Oak Hills moving ahead, Norwalk loan in hand, RFP written

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Ernie Desrochers, chairman of the Oak Hills Park Authority driving range committee, begins to alter a request for proposals for a driving range Tuesday night.

NORWALK, Conn. – Reluctant “yes” votes carried the day last week as the City of Norwalk agreed to bail out the Oak Hills Park Authority – at least one more time.

Papers for the $150,000 bridge loan will be signed Tuesday at a special OHPA meeting, where another significant achievement of the past week for the authority will also take bloom: the RFP (request for proposals) for a controversial driving range.

Public input had more impact on the RFP than on the loan.

Former Common Councilman Bill Wrenn held up the vote at Tuesday’s meeting when he questioned the language that had been written. “Why can’t they shorten the course?” he asked. “Suppose they want to shorten the course 100 yards. Why would that be a deal breaker?”

Ernie Desrochers, chairman of the driving range committee, said the RFP was written to encourage potential bidders to look at other locations than the one chosen by the authority, then said, “Why don’t we just see what happens? This is basically a fishing expedition.”

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Oak Hills golf course is a “tool a lot of people use to meet people,” Councilman Fred Bondi (R-At Large) said. “… Tiger Woods didn’t play too much (last season). Hopefully he’s back this year. It will make the popularity of golf a little better.”

Wrenn suggested throwing a wider net, and Desrocher changed it from “In no way can an alternative location of the practice range reduce the length of the course” to “In no way can an alternative location of the practice range negatively impact the current layout of the course.”

Member of the public satisfied.

Those protesting the bridge loan – to be paid off over 10 years at a low interest rate – at the council meeting afterward succeeded only in getting a rebuttal from OHPA members.

“This authority has a checkered history. It is not time for a loan, it is time for a thorough change in its makeup,” Scott Kimmich said. “We need fresh approaches, not circling the wagons. … It is a temporary operations loan. Why should we extend it for 10 years?”

Another speaker said she was appalled that the city might give OHPA more money.

“If the Oak Hills Park Authority was a privately owned enterprise, it would be bankrupt. … A bankrupt company defaults on its loans,” Yvonne Lopaur said. “Why, therefore, at a time when there is a well-documented decrease in the demand for golf, are you considering loaning my money and the money of other taxpayers to a poorly managed golf course that has twice tried to restructure the loans already made to it?”

Diane Lauricella thought a “wise idea” for troubled South Norwalk anti-poverty agency NEON would also be a “wise idea” for OHPA.

“Don’t approve this loan unless there is a written provision in it for a financial audit and operational audit,” she said.

“Many of the things you heard tonight about the mismanagement have been in the past,” OHPA member Clyde Mount said. “We think we’re beyond that now.”

Councilman Nick Kydes (R-District C) thinks the golf course at Oak Hills Park is a “jewel of Norwalk.”
Councilman Nick Kydes (R-District C) thinks the golf course at Oak Hills Park is a “jewel of Norwalk.”

The authority is independently audited and shares its books with the Board of Estimate and Taxation as well as Norwalk’s finance department, he said. “We would welcome a management audit but that’s going to take money,” he said. “Somebody’s got to pay for that.”

Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) seemed to be with a majority of council members when he said, “I will hold this nose and vote for this loan … I don’t like any of this but I will vote for this because the repercussions to the city will be worse if we don’t.”

Councilman Michael Geake (U-District B) said the debt service on the park would be there whether the council gave it more money or not. Layoffs would cost money, too.

“I have a very big problem with a loan for operating expenses. It seems like a bad deal,” he said. “… In this case it does make sense.”

Only Anna Duleep voted against it.

“The best investment we can make as a community, as a nation and a city, is universal pre-K, and we are going to fall very, very short of that goal,” she said. “Then why are we not hesitating nearly enough to cut a $150,000 check to a business that, to my mind at least, has not proven to us that they know what they are doing at this point. I would say that if the city is going to take a tough love approach to groups like NEON, involving Head Start funding, with our children … then the very least we can do is hold our golf course to same tough love standard.”

Mayor Richard Moccia had some words for those who have consistently spoken against OHPA.

“I hope Mr. (Bill) Krummel, Gina (Krummel), Bill Wrenn, and a couple of the other people can sit down and talk in a rational way of how they can offer some ideas to make that part more attractive to other users,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has ever said no.”

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The loyal opposition chats before the beginning of Tuesdays’ Norwalk Common Council meeting. From left are Bill Krummel, Bill Wrenn, Betsy Wrenn and Regina Krummel.


8 responses to “Oak Hills moving ahead, Norwalk loan in hand, RFP written”

  1. oldtimer

    You couldn’t make this stuff up. The guy they picked to run the restaurant after he already ran it into the ground is in trouble in N.Y. and may end up in prison. The chairman is already a convicted felon for taking big money from the 2nd district when he was on their commission, and the only solution is borrowing more from the City and building a driving range ? The objection to a performance (forensic) audit is it will cost money ? Why not give them more taxpayer cash ? What could possibly go wrong ?

  2. LWitherspoon

    I am surprised to learn that this “bridge loan” of $150,000 has a ten-year repayment term. That’s a heckuva long bridge! I don’t recall any mention of the ten-year repayment schedule in any prior articles about Oak Hills. Did I miss something, or was that a surprise from the Council meeting?

  3. @LWitherspoon
    That is an interesting question. No, it was not a surprise … I don’t know why I didn’t mention it in the last story I did, about the BET meeting. It was in the original story, about the Jan. 17 OHPA meeting.
    OHPA finance committee chair Pat Williams was pressed about the terms of the loan. “I would have to talk to Bob Barron it would be 5 years, 10 years to spread it out,” she said.
    At the Feb. 11 Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting, Deputy Director of Budget and Management Bob Barron said, “They would begin paying back immediately on July 1,” then mentioned a 10-year bond. “We would charge them over the next 10 years,” he said.
    The 10-year repayment was not actually mentioned during the discussion on the matter at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.
    I just checked all the minutes from meetings where this was discussed; the length of the loan is not mentioned.
    I will check with Finance Director Thomas Hamilton on this. Thank you.

  4. oldtimer

    OHPA chair Bob Virgulak has a letter in today’s HOUR thanking the council members who voted for the loan and criticising Ms Duleep and others who opposed it as failing to see the “big picture”.
    The big picture is the golf course is failing under his direction and he thinks the loan and a driving range will make it self-sufficient. How much does he get paid to be the chairman ?

  5. It’s a 10-year loan at 1.55 percent interest. The annual payment is $16,000, which is now included in the park’s five-year plan.

    Bob Viruglak letter:

  6. LWitherspoon

    Nancy would probably know better but I believe Mr. Virgulak and the rest of the OHPA board are volunteers.

  7. BARIN

    Fair enough, it’s done we ponied up the dough, if the five year plan fails the board should resign, just as everyone called for from NEON.
    In addition the OHPA will pay (not taxpayers) for that forensic audit at the end of the five years to make sure everything is hunkydory.
    I think that would be reasonable for all parties involved.
    I may just take up golf this year.

  8. oldtimer

    The right time for that audit is NOW. The guy who ran the restaurant and is picked to run it again, under a new corporate name, is accused of stealing big money from a country club in Rye and may be going to prison. The chairman was convicted for stealing from the 2nd taxing district when he “volunteered” on their commission. and the argument against finding out where taxpayer money went is the cost of an audit ? Is nobody in this administration qualified to do a forensic audit without hiring an outside auditor ? Is somebody afraid of what such an audit might turn up, in an election year ?

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