Finance panel backs $6M repair project for Penfield Pavilion

It took three meetings and many hours of discussion, but the Board of Finance on Tuesday approved $6 million in bonding to repair and reopen Penfield Pavilion, closed since damage wreaked by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

The vote was 7-1, with David Becker casting the dissenting vote.

John Mitola, one of two recently appointed members to the finance board, said if it were not for damage caused by the storm, there would be no discussion whether the town should have a rental banquet hall in the beach pavilion. "It's been a part of this town," Mitola said. "We're not adding a banquet hall."

Some board members expressed concern over a new financial analysis of the project that assesses what the town's net cost could be if some expenses are ruled ineligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If all the costs are eligible, the town's share would be $943,000, but that would rise to $1.5 million if some of the costs are deemed ineligible.

Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said if FEMA decides the cost to repair the pavilion is more than 50 percent of the appraised value, all construction costs will be eligible for 75 percent reimbursement. He said the town's consultants have said they are confident that threshold will be met.

"Under the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario, we still have a surplus after 20 years," Mitola said.

Total revenue from Penfield Pavilion over 20 years is estimated at $7.4 million, After deducting operational expenses and debt service, the surplus in the first 20 years is estimated at $1.7 million if all costs are FEMA-eligible and $911,038 if some costs are not reimbursed.

Finance board member James Walsh agreed that the decision on what features to include in Penfield Pavilion was made five or six years ago when it was rebuilt. "This town made a commitment then and we opened a beautiful facility," he said, one that has become a feature of the community. Photos promoting the town, Walsh said, always include a photo of the beachfront pavilion after its reconstruction was completed in 2011.

"I think the decision is clear," Walsh said.

Fellow financier Bob Stone, a local real estate agent, pointed out that a pavilion has been on the stretch of the beach for 100 years. "That pavilion is something people recognize Fairfield for," he said. "As a real estate agent, that's one of the first things they ask to see."

As they have at earlier meetings on the Penfield repair plans, residents Bud Morten and Jan Reber opposed the project.

Reber said information was passed out at the meeting that was not available to the public. "We have a right to review these documents," he said prior to the board's Tuesday vote. One two-page document was given to the board at the meeting, but the rest of the information, Mayer said, was available on the town's website.

Reber, who lives on Beaumont Street, described the Penfield project as a "frivolous boondoggle, banquet hall on the beach," while Sasco Hill Road resident Morten said most town residents favor a low- or no-cost facility on the beach. He suggested any money left from the insurance settlement for the pavilion damage could be used to improve the town's IT system.

Representative Town Meeting member David Mackenzie, R-3, said 90 percent of the emails he's received have been from people opposed to the project and suggested that more time be spent before a final decision on pavilion repairs is made.

"I think you can do it right if you spend a little more time on it," he said, particularly since at this point, even if the bonding request is approved by the RTM, it won't reopen until 2016.