By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — Faced with mounting back taxes, the Naugatuck Portuguese Club is working with the borough to pay down its debt while reaching out to the community for help to save the 84-year-old organization.
The club owes about $186,000 in back taxes going back to 2015, Tax Collector James Goggin said. After adding in taxes due this year, which aren’t considered late yet, the total the club owes is $218,500, he said.
“We’re very behind. … We’re surviving, at least to pay the bills,” said Roldao Carvalho, who has been president of the Naugatuck Portuguese Club for three years.
The club was officially formed in March 1936 by borough residents who emigrated from Portugal. They began holding meetings at a building on Church Street. By 1950, the club outgrew the space on Church Street and purchased the property at 110 Rubber Ave. In 1971, the club started construction of the building that stands today.
The club sits on a 0.9-acre parcel of land. The main building is about 7,200 square feet, according to the property card. There’s also a secondary building on the property that’s roughly 860 square feet. The land and buildings are appraised at $972,500 and assessed at $680,000. The assessed value is what is taxed.
Borough officials haven’t given any thought to sending the property to a tax auction and are working with the club.
“We’re going to try to find a way to help them,” Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said. “They’re working with the tax collector to come up with a plan but it hasn’t been finalized yet.”
Goggin said club officials have been making regular payments of $2,000 and he is in discussions with them about developing a payment plan.
“They’re working with the administration. Both [Hess and Carvalho] are working very hard and trying their best to keep this afloat,” Goggin said.
Carvalho said the club formed a committee to come up with ways to raise money. He said the club is reaching out to members and organizing fundraisers. A golf tournament fundraiser is planned for Aug. 24 at Crestbrook Golf Course in Watertown.
“We’re working to try to save our club. We have different ideas, we need to raise money to save the club,” Carvalho said.
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, who is a club a member, is helping the effort.
“We need to support and maintain this club because it’s certainly been an asset to the community in many ways,” Rebimbas said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the club’s struggles.
The club, which operates a restaurant and bar and also rents out the building, shut down in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. Carvalho said the club reopened for takeout orders and recently opened an outside patio.
The club has lost money with the bar closed and it is unclear when it will reopen. The state has also raised the cost to renew a liquor license from $1,200 to $2,000.
The pandemic has also put the club’s annual Sao Paio Feast in doubt. The festival at the end of the summer is the largest event hosted by the club and typically attracts thousands of people over three days.
Carvalho said the club gets a lot of sponsors for the feast, which can raise about $30,000.
Carvalho said the club has helped other organizations over the years, including offering the building to the American Red Cross to hold blood drives. He said the club is now reaching out to the community and organizations for help.
“We try to help everyone around,” Carvalho said. “I believe God is big and one day those organizations are going to help us.”
People can drop off donations to the club. For information on upcoming fundraisers and events, visit the club’s Facebook page “Naugatuck Portuguese Club – Clube Uniao Portuguesa.”
THE PANDEMIC HAS FORCED private clubs to adapt.
The Naugatuck Elks Lodge 967 on Rubber Avenue remains mostly closed, although some members are still carrying out business meetings, said Jim Desmarais, who is secretary for the Elks Lodge.
He said the club has held a couple soft openings over recent weeks with a small dinner and social time for about 25 members. He said the club is being cautious since its members are older and more at risk for health issues from COVID-19.
“Our members are in the age group of 60-plus, our members are an aging membership,” Desmarais said.
Desmarais said the Elks Lodge is surviving so far, and managed to secure a $3,000 grant for the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank and $2,000 grant for the Naugatuck Valley Soup Kitchen.
About half a dozen American Legion Post 17 members have started retuning to the post in Naugatuck over recent weeks to have coffee, talk and plan for the future, said Ron Fischer, who just recently stepped down as commander of the post.
Fischer said the pandemic did set the post, which has a bar and also rents out the hall, back financially. He said a lot of members aren’t coming out and his biggest concern is people who used to attend meetings won’t anymore.
“Most of them (members) want it to go back to normal,” Fischer said. “Everybody is catching cabin fever.”
Some of the post’s activities won’t be the same, but he said members will have to make the best of it.
“We’ll have to adapt; being ex-military, we’re used to adapting,” Fischer said.