By Sara Brown
Tempers flared at Monday night’s city council meeting over the proposed new Staff Sergeant James J. Hill School, currently the McKinley Elementary School.
Councillor-at-Large Brian Arrigo presented a motion asking Mayor Dan Rizzo to provide the council with detailed budgets for each of the bond authorizations that were presented to the council.
“This is very important,” Arrigo said. “We all need to take the time to analyze the impact this will have on the city’s future.”
The five bond requests came to a total of $55.5 million. Eighty percent of construction of the school will be reimbursed by the state. However, that only pertains to the actual school. The bonds also include taking over four properties near the school.
There will be a city financial summit on Saturday at City Hall to discuss the city’s finances.
Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta worries that residents are panicked over the new school without knowing all the facts. “I keep hearing this figure $55 million. It’s almost like yelling fire when there is no fire,” Penta said. “It’s not the final cost. It’s a lot less.”
Arrigo responded by stating that there has been a large increase in money from the original plans.
“It’s an increase worth having a discussion about,” Arrigo said.
When Penta tried to respond back, Council President Ira Novoselsky tried to let other councillors speak on the matter, resulting in a heated back-and-forth between the Ward 1 councillor and the president. “This is a very important issue. Are you going to let me speak?” Penta yelled.
Many of the councillors wished they had detailed information before the summit on Saturday.
“There is hysteria in the streets. There is reimbursement for the school portion. There are a lot of other items presented that have no reimbursements,” Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto said. He added, “There is information the council doesn’t have, that the people don’t have.”
“How are we going to pay for this,” asked Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Reardon. “This is information that should have been provided awhile ago.”
Even with an 80 percent reimbursement, some councillors are still worried. “We keep talking about 80 percent reimbursements, but so what,” Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso said. “We are still talking about a big number.”
Other councillors said they will still vote in favor of a new school, but one they know for certain the city can afford.
“I said I would vote for a new school and I plan on keeping that commitment. However, I want to see all the extras and make sure we need them,” Ward 5 Councillor John Powers said. He further explained, “Sometimes when I go to dinner I don’t get an appetizer or dessert, because I can’t afford them. We need to make sure we can afford the extras.”
“I am going to vote for a new school but one we can afford, not one we hope we can afford,” Guinasso added.
Councillor-at-Large Jessica Giannino wished the council had received earlier notice about the summit on Saturday. “I can’t go because I have work. I wish I could be there and that we were told earlier about this. We all just really want more information,” she said.
There will be a public hearing about the new school on March 11 at City Hall.