Though no final decisions have been made, the South Windsor Town Council on Monday moved closer to defining what exactly it is willing to explore with regard to a possible recreation complex.
Specifically, the council appears to have abandoned a publicly financed recreation complex that includes one or two hockey rinks.
“The hockey rink is off the table right now. Done,” Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano said at one point during the sometimes contentious meeting.
Bazzano’s comments followed a lengthy discussion on what, if anything, individual councilors would support concerning a recreation complex, which was initially proposed as a $10.5 million project to be constructed at Evergreen Walk. The proposal called for two ice skating rinks, a pool and recreation offices.
But the project has come under fire for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the town has a privately owned hockey rink in the South Windsor Arena.
Town councilors Jan Snyder and Keith Yagaloff both said that they would not support having taxpayer dollars spent on constructing anything that would be in competition with an existing business in town.
But Town Manager Matthew Galligan noted to the council, an unnamed private developer is in negotiations with the landowner at Evergreen Walk about possibly taking over the hockey rink portion of the project.
“I met with them; they are interested in doing a private deal,” Galligan said of the developer.
In light of that development, Galligan said that it makes sense to construct a recreation complex that includes a pool and possibly a gymnasium away from Evergeen Walk. Galligan said that LA Fitness has a provision in its lease that bars the construction of a competing pool and a gymnasium - things that the business offers - at Evergeen Walk.
What’s more, Galligan said that the private developer would not be interested in having the town partner with it because the pool portion of that project would slow the process down.
“If so, then we might as well do that on our own then,” Galligan said.
But even then, there appeared to be mixed support, at least right now, for building a recreation complex - sans rinks - on town-owned land.
Much of the opposition comes from the economic realities that the town is staring down for the 2013-14 budget.
Mayor Tom Delnicki said that the town would have its first payment - about $1.2 million - for the sewage treatment plant, along with a $600,000 increase to the town’s self-funded insurance plan. The school district also has several new or increased expenditures that figure to be drivers in 2013-14, including all-day kindergarten, a spike in special education costs and salary rises for teachers and administrators that were approved by the school board in the collective bargaining process.
What’s more, as state Rep. Bill Aman pointed out earlier in the meeting, in light of the deficit facing Connecticut this year, the amount of aid from the state that the town will receive figures to be at least slightly less than what South Windsor received last year.
Yagaloff also said out that the grand list has not grown the last few years and the town has revaluation going on this year.
Yagaloff said that while he is interested taking advantage of record-low interest rates, he believed those rates should be used to address the town’s priorities. While the recreation project is important, Yagaloff said, he also wanted to be careful not to make any promises to the public that something would be done any time soon.
“This is the worst economic downturn that we’ve had in a long time,” he said.
Regardless, the use of a 63-20 corporation still enjoys support from at least some town councilors for the use of future town projects, which may or may not include the recreation complex.
Councilor Cindy Beaulieu said that she favors keeping the town's options open for the 63-20 corporation - which includes the creation of a not-for-profit entity to construct a project that the town would lease back from that company for a period of time - as a financing tool.
Tired of Talking About It
And regardless of how it’s is defined - either with or without skating rinks - several members of the council and the public said that they have grown weary of the hours of discussions that have been devoted to the proposed project.
“This has taken up a substantial amount of time,” Delnicki said. “It’s derailing an existing committee from doing [its] work on the community center.”
Delnicki was referring to a subcommittee that was formed over the summer to look into what an expenditure of $1.5 million would bring in terms of renovating the Charles N. Enes Community Center. The subcommittee has not held any discussions since the recreation complex was introduced before the council on October.
Council Ed Havens said that he was tired of discussing the project.
“Let’s get it over with,” he said. “We’ve wasted enough time [on this].”
During public comment, resident Michael Sullivan said that the council had other pressing matters to discuss.
“I’m really amazed that’s the top priority,” Sullivan said. “There’s so many topics the town needs to deal with.”
Another resident, John Bassilakas said that given the shortfalls at the state level that figure to impact the municipal budget, he wasn’t sure that it was the best time to talk about a cost sharing arrangement or a new expenditure like the recreation complex.
But others defended the project.
Resident Bob Feher, who is also the president of the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association, said that people move to South Windsor for two reasons: the schools and the offerings of the parks and recreation department.
Feher has said repeatedly before that the town needed to upgrade its recreation facilities to continue to attract families.
Attorney Kent Mawhinney, who presented the project to the council in October, said that the town was missing out on an opportunity if the hockey rinks are built by a private developer.
Mawhinney said said that the state is in the position it is in because it hasn’t done anything to attract people.
The town, Mawhinney said, needs to do something to “survive” as “tax revenue won’t magically grow on its own.”
That the town did not act on the plan “shows to me a lack of leadership,” he said, noting that he wasn’t concerned about this year’s budget as much as he was worried about what will happen “two years, five years, 10 years” down the line.
“Create a base for tomorrow,” he said.
Mawhinney then castigated the council.
“I’ve never seen people bicker over such nonsense,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano was equally unmoved by people who said that the town could not afford to be discussing the matter.
“It’s a tough budget year,” Bazzano said. “Every year is a tough budget year. I can’t tell you how sick I am of hearing that it’s a tough budget year. You’ve got to do the right thing for the town. … What have we done to attract people to South Windsor. We need to start making improvements. … We are not wasting time. These are not luxuries. This proposal is a town need. To say that the meeting has been hijacked or a waste of time, I resent that comment from any of you.”
Still, the council did not vote on a resolution telling Galligan how to proceed. Galligan has presented to the council three options for constructing a recreation complex.
The operating cost of the smallest project - the 35,000-square-foot recreation center that Galligan recommends in his report should the council go forward - would be $714,000, according to Galligan’s preliminary pro-formas. The estimated revenue would be $581,000. The end result would be an operating loss of about $133,000. The IRS depreciation and debt service would cost about $380,000 per year.
Bazzano said that a resolution on the matter would likely be ready by the next council meeting.
Correction: the original article stated that Councilor Beaulieu supported the recreation complex, when she in fact said she supported possibly using 63-20 corporations in the future for town projects, which may or may not incude the rec complex. South Windsor Patch regrets the error.