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1/27/2011
Delaware PAL seeks money from taxpayers to pay power bill; Weiner: Taxpayers shouldn't be stuck paying bailout for PAL. PAL Board should be replaced - News Journal

Delaware PAL seeks money to pay power bill
$100,000 called advance on rent

BY ADAM TAYLOR • THE NEWS JOURNAL • JANUARY 27, 2011 

The two Police Athletic League centers in New Castle County owe $100,000 to Delmarva Power and have asked the county for a cash advance to be able to keep the lights on and the gymnasiums warm.

Officials from PAL and county Executive Paul Clark's administration said the money is simply an advance on rent payments due to PAL from the county. But Councilman Bob Weiner said the proposal would be an inappropriate bailout of what he thinks is a failing organization.

"The board is like an old-boys club that has demonstrated an inability to raise money from other sources and become a successful ongoing concern," Weiner said. "Whenever they get into trouble, they simply expect the county to ride in like a white knight and come to the rescue."

Clark's aides and those on the council who support making the payment to PAL agree with Weiner on one thing: the decision on whether to cut the check should not be made until county Auditor Rob Wasserbach completes a review of a draft audit PAL commissioned about its own overall financial status.

Wasserbach said his work will be completed next month.

The overdue bill to Delmarva illustrates the tension that has existed between county and PAL officials for a couple of years.

The county has financial problems of its own and doesn't want to give the PAL centers -- one in Hockessin and one in Garfield Park -- any more than it has to. But PAL officials say there are only two options for the centers to continue to operate. The county must give the centers more money, or use the facilities less frequently, so the centers could be rented out to other groups that would pay more to use the facilities, PAL Executive Director  Jim Riggs said.

"Nonprofits like us are hurting everywhere," Riggs said. "The county is our main tenant and we have a long-term lease with them with no escalation clauses for inflation. For us to keep going, they have to pay us more or use it less."

The parties are currently 10 years into 40-year leases for the sites, acting county Attorney Gregg Wilson said. The county pays about $12,000 a month for the Hockessin center and about $10,200 a month for Garfield Park. That represents about 34 percent of PAL's income, Riggs said. The county uses the facilities for a variety of recreational and educational programs for children, adults and senior citizens.

PAL's request to renegotiate the leases won't be considered until Wasserbach completes his financial review of the centers, Wilson said.

If Wasserbach finds the centers have performed poorly, Weiner would like the county to consider going to Chancery Court for temporary control of the sites until a new board of directors  could be installed.

Wilson and council members Penrose Hollins, Jea Street and George Smiley said Weiner's suggestions are premature. They also are concerned that Weiner could be giving the centers a bad reputation when it's not warranted.

"There's nothing in the record to reflect that anything wrong has been taking place in the running of the PAL centers," Street said.

PAL board Chairman Vince D'Anna said he's optimistic a compromise will be reached.

"We need money from the county and the county needs to use our space for their programs," he said. "A few years ago, we got almost no sympathy from the county. But things have been better recently and I think the government understands that we need increased rent or decreased utilization by the county."

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