By Jordan Cohen
City council members are unhappy with the concession stand contract for the Mayor Ralph A. Infante Wellness Center and plan to put the concession operation up for bid because they feel revenues are too low.
“This contract isn’t working out,” said Steve Papalas, council finance chairman, who brought the issue to a head in a Wednesday finance committee meeting. Papalas charged that the records from the Wellness Center show no payments for several activities at the center.
“The revenue seems to be down from what we generated in prior years and some activities haven’t been reported,” Papalas said, a claim vehemently denied by Infante.
The mayor said the operator, Louis Hillier, turned in payments to the city auditor not shown in Papalas’ documents.
“We are collecting our lease payments,” the mayor responded.
Hillier was unable to be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Figures provided to the finance committee indicate that since last November, the center’s concession stand has returned slightly more than $800 revenue, a figure that is unacceptable according to council President Robert Marino.
“That’s far below what should be generated from this facility,” Marino said, noting that the city gets more money from the supplier of the soft drink machines than it does from the concession stand.
Infante explained after the meeting the city board of control awarded the non-bid contract to Hillier, a Niles Cemetery superintendent who already operates a concession business, after it unsuccessfully approached Subway and McDonald’s corporations to run the stand.
“Their corporate wouldn’t allow it,” Infante said
The three-month agreement, later renewed for another three months, requires the operator to pay the city $230 each month during the lease period.
During the summer, when there are few activities at the center, no payment is required except for special events, such as the recent AKC Dog Trials for which Hiller paid the city $70 according to Infante.
“He still has to buy all the supplies for the stand,” Infante said. “It’s a losing proposition.”
Auditor Charles Nader revealed that income projections for next year show that Niles faces far more serious problems than concession stand revenue.
Nader disclosed that in 2013, property revenue may drop to $560,000 from this year’s $600,000 while local government funding from the state will decline to $195,000 from the $270,000 expected this year.
Higher gas prices, which are nearing $4 a gallon, will also impact the city because it will have to pay significantly higher fuel costs for police and fire vehicles.
“It’s going to be another hit we take,” Nader warned.