Future of Manor in Doubt

BLYTHEWOOD – A discussion at the Dec. 9 Town Council work session revealed that while the finances of The Manor, the two-year-old Town-owned conference center, have improved since last year, the facility is still hemorrhaging money, and with no end in sight.

“A year ago we were losing about $8,000 each month. Now it looks like we’re losing about $4,200 each month,” said Councilman Tom Utroska. “I don’t understand how it shows a minus $91,922 on page 1 of the Profit and Loss Statement. It looks like we’ve double dipped and added the numbers twice, but we show having a shortfall of ordinary income of $45,961 for the year. And it appears that’s going to be the case.”

While Utroska and Town Administrator Gary Parker had high praise for the efforts of Booth Chilcutt, Events and Conference Center Director of the Manor, and his Assistant Director, Pat Connolly, in renting the facility, Council agreed that the Town faces an uphill battle for The Manor to break even.

Utroska said that while weekends are booked through the end of 2015, the pricing has not been set high enough to break even on weekends alone.

“We have a building that we can rent out every weekend but not during the week,” Utroska said.

Wondering what to do to solve the financial dilemma of The Manor, he asked, “Do we just double the rates in 2016? Do we try to get someone to help Booth and Pat with the marketing? I’m concerned about the outflow here and then if something happens with the SMS4 (a newly state-mandated storm water management program that could cost the town $50,000 or more annually) and the outflow there, what’s going to happen with the Town’s reserves and where are we going to get the money?”

Parker said he planned to put together a budget addressing maintenance expenses, which has not been done previously.

“The revenues from the operation (of the Manor) were supposed to cover the costs,” Parker said. “And that’s not the case.” But Parker said progress is being made. “And if you raise the rates, there will be further progress by the end of the year.

But Councilman Bob Mangone pointed out, “We’re so far behind the curve. We’ve got to stop the downward spiral.”

Concerned that there is no reserve or enterprise fund to cover long term expenses of the park and Manor, Utroska suggested the Town would need “somewhere between 1 and 1-1/2 percent of the cost of the building per year. Since the building cost $2.3 million, that’s $20,000-$30,000 we need for reserves.”

“Can we even afford to keep the building open?” Mangone asked.

Utroska agreed, “That’s a worry.”

Councilman Bob Massa suggested that to help defray the heavy fixed costs of the building during the week, “Instead of raising rates during the week, perhaps we should lower the weekday rates to make it more affordable for businesses to hold meetings there. Those fixed costs during the week are killing us.”

“As a local government administrator,” Parker said, “I’ve never been faced with an enterprise quite like this.”

He suggested that a couple of the members of Council might want to meet with him, Chilcutt and Connolly to talk about how to best improve the financial situation of The Manor.