Councilman: Changes will help city asset

The mayor has suggested creating a parks board to run Avalon South.
WARREN -- Bad-mouthing one of the city's best assets will only hamper plans to turn around the troubled Avalon South Golf Course.
That's the opinion of city Councilman Brendan Keating, D-5th, who told council's finance committee Tuesday that changes in management of the course can be viewed positively and present the city with opportunities to do things differently.
Keating said he knows that Avalon South, with one of the best driving ranges around, can recover and be a money-maker for the city.
Financial troubles at the municipal course have prompted the administration to make recommendations to council, including the creation of a parks board.
Council to vote: Mayor Hank Angelo said council will vote in a few weeks to create the board, made up of three people he will appoint with council's approval and two to be appointed by the city school district's board.
"We do believe there is an avenue to make some money," the mayor said.
Tony Joy, who has operated the course since 1989, was notified last week that the city has canceled his lease agreement to do so. He says he'll weigh his legal options and decide whether he will fight the decision.
Council will vote tonight on whether to take out an internal note and pay off the remaining $345,000 of the $425,000 loan Joy secured in 1995 to make improvements at the course.
Lawmakers will also weigh whether to advertise for bids to purchase or lease equipment needed to run the course.
Councilmen Gary Fonce, D-at large, and Bob Holmes, D-4th, said they'd like Council President Doug Franklin to form a committee of lawmakers to dissect Angelo's recommendations and possibly make suggestions of their own.
Angelo encouraged lawmakers to come up with ideas, but stressed that decisions need to be made soon, as the golf season is approaching.
Long-term plan: Fonce said the city needs a long-term plan for Avalon and will need to spend money to bring the course up to par with other area facilities.
He questioned why the administration is hurrying the process, saying it should have acted sooner to address problems that have been ongoing at Avalon.
An unofficial poll on the Vindicator Web site shows that nearly 53 percent of 259 respondents think the city should sell the course. About 29 percent said the city should find someone else to manage the course, and about 19 percent said to form a parks board.
The mayor has said it's never a good idea to sell an asset during a time of financial strife.
Joy has until Feb. 22 to cease his operations at the course, and the city has said it will assume the necessary insurance requirements to make sure the course is covered.
Stepping in: In the meantime, affairs at the course will be handled by Frank Tempesta, the city's operations director, and Tom Angelo, the city's director of the Water Pollution Control Center.
This will include transferring utilities into the city's name, reviewing current equipment and maintenance agreements and handling bookings.
Joy defaulted on a few loan payments and owes the city more than $200,000 for back rent. He is in arrears more than $50,000 in real estate taxes, which he was to pay according to his lease agreement, and the city has paid about $190,000 of his tax bill in the past to ward off foreclosure.
The city has said it expects to be involved in litigation with Joy over disputed issues involving payment.
Resident Sally Shubert-Hall, who has been demanding accountability from officials regarding Avalon, said she wants to know why council was never consulted when the city agreed to pay off Joy's property taxes on a few occasions.
She pointed out that city files contain numerous memos from Auditor David Griffing to other city officials, over the last few years, explaining that the city needs to address some of these concerns.

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