By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – A sarcastic cry followed the climatic moment of Thursday’s meeting of the Oak Hills Park Authority at Norwalk City Hall.
“Fire a teacher!” former Common Councilman Bill Krummel said loudly, after Authority Member Pat Williams delivered the news: the authority would like a loan of up to $150,000 from the city of Norwalk.
The request for financial assistance was the last item on the agenda for the meeting, which drew more than 30 citizens, creating a standing-room-only situation.
Before that, Williams delivered the financial committee report, ending with a comparison between the 5-year budget and the actual figures: “We had budget of $188,000 for operating income, we only hit $113,000, creating a $75,000 shortfall. That’s attributable to revenue, mostly, a few higher expenses but mostly a shortage in revenue … We made the debt payment of $218,346, against operating income of $113,000, which is basically our cash. We’re short through December of $100,000.”
With the course now closed for the winter, there is no money coming in to cover operating expenses, authority members said.
The authority borrowed $3.1 million from Norwalk years ago, and has been struggling to make payments over recent years, as the number of people paying to use the course has dropped. The September payment of $218,346 included $40,000 to replenish the authority’s escrow account.
Authority member Michael Corsello wondered if the authority could get the escrow money back.
“If we go forward with that type of request then we would be looking for an $80,000 replenishment for that fund come September,” Williams said. “Until we get more revenue through increased rounds and the driving range, we’re going to be tight.”
After a bit more explanation, Corsello said, “Basically we’re asking them for a credit line to make it through the winter.”
Diane Cece, an East Norwalk resident who keeps an eye on city government, asked what would happen if the authority didn’t get the loan. Oak Hills Chairman Bob Virgulak replied, “I think we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The authority is planning to offer ID cards earlier than usual to generate revenue, pending a Jan. 30 public hearing on its rate card. “We’re not even sure we’re going to need (the loan),” Virgulak said. “We just want to have it there as a buffer in case we do need it.”
Williams speculated that the loan would be repaid over 5- to 10-years.
The request goes first to the Common Council’s finance committee. Then it would go to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, then on to the full council.
Members of the public were not pleased to hear the news.
After Krummel shouted, “Fire a teacher,” one woman added, “Absolutely, they’re not necessary.”
On the way out the door, Krummel said he had been sarcastic.
“A cash strapped city which couldn’t take the surplus that the public works department had turned up for last year and use it to offset the deficit in the Board of Ed budget – then what’s going to happen here? The city is going to give the golf authority 150 grand, where is that going to come from? Somebody else’s budget. That’s what I meant by that: Fire a teacher! That’s where our values are.”