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NCC keeps lights on for PAL; $101,000 utility payment allows centers to stay open until April - News Journal

New Castle County Councilman Bob Weiner voted against paying the bill, saying the 11-2 vote was due to "political influence." 

New Castle County Council keeps lights on for PAL
$101,000 utility payment allows centers to stay open until April

New Castle County Council voted to pay an overdue $101,000 utility bill for the Police Athletic League centers in Hockessin and Garfield Park Tuesday night.

The 11-2 vote was opposed by Council President Tom Kovach and Bob Weiner, two of the council's three Republican members.

Weiner said a review of an audit commissioned by the PAL board by county auditor Bob Wasserbach showed that the facilities were not fiscally sound. Instead of the county paying to keep the lights on and the heat running at the centers, Weiner said, PAL officials should volunteer to temporarily turn over control of the centers to the county, or the county should try to gain control of them in court.

"The PAL board has political influence with some members of county council," Weiner said. "That hurts the decisions the council makes."

Weiner wasn't specific about his allegations, but noted that former county Executive Tom Gordon is on the board.

Several council members blasted Weiner for his remarks, saying they were not true.

Councilman Jea Street noted that Wasserbach found no evidence that there was any theft, fraud or mismanagement taking place at the PAL Centers.

"The mean-spiritedness of the comments are reckless," Street said, adding that they could hurt PAL's ability to raise money from private sources. They also showed a lack of caring for poor children who are recipients of free-lunches at Garfield Park, Street said.
Weiner said he was being misunderstood.

"It's a shame my fellow council members don't understand that I'm not opposed to the programs offered by the center. I'm simply concerned that we're bailing out a board that hasn't been doing it's job," he said.

Councilman Penrose Hollins conceded that the PAL Centers have financial problems. Wasserbach told the council, for example, that the center has $37,000 in assets and $374,000 in liabilities. A healthy nonprofit should have twice as much assets as liabilities, he said.

PAL owes Delmarva Power $165,000 in overdue bills, county Attorney Gregg Wilson said. Paying $101,000 immediately will allow the centers to remain open until April, he said.
Kovach, who took office last month, thought that was too much for county taxpayers to pay. He introduced an alternative measure Tuesday that would pay Delmarva $50,000. That proposal was rejected by an 11-2 vote. Only Kovach and Weiner supported it.

Hollins said Kovach's proposal was "naive" and showed a "cavalier attitude" to the prospect of how poor kids would be hurt if the centers were to close.

Kovach said he was insulted by Hollins' accusations, that he was simply trying to find a middle ground to keep the centers open and minimize the amount of money taxpayers would have to pay for the bailout.

The county pays PAL $12,000 a month in rent for the Hockessin center and about $10,200 a month for Garfield Park. The county uses the facilities for a variety of recreational and educational programs for children, adults and senior citizens.

The $101,000 will not be a grant or a bailout, Councilman George Smiley said. The money will be credited for future rent payments the county owes the centers.

After the Delmarva bill gets paid, PAL and county officials will begin negotiating a new lease agreement. One of two things must happen in order for the center to proceed successfully: The county must increase its rent payments or use the facilities less often so PAL can lease the sites to other tenants. Wilson said.

Because Tuesday's ordinance to pay the Delmarva bill was classified as an emergency, 10 votes were needed to pass it. The measure came very close to being rejected. Councilwoman Lisa Diller, a soft-spoken minister, raised her voice before she reluctantly cast the deciding vote to pay the bill.

"I want to vote against it," she screamed. "I will not vote for another penny until I have a plan to move forward. There appears to be no plan and I'm tired of it."

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