MERIDEN — Officials overseeing designs of a proposed banquet hall at Hunter Golf Course are regrouping this week after the City Council denied their request to increase the project’s budget from $875,000 to $1 million.
The city sought an additional $125,000 for the facility, which would replace a temporary tent structure, after members of a committee overseeing designs did not like the look of the facility that would have been built under the original budget.
The council voted 6-6 on whether to approve the additional money this week, and unaffiliated Mayor Kevin Scarpati then broke the tie by voting in opposition.
City Manager Tim Coon said the city’s Banquet Facilities Building Committee will discuss how it wants to proceed at its next meeting, which will occur in the next couple of weeks. The city has a couple of options, Coon said, including moving forward with a building under the $875,000 budget, putting the project off until next year, or scrapping the project altogether. The council unanimously voted in April to authorize bonding $875,000 for the project because many councilors were hopeful the facility could ultimately pay for itself and become a revenue generator.
Councilor Brian Daniels said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a new resolution for additional funding put on a council agenda in the near future, but added it’s too soon to say where the city plans to go from here.
“I think we're all just trying to get our bearings,” Daniels said Tuesday. Daniels chairs the council’s Finance Committee, which voted 3-2 to approve the additional $125,000 last week and is also one of two councilors that sat on the Banquet Facilities Building Review Committee.
At the meeting this week, Daniels proposed the idea of dipping into a projected $1.5 million surplus left over from the 2018-19 fiscal year to pay for the project, rather than bonding the money, however, that idea never gained enough support. Scarpati and minority caucus leader Dan Brunet took issue with Daniels’ proposal at the meeting because they said it was the first they were hearing of this surplus.
“I find it very surprising, being in a leadership role, knowing nothing about this,” Brunet said of the surplus at the meeting.
Because councilors have raised concerns recently about bonding additional money for capital projects, Daniels said he asked Coon and Finance Director Michael Lupkas to look into other ways to fund the project, to which Coon and Lupkas proposed using surplus funds from last year.
Coon said while the city isn’t going to have final numbers until later this year, the city is projected to have a surplus of about $1.5 million, about $400,000 of which will be used to replenish the city’s rainy day fund to levels recommended by the city’s own policies.
Daniels said he informed Scarpati and members of both caucuses about the surplus and the possibility of using some of those funds for the banquet hall in the days leading up to Monday’s meeting. Scarpati criticized Coon for not formally presenting details of the surplus to council prior to the meeting.
“The whole thing was brought up in an inappropriate way,” Scarpati said Tuesday. “Usually when you deal with surpluses that come up after year-end, it’s through a more formal process, and then you vet and consider your options for how to spend it… It needs to be a more inclusive conversation and not something that is thrown out at a council meeting as an, ‘Oh, by the way.’ The city manager should have done his due diligence to contact councilors.”
Coon on Tuesday said he had been indicating to council leadership for some time that the city is expected to end up with a 2018-19 surplus, adding that he didn’t get a firmer grasp on the size of the surplus until a few days before the meeting.
Daniels made two motions Monday to utilize the surplus money – one motion to use $125,000 of the surplus and another to apply $625,000 of the surplus to increase the project’s budget to $1.5 million, which some councilors said they supported because it would have allowed for the construction of a better-looking facility. The council voted 6-6 on both motions, with Scarpati defeating both.
Daniels said city staff will present information about the projected 2018-19 surplus at the next Finance Committee meeting on Aug. 27. It’s possible, Daniels said, that more councilors could get on board with using the surplus money on the banquet facility after the presentation next week.
Scarpati, who has expressed support for increasing the banquet hall budget to $1.5 million, said he’s not opposed to dipping into the surplus money once he receives more information from city administration. But Scarpati noted that there are a number of different things the city should consider putting the money toward, including road paving.