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.