Norwalk board gives Oak Hills loan preliminary approval

Norwalk Oak Hills 2013-01-16 016
Weather has been a key factor in the financial challenges at Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park, supporters say.

NORWALK, Conn. – A loan meant to cover the expenses of Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park golf course to get it through the winter was approved Monday night by Norwalk’s tax board. The matter will now go on to the Common Council.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation approved the $150,000 special appropriation, with only one member, Jim Clark, voting against the measure. One opponent of the plan thanked him, saying he was the only one to speak for the taxpayer.

“It’s really bad, really wrong what you are doing,” Yvonne Lopaur said, to the rest of the board.

The alternative to the loan is to close the course, which isn’t practical, Mayor Richard Moccia, an ex-officio member of the board, said. “There’s some misapprehension here,” he said. “It’s almost as if we could close the course — it’s like a map, we could fold it up and it goes away. If the course closed tomorrow, we still have the obligations as a city for the debt service.”

Finance Director Thomas Hamilton agreed. “We own the land and it’s our golf course,” he said. “If this isn’t approved, if the Oak Hills Park Authority can’t meet payroll, the problem ultimately comes back to the city because we’ll be stuck with a golf course with no employees and so forth. But it’s going to be somebody’s responsibilities to figure out how we pick up the pieces, what we do next.”

Oak Hills authority member Pat Williams mentioned the debt repayment made to the city last September as she began to explain why the authority needs a loan to make it through the winter. Without that, the authority would be in the black, she said.

Board Chairman Fred Wilms pressed her for the “big picture” behind the authority’s troubles. “The revenues are down,” she said. “It seems to have gone down a little bit every year. The rounds are less, the revenue has stayed about the same. We increased rates last year; it offset the lower rounds.”

Oak Hill Interim Executive Director Shelly Guyer said the course is down 500 resident adult members from where it was five years ago. “That’s a big nut to try to recapture,” he said. “That’s one of the areas we’re going to focus hard on in our marketing efforts.”

There were 45,000 rounds of golf played at the course five years ago, he said; there are 35,000 rounds played now.

There were also significant problems last spring – the restaurant wasn’t open, there was no golf pro and the golf carts needed to be replaced, he said. All of those issues have been addressed.

Hurricane Sandy cost the course $70,000 to $75,000 in lost revenue, Director of Management and Budget Robert Barron said. Moccia said the course also had been affected by Hurricane Irene and the surprise snowstorm that followed Sandy on Nov. 7, and admitted there were other problems. “Several years ago we got a little laissez-faire. I don’t think we marketed it correctly,” he said.

Clark was the lone voice speaking against granting the authority the loan. “What concerns me, is that for quite a period of time the projections that we have seen have seemed … they were overly optimistic,” he said. “That concerns me because we find ourselves in these situations where we find ourselves today.”

He said he hoped the authority would change its ways.

“I think you are looking at other ways to change the revenue model,” he said. “Change it, because if you just keep doing the same thing, find ourselves in a similar situation.”

Williams said the board is “on the cusp” of straightening things out.

Moccia said the board is heading in the right direction.

“Several board members were not on the board in those previous years and some of the employees who made the optimistic predictions are no longer on the board or employed by Oak Hills. … You look at the expertise on the board, from the financial business women, business men, all of them have experience in balancing budgets and trying to turn companies around.”

Correction made, 12:45 a.m.


14 responses to “Norwalk board gives Oak Hills loan preliminary approval”

  1. Joe Espo


  2. LWitherspoon

    “Oak Hill Interim Executive Director Shelly Guyer said the course is down 500 resident adult members from where it was five years ago. “That’s a big nut to try to recapture,” he said. “That’s one of the areas we’re going to focus hard on in our marketing efforts.””
    Before the board spends any more money, it should look for a clear answer to why the course is down 500 resident adult members. The board has all the names and probably phone numbers of the 500 people who are no longer members. Survey them all by phone or in writing and ask why. Tabulate the results and make them public. Base your financial plan on the answers. While I’m not particularly well-informed on this issue, from what I read in the media there seems to be a lot of guessing regarding what ails the course but no hard statistics. “Lasseiz-faire marketing” is a hazy excuse for why rounds are down and it doesn’t point to a clear solution, which could lead to more guesswork and continuing financial losses.

  3. ccrelan

    Excellent response LWitherspoon. It would almost be too obvious to contact the former members…

  4. Tim T

    I say rip it down.. Its a drain on the taxpayer…We can no longer afford this especially with the proposed Moccia tax increase.

  5. jlightfield

    I am one of those 500 who did not get an adult resident pass in the last few years. You would think that someone at the OHPA would have said, “hey let’s send a mailing out to abandons, and ask them to join again.” That would be marketing 101. It’s not as if there’s a lack of data, apparently, but a lack of what to do about it.

    I’ll also keep pounding away at the notion that Norwalk is stuck in the 20th century. At no point has anyone asked for my email address so that they can get past having to send notices through the mail. If Banks have figured out cost savings by paperless statements, then so should local government.

  6. LWitherspoon

    Good idea regarding marketing to the abandons. But wouldn’t it be useful to learn why people are discontinuing membership and try to address the root cause(s)?
    What was your reason for discontinuing your adult resident pass?

  7. Lisa Thomson

    I’m an abandon too! Forced up to Fairfield because OHPA wouldn’t give a 9 hole rate to my ladies league. I agree with Jackie, Norwalk needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Another example…School permission slips still ask for FAX numbers! you gotta love it!

    1. It isn’t Norwalk, but I feel compelled to mention that the Connecticut State Police will not email accident reports. They will only send a FAX.
      Again, Port Charlotte, Fla., is more advanced.

  8. LWitherspoon

    @Lisa T
    Thanks for your comment. 1 down, 499 to go!

  9. Tim T

    Does anyone actually even have a fax anymore???I know you cant Fax over voip line or cell and that is what most have.

  10. jlightfield

    @LWitherspoon for the few rounds of golf that i’m able to play, the lack of a shorter course, and just plain inertia to getting a resident pass, they lost me. Far easier to head over to Fairfield where they at least understand that business people have time constraints and use technology to communicate.

  11. Tim T

    You talk about Norwalk needing technology in almost everyone of your posts. I do agree we need to get in the 21 century in Norwalk. The issue I have is where do you suggest we get the money to do this. This administration has already ran Norwalk into the ground to the point of a proposed Moccia tax increase. Shall we have even a larger increase to fund technology? I say NO.

  12. jlightfield

    @TimT there will always be those that defend selling buggy whips in the age of horseless carriage much like there will always be those that prefer blame and rhetoric over compromise and action. I find that the two go hand in hand.

  13. Diane C2

    The money spent on upgrading and fully utilizing new technology should save plenty in other areas, including perhaps cutting out some jobs. The more the city automates, the more citizens, businesses, applicants, tourists and other stakeholders can use a “self-serve” approach to government. This would cut out a ton of time wasted by highly paid staff doing stuff we can do for ourselves.

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