Quantcast

Mount defends Oak Hills Authority in wake of $107K deficit report; state-funded work to begin this fall

Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount
Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount leads Thursday’s OHPA meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – Judge Norwalk Recreation and Parks the same way you do the Oak Hills Park Authority and you’ll find it has a $3.3 million deficit this year, OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said Thursday.

Mount began the Authority’s regular monthly meeting with that sentiment and more, telling Authority members to “be proud” after a recent onslaught of bad press.

“What happens to us in the media, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to you guys. You guys work way too hard,” Mount said.

That “bad press” began with a report stemming from an audit that was delivered to the city in mid-December. Accountant Wally Englert wrote in the audit of Fiscal Year 2013-14 that there is “substantial doubt for the (Oak Hills Park Authority) to continue as a going concern,” given that it ended 2013-14 year with a $107,672 deficit.

“We have been beat up really badly on this point, and it’s an unfair point,” Mount said. “… I don’t feel that the $107,000 deficit that was jumped on and beat the crap on was a fair judgment of where we really are.”

The deficit includes depreciation, a non-cash expense.

“Depreciation is a non-cash expense, so if you really look at this as a business, our income before interest and depreciation is $229,000 and that’s your IBITDA (Income Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), that’s what most people look at,” Mount said. “Depreciation, I’m not even 100 percent sure how it works in a city, because there’s no taxes, does it matter, does it not matter, I don’t really know, I’m not an accountant. But if you pay our interest we still make $120,000. Where all the rhetoric of how we run a deficit and how we’re not doing a good job, I beg to differ. This committee has done a great job … in turning things around and making things good.”

The figures are skewed because the city bailed out the Authority with a $200,000 bridge loan in 2012-13, and no one is taking that into consideration, Mount said.

Mount had a document comparing that audit with the two previous audits. Total revenue in 2011-12 was $1.542 million, total revenue in 2012-13 was $1.421 million and total revenue in 2013-14 was $1.529 million, his document shows.  Total paid rounds in 2011-12 was 33,446; in 2012-13 it was 32,013, and in 2013-14 it was 35,215.

There were 1,989 member cards sold at an average membership dollars per member of $66.87 in 2011-12; in 2012-13 it was 32,013 and $77.01 respectively, and in 2013-14 it was 2,115 and $71.54.

Norwalk OHPA audit comparisons

This year the Authority will be charging $2 more per round, so revenue will go up considerably, Mount said. Authority members made the conscious decisions to buy new golf carts, find a new superintendent and hire a new golf pro, and give him benefits so he’ll stay around for a while, Mount said.

“We have done a lot. So we may run a deficit. We were given, three years ago, we were given a facility that had failing boilers, failing roofs, failing sewer systems, failing lightning detection – the condition of the course was horrendous. It was headed for disaster. They had stopped paying the debt. All of their reserves were gone. That’s not the case anymore. We have built back $120,000 of the $200,000 reserve that we have to have with the city in three years. We’ve got two more years and we are back on track. We are where we were five years ago,” Mount said.

Mount has been on the Authority for three years.

The meeting began with one golfer speaking in support of “a trusted group of people who are dedicated to doing the right thing.”

“I don’t go to Cranbury,” Aaron Karp said. “I don’t go to the beach. I’m not bringing up anything about the (Maritime) Aquarium. I don’t ice skate. I pay for all of that. My taxes went up 20 percent and I have a right to enjoy what I like. This place is a great asset for this town. There is a lot going on in this town. I think we should all get together and do the right thing. … I am beginning to get concerned that some of these little incidental issues that are being raised are basically trying to block what needs to be done.”

He was referring to the Oak Hills Park Master Plan. Although the State Bond Commission awarded OHP a $1.5 million grant, the money has not been distributed yet. City officials have said there is a problem with the language in the contract; Norwalk did not want to be obligated to fund the rest of the improvements in the $4.3 million master plan if the $1.5 million was accepted, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.

“That’s all been straightened out now. The scope of work had to be tightened; we were doing some work that the state wouldn’t let us do so we had to tighten down the actual scope of the work,” Mount said.

City officials have said it would absolutely not include the controversial driving range. Mount said the Authority is looking into forming a 501(c)(3) because maybe there are people out there who would make tax deductible contributions to improve the park.

He thought of that in reference to the driving range, he said.

“I don’t know if the city is ever going to give us money to do it. I don’t know how we will get to where we ultimately want to get to, but there may be people who want to donate to do it,” he said.

The matter of the $1.5 million grant will go to the Council’s Finance Committee in February and then to the full Council for approval of the agreement, Mount said. The requests for proposals will go out for architectural work.

“We’ll spend $100 grand before we get a shovel in the ground,” park Superintendent Jim Schell said.

“It didn’t sound like we were going to be able to do too much before fall, which is OK,” Mount said.

The first thing people are likely to see is restoration of the defunct rose garden off the parking lot behind the restaurant, because that is basically landscaping, he said. Garden club volunteers may do that work and maintain the roses, Authority members said.

“Be proud. We are pushing forward and we are going to do what is right for the city of Norwalk. That has been my commitment since I started, what’s right for the city of Norwalk, not a small group; what is right for Oak Hills and what is right for the city,” Mount said.

No offense to Parks and Rec – “Mike Mocciae is a great guy, he has got a great department” – but Parks and Rec takes in $1 million a year and spends $4 million, Mount said, calling that a deficit way beyond the $107,000 deficit mentioned in Englert’s audit.

“They take in $1 million and spend $4 million. I am not saying that that’s wrong because we all pay for that as taxpayers and we like the beach and we like Vets Park, and we like having Cranbury, we all use them. But there is no park in this town that 80 percent of the people use, that I will guarantee. They probably all get 10 percent from the users,” Mount said.

He quoted Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) as saying the Authority is one of the hardest working authorities in the city. Kimmel confirmed that in an email.

“Indeed, they have been working really hard, trying to move the park forward. Besides their regular meeting, they’ve been meeting regularly with the BET and the Council’s Finance Committee,” Kimmel wrote.

“We are eons ahead of where we were last year,” Mount said. “We generated, according to the audit, $300,000 in operations. Companies would kill to have that. That’s a 20 percent margin. They would kill to have that. So be proud.”

Comments

22 responses to “Mount defends Oak Hills Authority in wake of $107K deficit report; state-funded work to begin this fall”

  1. Kevin Di Mauro

    Stick to GAAP. It stands for government approved accounting principles. IBITDA is often used by struggling businesses to present an overly optimistic view to their shareholders.

  2. Piberman

    Cavalierly dismissing the conclusions of an audit is not the mark of management meriting our respect. Nor is the suggestion that the Authority is “hard working”. Enron folks were also “hard working”. Far better for the Authority to present “new evidence” to the auditor and request a review. Plus asking City Finance Head Tom Hamilton to review Authority finances. Independent of views about Authority plans their financial reports ought receive professional attention. Finance needs be divorced from politics. Especially in Norwalk where investigating NEON’s failure remains too difficult.

  3. Paul Cantor

    “What happens to us in the media, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to you guys. You guys work way too hard,” Mr. Mount said, sounding like the emperor in the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes after the child cried “But he hasn’t got anything on!” The media reported that an audit indicated, “The Oak Hills Park Authority incurred a deficit of $107,672 for the year ending June 30, 2014, which raises substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.” So the media and the auditor are like the child in the story and need to be chastised for pointing out what is obvious to everyone who has eyes to see. “This year the Authority will be charging $2 more per round, so revenue will go up considerably,” Mount said. But if golfers respond to the increase in fees by playing many fewer rounds revenues may fall instead of rise. Rounds played this year were greater than rounds played last year, Mount pointed out. But resident rounds, according to Shelly Guyer, the executive director, were “flat” and overall rounds were down 20% from 2005. Mr. Mount asks us to judge the OHPA as we would judge the Recreations and Park Authority. But the Recreation and Parks Authority is charged with running our parks in the interest of all the taxpayers of Norwalk while the OHPA has taken on the role of running a golf course that takes up nearly all the land in our second largest park in the interest of the ten percent of people who play golf. Mr. Mount is hopeful that going forward the OHPA will be able to cover all its costs so it won’t have to rely on periodic grants and taxpayer subsidized loans to maintain the course. I wish him luck. But he needs to realize that if he is right the large commercial driving range called for in the Master Plan is not needed and, therefore, none of the money the OHPA receives from a grant or any other source should be used to prepare for its construction.

  4. Bruce Kimmel

    The Board of Estimate has already discussed the audit with the Authority. And the Finance Committee of the Council has also discussed the audit. Both bodies will continue discussions with the Authority at their February meetings, and at all of their monthly meetings going forward.

  5. Yvonne Lopaur

    Mr. Kimmel,

    These are discussions that should take place in broad daylight and not behind closed doors. What did the discussions entail? What is the reason the information regarding the OHPA’s finances is not readily available to the public? You often point out that you have discussed the OHPA’s finances with the Authority, Mr. Hamilton and others. What are we to take from that? How about providing everyone with the details of those discussions. Why do you suppose the BET didn’t invite Mr. Englert, the auditor, to its meeting? Do you know whether user fees from Norwalk residents even cover the operating costs of the golf course? Does it matter to you?

  6. Yvonne,
    The discussions about OHPA’s finances were done at the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) meeting and at the Council’s Finance Committee meeting. Those meetings are always open to the public. I wrote about the BET meeting: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2015/01/norwalk-finance-official-expresses-confidence-in-oak-hills-authority/

    1. Yvonne,
      You are correct, OHPA members have referred to Bob Barron helping them, beyond the public meetings. The document mentioned in the article is posted there as a PDF. I have their budget but I haven’t written a story about it yet. The Authority’s financial report is usually included in the BET packet, which is published on the city’s website as part of the agendas for the monthly meetings. I have in the past asked Mr. Guyer for the financial report at the end of an OHPA meeting and he has turned it over.
      I appreciate your support.
      Nancy

  7. Yvonne Lopaur

    Nancy,

    We are not privy to the discussion sessions that take place between the OHPA and city officials like Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Barron. Consequently, we are kept in dark about the amount of hours and consequently taxpayer dollars that are spent by city officials advising the OHPA as well as information regarding precisely what takes place at those meetings. So though I very much appreciate your reporting I’d appreciate it even more if you could obtain the publication of the documents referred to by Mr. Mount and the profit and loss and balance sheet statements of the OHPA. They should be readily available on the city’s web site but I cannot find them there.

  8. Piberman

    If Oak Hills finances are in fact subject to BET and Council Finance Committee oversight then we ought to wait until those bodies give their reports and not give attention to claims and media presentations by Oak Hills Authority members

  9. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Bruce Kimmel

    You just don’t seem to get it. The homeowners in the immediate area of Oak Hills Park do not want to see their neighborhood turned into another SONO.

    The City of Norwalk appears to be engaged in a deceptive practice of LENDING millions of dollars of tax payer dollars to organizations that supposedly will be self sufficient and be able to pay back that money plus interest. However, this is not what happened with the Maritime Aquarium. Millions of taxpayer dollars were FORGIVEN.

    Now the issue of forgiving millions of debt provided by the Norwalk taxpayers is being discussed with regard to a restaurant at Oak Hills Park. Additionally, the OHPA Master Plan approves of spending millions more of tax payer dollars to build a driving range in our residential neighborhood.

    You just don’t get it Bruce.

  10. John Bazzano

    I must say, with all that’s going on in the world, I’m amazed at the amount of energy being wasted on this topic. Thousands are dying at the hands of Boko Haram in Africa, Islamic extremists killings in Paris and attempted in Belgium….Locally, false, racist accusations made on the BoE against the BoE chairman, our inablility to keep a BoE Superintendent, taxes in CT too high…and on and on. With all that, all Paul Cantor can talk about is this?????

    I cannot understand Mr. Cantor’s obsession with this topic. Quite frankly, other than a few angry people (including PCantor) no one cares.

    And for the record:
    1) GAAP is NOT “government accepted accounting principles” Mr. DeLauro…..but rather it’s “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”.
    2) IBITDA is a recognized, reliable, and often used metric in the financial analayis world, which I am a part of.
    3) Norwalk’s population is roughly 85,000…if your stat is correct that “only” 10% of the residents use Oak Hills for golf, that’s 8,500 people…..that’s a substantial number
    4) Mr. Mount’s comparison and distinction between OHPA and Parks and Rec is spot on.

    Give it a rest and get a life.

  11. Suzanne

    Mr. Bazzano, to your last point. There is no comparison between Parks and Rec and Oak Hills. By charter, Oak Hills is supposed to be self-supporting through fees. Unfortunately, that goal has not been met for some time.

    In reference to a person’s awareness of national and international issues and actions: this does not preclude one from being concerned about the place in which they live.

    We can be knowledgeable about such things as these disastrous issues but what can we realistically do about them? I would suggest to you that “getting a life” might be pursuing what is doable: improving the environment in which we live (whatever side of the pendulum swing you are on.)

    Thank you for the clarification regarding the acronyms I find confusing and about which I know nothing. It is helpful.

  12. Kevin Di Mauro

    @John Bazzano

    Perhaps you should have coached Clyde a little better. The term is not “IBITDA” as he states. The proper term is EBITDA. It’s always much better to rely on a certified public accountant.

  13. cc-rider

    Kevin- John was probably in a stupor after reading your comment about Oak Hills becoming Sono so cut him some slack on the acronyms.

  14. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    I know what EBITDA is Kevin…I was the one who asked for people to look at it and I do not control the content of articles posted.

    I figured I would let you guys miss use the term showing how much you actually understood…Or didn’t understand.

  15. Kevin Di Mauro

    @cc rider

    I won’t be cutting any slack.

    @Clyde

    I’m so glad you don’t control the comments on this website.

  16. John Bazzano

    @ Kevin. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation/amort) is typically the acronym. I’ve also seen it referred to as IBITDA (income before interest , taxes, depreciation/amo).

    @ suzanne, my “linking” of the OHPA to Parks and Rec is based on the fact that both are City governed. One is an”entity”, the other, directly governed by city personnel….semantics. One of the reasons the OHPA was established was because running a golf course is a highly specialized, labor intensive job. As such, having an “entity” like the OHPA manage it is more efficient. But at the end of the day, whether it’s a golf corse, a beach, or a regular park, they are their for the benefit of the City’s residents. Clearly not all residents use all these amenities, and as such, neither of them can survive financially on their own.

    My reference to world issues was only to make a point. On a local level, their are many more critical things to contend with…that’s all I meant. I’m also a firm believer that anything is “doable”. Let’s focus on solving greater problems.

  17. John Bazzano

    BTW, while I’m on the topic, I’d like to thank Mr. mount and the entire OHPA staff for all their hard work. It’s very unfortunate that you only hear from the ones that can’t let others enjoy one of Norwalk’s gems, Oak Hills Park.

    The OHPA has been doing all it can to please everyone; environmentalists, golfers, tennis players, and nature lovers alike. My heartfelt thank you for all you do for all Norwalkers!!

  18. Kevin Di Mauro

    I don’t play golf, and therefore I can’t enjoy this exclusive gem that belongs to City of Norwalk. To all of you members of the OHPA I say thanks for nothing.

  19. Paul Cantor

    Mr. Bazzano,

    The OHPA is an autonomous entity set up by the city to manage a golf course in Oak Hills Park so that user fees from residents cover its costs. But user fees from residents haven’t been covering its cost because a dwindling percentage of residents play golf.

    Hence the need to rely on a grant from taxpayers and other sources of revenue to maintain and upgrade the course and develop a strategy to market it to others. But whether it is a park, or a beach, or a golf course the question, from the point of view of Norwalk taxpayers is: “Do the benefits of the 18 hole golf course outweigh the costs for all of us?.”

    You write “let’s focus on greater problems.” Of course other problems are important. But the issue of how to ensure our government at all levels works to promote the general welfare is also important.

    What is going on with respect to the golf course is an example of government failure. You and other golfers, including the golfers that have volunteered to serve on the OHPA and have been appointed to do so, praise the OHPA because it is working hard to promote your interests. But it is not working hard to promote my interests or the interests of others who do not play golf or have the time or inclination to pay attention to the many ways politicians pander to special interest groups such as Norwalk’s well organized and vocal group of golfers of which you and a number of them are members.

    That said, I share your concern for other issues: local, national, and international. Hence, when you are out there playing golf with others my hope is that you bring them up for discussion.

  20. Suzanne

    “As such, having an “entity” like the OHPA manage it is more efficient. But at the end of the day, whether it’s a golf course, a beach, or a regular park, they are their for the benefit of the City’s residents”, except if you don’t play golf. The other “entities” you describe are available to everyone, Mr. Bazzano. Surely the difference must be clear.

    It is NOT just semantics: Charter managements has a definite structure, administration and financial framework than public parks. You need to read said Charter to understand how different they are.

    Frankly, every year we get “the big whine” from OHPA. This statement is not surprising from Mr. Mount nor is the disingenuous approach to “management” and “finances”. They may be proud of themselves but I would suggest the bar, if not low, is raised to a mid level at best.

  21. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    Mr. Cantor,

    Since when are costs supposed to be covered by residents only? Can you take to where that is documented? My understanding is that we are to cover costs with revenue. If you have some document that states something else, can you please get that to me so I can better understand this?

    Being part of state granted land, I don’t believe the state would allow us to restrict use by residents only, but I will check with them to get that point cleared up.

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments