Mayor affirms opposition to city paying for driving range

Mayor Harry Rilling
Mayor Harry Rilling

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday he has not changed his mind about obligating Norwalk taxpayers for the estimated $2.5 million cost of building a driving range, of “golf learning center’” at Oak Hills Park Golf Course.

“I am not inclined to fund or pay for a driving range,” Rilling said. “Right now I don’t know if there’s even a proposal. I don’t believe there has been any request. But I have never been inclined to want to fund a driving range.”

In November, Norwalk Finance Department Director Tom Hamilton voiced his opposition to assumptions in the Oak Hills Master Plan, approved in October, that the city would not only loan the Oak Hills Park Authority nearly $3 million to complete its Master Plan, but it also would forgive $1 million in existing debt incurred when the current restaurant was built in 2005.

“The city, in addition to forgiving the $1 million debt, would issue new debt of $2,950,000 to finish the full Master Plan,” Hamilton said in November. “The issue for me is how certain are we that that issue is going to be paid for by golfers and not end up being repaid by Norwalk taxpayers?”

While some Council members expressed a willingness to forgive the debt, Rilling took a more cautious approach.

“We’ve forgiven loans in past,” he said, “but it might be more prudent to restructure the debt” to make it easier to pay.

“I’d like to look at that before we do anything else,” he said.


14 responses to “Mayor affirms opposition to city paying for driving range”

  1. Diane C2

    The mayor may be opposed to paying for a driving range, but is he opposed to paying for a golf learning center/? Politicians and department heads are becoming quite adept at using the “depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” rationale when sidestepping tough questions.
    And they also need to start asking questions. I have to wonder how many members of the state bond commission had a clue that the funding they approved would be for a driving range. And when, exactly, did then-Representative Cafero find out?
    Some of us were duped into thinking that not one penny of the state funding could be allocated in the absence of local municipal commitment to fund the balance of the park master plan. That may or may not be the case now, and even as we speak, has it been negotiated away by our own finance and legal staff?

  2. John Hamlin

    This is a sensible position.

  3. piberman

    Kudos to Mayor Rilling.

  4. Here’s an idea

    The mayor plans on wasting $300,000.00 per year on promotions to positions that don’t even exist in the police department. What if he doesn’t do that and takes the first 2 years of savings and puts that money towards a learning center for the golf course?
    There you go. You now have $600,000.00 to put towards the learning center.

  5. Useless Piece of Land

    Get rid of the money pit! The golf course is a thorn in the city’s side.

  6. TomReynolds

    I believe, from all I have read on the issue, that the $1.5 million grant was NEVER intended for the driving range. It was for park improvements. Only the die-hards opposed to the driving range have spread the false-truth that the money is going for the driving range. The Oak Hills website outlines what they are going to do for the part of the Master Plan that was approved:

    “The new Master Plan calls for a series of improvements around the park. Upgrades to the Tennis Center and ongoing maintenance of the walking trails are part of the plan. Other upgrades are planned for the 10th Hole snack shack, known as “Little Oaks”, as well as the two rental properties that exist within the park. The plan calls for continuous cart paths throughout the golf course so that golfers who care to ride a cart can still do so after periods of heavy rain, something that does not exist today. In addition, the new plan calls for the possible use of solar power to support the cart storage barn, the biggest user of electricity on any golf course, thus making Oak Hills “green”. Oak Hills is also 80% compliant with the Audubon Society’s standard for the use of pesticides and chemicals on a golf course, something that most courses cannot claim. We have reduced our dependence on chemicals and fertilizers by 30% in the last 3 years.”


  7. Sassy

    So has there been any major PGA events at Oak Hills? I don’t think so. Again, total waste of funds.

  8. EveT

    @TomReynolds is correct that ‘the $1.5 million grant was NEVER intended for the driving range.’ But we were told that the original State Bond Commission document called for the city of Norwalk to fund the rest of the master plan improvements (including the ‘golf learning center’) in order for the $1.5 million grant to be disbursed.
    More recently, Oak Hills Authority members have indicated that they were working on removing that provision from the agreement with the state. It would be interesting to find out how the agreement can be changed since the State Bond Commission already voted on it.

  9. TomReynolds

    My contacts on the OHPA told me the clause was changed and agreed to by the state. It should soon be a done deal.

  10. TomReynolds

    Sassy proves she does not belong in this conversation. The only PGA events in Fairfield County left many years ago, when they played a Senior event at Brooklawn.

  11. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Tom Reynolds

    I think Sassy’s comment was another example of sarcasm.

    Why are there no longer any PGA events in Fairfield County? Could it be due to declining interest?

  12. Jim Perkins

    Finally a Norwalk politician who gets it!

    Will the OHPA still waste taxpayer grant money preparing for a driving range by moving the cart barn and pro shop.

    Maybe now the OHPA can focus their efforts on running the facility without the distractions of the range.

    @Tom if the OHPA has reduced their dependence on pesticides 30% in the last 3 years where are the dollar savings? With $80k less in the bank at year end then the previous year that savings and a lot more is obviously being spent elsewhere instead of being saved.

  13. Bill

    Golf is a dead game. Every year less and less people play it. Let’s invest in the future, not the past. EDUCATION is what we need to grow our tax base, not golf.

  14. piberman

    Since the overwhelming majority of City voters are not golfer at Oak Hills its not surprising that another raid on the City Treasury came up short. What is surprising is how much time and effort had to be spent by City residents to convince the ruling authorities that golfers were not a special class worthy of City funds. No wonder many City residents have taken a “vacation” from public affairs. It takes sooo long to resolve even a fairly minor public official. Maybe City offiicials can join the 21st Century and use polls to learn public preferences on major issues. Or even minor ones. Our public officials seem short on the “uptake” here.

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