a week before the 10/15/12 Town Council meeting where it was presented. I was less interested in when the idea was first developed or who fleshed it out. I was more interested in the substance, i.e., is it viable and good for the Town. I think that will be decided one way or the other, but I think that it should be decided AFTER the details and the verified numbers are presented to the Town Council, not beforehand like Councilman Anwar did with a public and skewed analysis. I'd just rather see discussion about the merits, and not the politics about attacks or conspiracies within conspiracies. I also note that some folks point out that we need other things in our Town, too. I'm of the mindset that we should not allow a failure to improve one thing (like schools) to halt all progress on other things. It should really just come back to what does the whole Town get out of this, and at what cost....
Tony Fornuto November 16, 2012 at 07:37 PM
When you talk about the "benefits" of connecting Mr. Kelley's "Town Center" property and the fact that is a major contributor to the SWGOP, do you really need to question the connections? The fact remains that this is a MAJOR expenditure that is being railroaded through the town through a "technicallity." By setting up a not-for-profit corporation that will lease this back to the town, you don't need a referendum...technically. Forget the merits of the project! These types of expenditures for public properties NEEDS to be aired in public and voted on by referendum. What is this group afraid of? That this will go the way of the atheletic fields??? If it is that strong a project and money maker, then put it to the public and make your case. Don't do backroom deals! We deserve better than that.
Michael Pollack November 16, 2012 at 07:41 PM
part 3 And while I may be a volunteer with no personal financial stake in this matter, I cannot help but think that everyone in South Windsor has a town-wide beneficial financial stake in the matter. If our Town is more desirable, bringing in homeowners and business, and if our existing businesses perform better so that they do not 'go under,' then don't we all benefit financially by having a broader tax base and higher property values? If we have indoor swimming in our Town, then don't we actually save money by not having to send our Town taxpayer dollars to another town's coffer? We can spend swimming money by giving it to ourselves, or we can give it to another town. Right now, with the available financing, money is cheaper than ever. So not only do we make our community a better place to live for everyone, we help local business, keep our money within our Town and boost our property values while we're at it. And don't we have an obligation to our senior citizens? Here, with this project, we can provide for, and address, a need that they have, too. Anyway, it sure looks like a lot of benefit for South Windsor. It's not just about an ice rink, but rather, a much bigger boost to our Town.
keith yagaloff November 16, 2012 at 07:55 PM
FYI, I have not received any new information about the project’s details since it was presented at the town council meeting on October 15th. I had first heard about it only a few days before that meeting. At the meeting I was given a package of preliminary estimates and a project overview. I’ve seen posts indicating that there is a bank reviewing the project, that the town has a professional reviewing the project, and that there are proposals for the sale of the land at Evergreen Walk. I have been provided no documents concerning any of this. I am frankly quite surprised that the town council is not being kept in the loop. My role on the council is to review financial information and to make financial and policy decisions with the other councilors. Without data it is impossible for me to assess the financial viability of this project. I cannot speak for the other councilors, but I expect to see all of the project information, and it should be provided to us as soon as it is available.
Tony Fornuto November 16, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Michael, I don't know you, but please do not pretend that your ties as a volunteer on the Youth Hockey does not skew your opinion on this project. Speaking as a civic volunteer, I do tire of these vocal groups of zealots getting all the attention with those other volunteers on the Town Council whose only goal is their reelection. There is nothing more frustrating then having to watch as shiny object after shiny object gets chased by these faux public leaders, who very much want the title, but refuse to do the job. While I don't always agree with Mayor Delnicki, I have to say he is absolutely right. He represents 26,000 people, not a few dozen.
Michael Pollack November 16, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Hey Tony. I take no offense at your comment and appreciate the discussion. Of course my opinions are influenced by what I do. The same can be said of everyone. However, and more importantly, I'm particularly interested in the facts and the opinions of the experts, and I think that's where we should all be looking. So we know the general outline of the proposed community and recreational center, and we have a sense of some proposed numbers. Now it's time for the real details to be examined by the Town Council and the real numbers, independently verified. But while we're talking about pretending, please, let's not pretend that this is a project for just an ice rink or just a few dozen people. It's clearly established that the proposed project, like it or not, is far beyond that with broad ranging benefits. People can support this or oppose it, but let's at least be honest that it's a much bigger picture here.
Ruth Bortolan November 17, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Make it transparent. When all of the facts are known let the voters decide at a referendum. We should also look at the whole picture as far as likely reductions in federal and state funds are concerned. Connecticut is in a terrible place with state debt and the governor is giving money away in grants. I believe that 63 20 should only be used for needs, not wants. I think that it would be morally wrong to use the 63 20 as a way to get by the taxpayers in this case using it as a way to avoid a referendum. If it is a good deal our residents will see that and vote for it.
Matt Riley November 19, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Post 1 Ruth - A referendum is vehicle used by the town to obtain the community's ok to issue bonds for a stated purpose (it is not an approval of any expenditure). Note that the TC approves expenditures in excess of $100MM every year without any referendums – including many lease payments. Let's let them lead - that is what we elected them to do and we have the ability to vote on their performance every two years. Tom and Saud unfortunately voiced their opinions without being well informed - this is not leadership. In fact is it totally irresponsible behavior that is unbecoming of our elected officials. Please bear this in mind when you vote next November - I certainly will.
Matt Riley November 19, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Post 2 A 63-20 affords the town limited risk and limited liability - entirely different risks than those that would exist if the town issued bonds to finance a facility that it would build/own/operate. I assure you that Tom and Saud did not do their homework (shame on them and congratulations to the Councilors who have waited to weigh in until they become well informed). The lease payment from the town to the 63-20 is all the town is responsible for and that payment is subject to a “non-appropriation clause” whereby the town can terminate the lease, without penalty, if it determines in any given year not to appropriate sufficient funds to make the rental payment. The rental/lease payment is fixed and once the 63-20’s debt is paid off, assuming that the debt was paid off with the lease payments (or profits), the facility ownership is transferred to the town. The risk of operating the facility profitably is with the 63-20 (if it is run profitably any profits are used to reduce the lease payment from the town) and the risk of bringing the project in on budget is with the General Contractor.
Matt Riley November 19, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Post 3 It is clear that this project provides numerous benefits to a wide range of our citizens. It is clear to me that there are benefits associated with establishing a 63-20. Given their legal background, I believe it is incumbent upon Kevin and Keith to weigh-in with respect these benefits and educate the public. Once everyone is informed I believe the risk / return scenario will render this project an attractive one for the town – although I would like to see a feasibility study from a qualified firm. Regards, Matt

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