Boys Club Fee Waiver Sparks Debate
“No good deed goes unpunished”, at least not in campaign season. Those wise words came to us after the Town Hall meeting at the library last night. Ellen Zoppo brought up what to her was a serious concern. In her opinion, she felt that waiving the building inspection fees for the new Bristol Boys and Girls Club set a bad precedent. Her contention was that it was unfair to other non-profit groups that are planning renovations and repairs, and that the City Council should never have waived the fees because those costs are figured into building budgets. However, despite vehemently opposing such waivers, she claims that she will soon demand a waiver of the fees for work to be done on the roof of the Historical Society.
One could argue that the precedent had already been set here in Bristol years ago. Each year the City doles out funds through the Community Development Block Grant to an array of in-need non-profits. Just this past year, Ms. Zoppo represented the Historical Society and McCabe Waters Little League in requesting such funds. Perhaps even more hypocritical is that when Ms. Zoppo was on the City Council, she supported the purchase of the former Bristol Centre Mall property at the height of the real estate market using taxpayer funds. The original plan pushed for at the time was a $115 million facility for the Boys and Girls Club to operate out of.
From our perspective, we see the development of the new $11 million Boys and Girls Club as a good thing for Bristol, and in particular the West End neighborhood it will call home. When making our decision, we also took into consideration the difficulties of raising funds and believed that waiving $60,000 in costs to the club’s building budget would be helpful in their push to acquire the last outstanding funds needed for construction to begin. The vast majority of funds for the new club have been raised through private donations from many around the City and some of our largest corporate citizens. Were any other social service group planning a multi-million dollar expansion or building project that benefits a large number of our citizens, in particular the youth of our community, we would again look favorably at helping their efforts with a relief of costs.
Beyond the social impact the Club currently makes - and will be able to enhance thanks to the new facility - the new club will create additional jobs and infuse nearly $15 million into the local economy. Additionally, the Club saves the City a considerable amount of money through the programs it offers - programs that if offered by the City would cost three times as much and would come from the taxpayers. In short, we felt that the improvements to our City’s quality of life, and in particular the lives of City youths were, and will be worth far more than the $60,000 we are not collecting.
So perhaps we set a bad precedent when the City Council, in a bi-partisan unanimous vote, saved the Bristol Boys and Girls Club a considerable amount of money. Perhaps there will be a flood of non-profit organizations demanding the same treatment. And it is true that a framework should be established to provide criteria or grounds for approval, much like what CDBG has set up. And, as is the case each year when hundreds of thousands of dollars are requested of CDBG that cannot be given, there may be hurt feelings for those turned down. But ultimately, if a non-profit project that impacts thousands of children’s lives in our community comes before the Council, you can bet we will place our support behind our citizens.