City seeks payment of utility bills for arena

At least temporarily, the city has been stuck with utility bills of $36,000-plus that the defunct Williamsport Outlaws hockey team and a nonprofit organization that operated Airmen Pond at Bowman Field owe and haven’t paid in several months.

City solicitor Norman Lubin is drafting a letter to send out to the Outlaws ownership and the Syracuse Junior Hockey Club, the non-profit organization that ran the public skating portion of the ice rink later called Williamsport Ice Arena, asking for the bills to be paid immediately, Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said at the city finance committee meeting Tuesday.

The PPL-related light bills are the largest, but other utilities may account for another $1,200, according to Joe Pawlak, city fiscal and budget officer.

Utility payments in arrears account for three months, two of which are overdue and one remains unpaid by the team that ended operations Monday.

Kristen Rooney, owner of the team, assured the city she wants to rectify the situation, but claimed a disagreement exists between the team and non-profit regarding the amount of time each used the field, Campana said.

“Regardless of who used the field, our contract states they’re responsible for the utility bills,” Campana said.

Council issued a cautionary warning for future experiments.

“We all have good intentions for the community, but it underscores the risk we take when we do things that involve entities that we don’t have longstanding relationships with, especially in regards to Bowman Field,” said Councilman Randall J. Allison. He added how much he appreciated the Crosscutters New York-Penn League baseball team, for its stability in terms of financial commitments in a city with a baseball heritage.

Councilwoman Liz Miele, a member of the committee, said the experience requires the administration and council to consider a method of oversight.

“My No. 1 priority in allowing this experiment to move foward was to make sure exposure to the city would have been minimal in case it went south,” Councilman Jonathan Williamson said.

The field will be restored to baseball condition using the $20,000 paid.

“We planted a seed,” Campana said. “Hockey is not my first priority … running a city is.

“Many of the players and staff presented an outstanding community spirit and positive reaction toward fans,” he said. “I think the outdoor rink worked because it involved hundreds of people, especially teenagers and young families,” he said.

Despite good intentions, money and having to seek bills in arrears struck leadership hardest.

“We can’t have these kind of bills,” said Councilman Bonnie Katz, who is not a member of the committee but spoke about the issue. “The city and taxpayers can’t afford it.”