Last night’s meeting of the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen was interesting to say the least. We’ll start with the West Side Arena. Frankly folks, it was a trying ninety minutes of debate that, at times, bordered on disrespectful to the folks who brought the proposal forward, and who showed uncharacteristic boldness for those petitioning the board as they pushed back against the criticism that came their way.
Supporters of the proposal to turn the arena over to private management that would not only operate the facility, but also spend a million dollars of city money to renovate it, said the city should welcome such entreaties from its residents. Ward Nine Alderman Barbara Shaw said Manchester needed more people like this to come forward. Ward Three Alderman Patrick Long, a converted skeptic of the project, said it was about bringing hockey back to Manchester and that the MYRA hockey organization should have the city’s help to do that.
Critics of the plan, led by Ward Two’s Ron Ludwig, the city’s former Superintendent of the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Department, said the league’s complaint had nothing to do with the facilities, but everything to do with the steep increase in the cost of ice time he blamed on the creation of the Recreation Enterprise. He said while the city might not have done the best job maintaining the arena over the years, it did the best it could given that it was charging MYRA the lowest rate for ice charged by any facility in New England. Ludwig asserted they’ve lost players to other leagues because the price went up and, all things being equal, some people chose to go elsewhere.
Mayor Ted Gatsas echoed concerns raised on this show yesterday, despite a subsequent meeting with developers. He said it was a great proposal, but lacked adequate guarantees to safeguard the taxpayer and provided no financial information on which to base a million dollar loan. The developers pushed back saying their financials weren’t needed because the guarantee came from MYRA’s twenty five year contract and fifty year history of success. Board Chairman Dan O’Neil fought back saying that personal guarantees given by recipients of loans by the city’s Revolving Loan Fund were worthless in many cases, no better than the paper they were written on he said.
MYRA officials also said that without the deal, they were much more likely to pull up stakes and leave the community given the years of unaddressed requests made for improvements needed for the facility. Ward Twelve’s Keith Hirschmann told them that was a bunch of B S and that they weren’t going to go anywhere, especially since the city has already approved a one hundred sixty thousand dollar bond to replace the dasher boards and glass.
In the end, the board would adopt the contract with Gatsas breaking a seven seven tie.
However, after Finance Officer William Sanders piped up to say he believed the city was now obligated to fund the bond, which required a separate vote with a two thirds majority to pass, the aldermen moved to reconsideration. After reading the language in his out loud Finance Officer’s voice, it was clear that City Solicitor Thomas Clark was asleep at the switch when questioned about what motion should go first and Long moved to reconsider the vote because he recognized that in passing the contract they owed them a million dollars. Reconsideration passed, the matter was tabled and was scheduled for a special meeting on June seventeenth so, among other things, Ward One Alderman Joyce Craig could get resumes and references on the team who would run the West Side Arena.
Read our real time reporting on the event in our Live Bog Forum at Girard at Large dot com. We’ve linked to it for your convenience. For as detailed and exciting as this summary was, it’s not close to what really happened.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
Manchester’s taxes will be going up when this budget passes and, based on what happened last night, it looks like it will be by more than four percent, quite possibly a lot more than four percent. The budget brought forward by Ward Seven Alderman Bill Shea, Ward Four Alderman Jim Roy and Ward Eight Alderman Tom Katsiantonis went down to ignominious defeat after a raucous debate, with only them voting in favor. Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne abstained saying he thought it made sense to see all the budget proposals before voting for or against any of them. The fix to kill their proposal was in as the authors of two competing budgets didn’t bring their budgets forward last night.
Police Chief David Mara was man of the hour spending more than an hour answering questions about how the budget, which added one hundred fifty thousand dollars to his bottom line, would affect his operations. While he was appreciative of the additional funds, he was still short almost four hundred thousand dollars of what he needed. Aldermen, clearly rattled by constituent complaints on crime, weren’t happy with the answers.
The fault lines on the budget were seen in two interesting exchanges: The first, between Roy and Ward One Alderman Joyce Craig over whether or not money should be put into department budgets directly or into contingency. Roy said he’d rather it be in contingency because if something happens in a smaller department, they can’t absorb it the way the bigger ones can. Craig clearly wants it in the department’s line items. The second was between Mayor Ted Gatsas and Ward Nine Alderman Barbara Shaw over levels of funding and service. Shaw went on an impassioned rant claiming people were sick of the tax cap and that the departments should be funded with all they need to do the job the way they want to and people can see the services they’re paying for. Gatsas replied, so the taxpayers have to work to live within their means but city departments don’t? To which Shaw said no, but she thinks that just once we should give the departments what they need and that she’s willing to pay for it. Irony is, she owes the city more than sixty five hundred dollars in back taxes and more than twenty three hundred bucks in sewer fees.
This is a Live Blog Forum you’ve got to read and we’ve linked to it from this news read at Girard at Large dot com.
Oh, the aldermen also learned that the cost of the Obamacare Cadillac Tax has risen to just under six million dollars. More budget fun for a future day!
That’s news from our own backyard, Girard at Large hour ___ starts now now now now now!