Hamden Daily News - Your hometown cyberpaper
Hamden Weather
What We Are | Inside Hamden | Letters to the Editor | HDN Contact Info | Archives | Send Us Money
Search the HDN
Click here for
2007 Municipal Election Results

Inside the HDN
General News
Town Government
In Your 'hood
A Chat in Hamden
Kids' News
Mark Your Calendar
Press Releases

Highville Charter School Story
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

At Least Think About This New
The Dunbar Hill Report
Guest Column
HHS Newsroom
My Word
Ron Responds
Tony Talks Sports
Victual Reality New
Whitneyville Before Elvis

Neighborhood News
Mount Carmel Buzz
Wanna be a neighborhood columnist? Please click here.

Special Sections
Hamden Milestones
Hamden Landmark Tales
Hamden's 70th Memorial Day Parade
Scenes from Summer Camp
The Angels of Martyrdom,
a novella by Hamden High senior David Amrani

The 7th Annual Brooksvale Fall Festival
Maple Sugaring at Brooksvale
Inside Hamden's Farmers Market
Hamden Snapshots, 2007

Town Stats
Local Obits
Bad Boys, Bad Girls 2008
Red Hot Calls 2008

Local Politics
Legislative Council '07-'09
LC Committees '07-'09
Board of Education '07-'09
BOE Committees '07-'09
Hamden Democratic Town Committee '08-'10
Hamden Republican Town Committee '08-'10
Hamden Green Party

Local Sports Links
Hamden High Cheerleaders
Hamden Hurricanes
Hamden Fathers' Baseball/Softball

Hamden Fathers' Basketball
Hamden Youth Lacrosse
Hamden Youth Hockey Assoc.
Hamden Figure Skating Assoc.
Hamden Soccer Assoc.
Greater Hamden Baseball Assoc.
Hamden Heronettes Synchronized Swimming

Town Links
The Mayor
Town Clerk
Town Hall Departments
School Superintendent
School Department

Hamden Police Department
Hamden Professional Firefighters
Hamden Arts Commission
Hamden Public Library
Hamden Dog Park
Elections & Registrars


Hamden State Reps.
Peter Villano
Brendan Sharkey
Cameron Staples
Alfred Adinolfi

Hamden State Senators
Martin Looney
Joseph Crisco

Interesting Links
Vision Appraisal, Hamden
Concerned Citizens for Hamden Neighborhoods
Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation
Hamden Tax Relief
Hamden: Nobody Gets Out Alive
Hamden High Student Web Site
DEP Newhall Community Blog
Newhall Project Remediation
The Cheshire Town Post
Underground Town Hall
New Haven Independent
My Left Nutmeg
Connecticut Local Politics
Colin McEnroe, To Wit
Kent Tribune
The Huffington Post
Drudge Report

Yale Rep
Long Wharf Theatre
Shubert Theater

U.S. Veterans Affairs

Guest Column

May 17, 2007

Tim Nottoli

Education: Priceless

It sounds like Monday night's Legislative Council meeting is Exhibit A in the case for why Connecticut's over-reliance on property taxes is a nightmare.  A situation that every year pits taxpayers against parents as the cost of education, like everything else, keeps increasing and creates too much animosity among people who are supposed to be friends, neighbors or at the very least members of the Hamden community. On one side are people who are worried about making ends meet. It's absolutely a valid concern. On the other, parents are worried that school funding levels will erode to the point that our children won't have the resources and learning opportunities to prepare them adequately for college and career.

On an even more basic level, some parents worry that their children won't learn to read and write properly, and eventually will drop out of school. One letter writer commented on parents glaring as they spoke about reducing the school budget during the Council deliberations. I apologize for that, since we as parents should be mighty grateful for the level to which Hamden taxpayers fund the schools. As the Legislative Council sets its budget, it tries to balance the various needs, but we've seen over the last week that we end up with not quite Pyrrhic victories but decisions which don't make anyone happy.

Last week, the Council voted to fund the mayor's school budget request in full.  Success, right?  While that's what PTAs lobbied for, because the needs of our schools still outstrip that dollar amount, I couldn't help feeling personally responsible for raising the property tax of the folks on the other side of the aisle. You may have noticed I wasn't exactly elated. Partially, though, since it ain't over until it's over.

Then, Monday brought another attempt to reduce the school budget in the name of savings to the taxpayer, successful to the tune of $10 per Hamden resident. I certainly appreciate the attempt by Council members to preserve the mayor's recommended budget. Savings is savings, but I can guarantee it will be difficult and painful for the Board of Education to find half a million dollars to cut. (While up to this point, the numbers talked about are reductions to a budget request, not "cuts," from this point on, the BOE will need to cut its budget to meet the Council's allocation).

Taxes increase 4 percent anyway. I appreciate the time and effort required for the Council to do its job, but is anyone happy? I suggest that people attend the upcoming BOE finance/budget deliberations. It won't be fun, but finding $500,000 in reductions from a budget that has been scrutinized every year will need either creativity or drastic action.

Part of the problem stems from chronic underfunding of education in Connecticut under an outdated Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. The state has consistently failed to meet its pledge to fund 50 percent of education costs, so most of the burden falls on town residents. Our late superintendent referred often to being shorted by $45 million over the last decade.

A couple of months ago, PTA and CABE descended on Hartford to lobby for education; a few of us from Hamden attended. As we heard from Andrew Fleischmann, the General Assembly's education committee co-chair, towns in this state fall into three categories: 1) wealthy enough to fund education well; 2) poor enough that they pretty much give up, and fail to meet the needs of their students unless the state steps in; 3) trying to meet the educational needs of their students, barely keeping their heads above water and starting to go under. I think Hamden fits squarely into No. 3, as we have indeed tried every year to increase education funding to meet ever-more expensive needs, but taxpayers are cry "enough!"

When your main asset is your home, which you can only sell or borrow on to get any money out of, it makes it increasingly precarious when property taxes keep increasing. Believe me, I understand. Meanwhile, we reside in the wealthiest state in the United States. How can we have towns choking while other towns spend upwards of $25,000 per student to provide the best education money can buy?

Why is education so expensive? One thing we know improves learning is more personalized instruction; in schools, that translates to smaller class sizes.  Therefore, more teachers are necessary than if we have 30-plus kids per class.  Nearly every town in Connecticut (there are a few regional school districts) basically competes with each other for teachers and administrators, driving up salaries. For teachers to be paid well is something that, philosophically, I'm happy with. Especially in a society in which someone can be paid $25 million per year to hit a ball with a stick and when movie grosses constantly make the evening news, the contributions a good teacher can make to our children's future are undervalued.

Next we have special education; health needs and learning disabilities necessitate far more resources than a "regular" teacher can be expected to provide. While the state mandates special education, it only starts reimbursing a town when the costs exceed 4.5 times the cost of a "regular" student.  And guess what?  In another year, the effects of the PJ settlement will be felt when we need to hire additional aides and provide more special-ed training to teachers in order to provide more "mainstream" class time for special-ed students.

Good idea, but while Connecticut will require districts to provide services, it won't reimburse the costs. Next year, the BOE will NEED to hire additional staff, so look for an increase in that line item! That brings up state and federal mandates, including annual testing to fulfill NCLB requirements, which aren't adequately funded, so the towns have to pick up the tab.

Transportation -- buses are expensive. Socioeconomics -- families that work multiple jobs, single parents, poorly educated parents may not have the time or resources to read enough to their kids or the ability to make education a priority. Combine the inability to afford quality preschool and there are plenty of kids who come to school ill-prepared and essentially start kindergarten behind. Schools need to provide extra resources and extra attention to ensure that these children catch up and have the opportunity to achieve, and that costs plenty.

Look at Amistad Academy in New Haven, which enrolls kids predominantly from low-income households. They seem to be doing a great job, but even without the bureaucracy of standard public schools and hiring non-union teachers, they spend at least as much per student as Hamden does.

What are the solutions? First of all, the state budget needs to improve education funding, which may actually begin if the ideas in the Democrats' (and Gov. Rell's original budget) are implemented. Improvements in the educational system will lead to long-term benefits -- fewer remedial needs, better educated citizens, ablility to compete for better jobs, starting businesses that create jobs and improving the town's tax base, etc.

How do we do this? Some ideas, which I can't take credit for but would work:  better parent outreach by the school system and recruitment of parents as partners. Parents who realize that they are primarily responsible for their children's education. Teachers who teach well and go the extra mile to ensure that their students have the resources they need. This requires, yes, better funding, which I would suggest would be through a tax based more on ability to pay than on property value that we can't control. If the state share of education funding doesn't increase, what about shifting some of the town's burden from property tax to a local income tax? A willingness on the part of all community members to participate at some level -- coach soccer, offer to lead nature hikes. Donate resources from your business to the schools -- because we all have so much to gain when our children learn and understand that we adults care about their future. Good schools require a lot of time and a lot of money, but it's worth it. Education is probably the best investment we as a society can make.

Back to the school budget public hearing. You may have noticed that a couple of speakers brought up ideas that need serious consideration: inefficiency and regionalization. When we just focus on Hamden, we see a limited pool of resources and we fight about every marginal increase, especially when we're stuck with increasing property taxes on people who can't afford it. Maybe it's time to look around and see what can be gained by partnering with neighboring towns.

Does each town need its own fire department, parks and rec and even board of education? Unless the state revolutionizes the way it pays for services (the ideas are brewing), could we more efficiently share, say, public works with North Haven? This may sound like heresy, but could we form a regional school district from maybe Hamden, North Haven, Cheshire and Wallingford? I really like living within walking distance from central office, and the personal contact that can be established is one of the best things about living in a small town (it's relative; I grew up in a city of a million in a county with more people than in all of Connecticut).

But for the taxpayer's dollar, would it be better to team up?  Is it worth the loss of some degree of control in order to spend tax money differently, possibly gaining in efficiency of services?

I realize, of course, that any method of taxation and spending will bring disagreements. But maybe if we change the basis, the taxes will be fairer and disagreements won't be as desperate.

Pollyanna? Maybe. But I have to be optimistic that we can do something differently and don't have to fight the same battle every year. Hamden can do better, and we must. There has been too much of "us" and "them," but when we think about it, "us" is the only way to go.

Tim Nottoli is the president of the Hamden PTA Council.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

April 24, 2007

George Levinson

Unions Need to Get Real

The Town Council budget meetings last week were a dark comedy of special interests. The people for responsible taxation brought the appropriate outrage and some good energy but did not offer solutions. Their promotion of a phased in reassessment doesn’t change spending or taxation other than to redistribute the burden.

The people of Hamden are being milked dry by their government.

Last Monday’s parade of librarians was only outdone by last Tuesday’s appearance of the Board of Education and half of the gifted students in town and their parents, all pleading for more school funding. My personal statement on Tuesday, noting that Hamden already spends over $12,000 per student and that the student to teacher ratio is only 13.9 (figures from the Town Clerk), met angry calls from BOE supporters. There was a remarkable shortage of regular taxpayers -- those without kids in school or special allegiance to town workers. These are the people who are bearing the lion’s share of Hamden’s overspending and getting the least from the town. We are the ones who need to call for fiscal restraint and political strength from our representatives.

The town has had many years of overspending, amassing a large debt and expensive commitments to current employees and retirees. I believe that Mayor Henrici and the Council want to act responsibly. They face the difficult challenge to cut/restrain spending while resolving conflicts with the special interests. Hopefully, much of the problem can be alleviated by eliminating waste and inefficiency (apparently a huge opportunity), sound financial management and streamlining the organization.

Managing the town’s medical plan, pension fund and debt are a huge job. (It was disturbing to hear one citizen claim that Hamden’s financial management had been found to be so poor that the whole budget should be put on hold.) Personnel matters are obviously the most sensitive since they involve the creation/elimination of jobs, organizational changes and control of compensation and benefits.

For decades, private-sector employees have been battered and disrespected in a business climate that rewards corporate greed at the expense of devoted employees. Jobs have been lost, outsourced or downgraded while salaries have stagnated and benefits, particularly pensions, have eroded. At the same time, government workers have benefited from strong union representation and ongoing political giveaways giving them substantial gains in all forms of compensation. The gap between private and public service jobs has vanished.

At one time, civil servants were poorly paid and benefits were the big carrot. Not so anymore. A recent article in USA Today reported that the total compensation package for federal workers is now about $25,000 more than the typical private-sector employee. Most are also entitled to collect Social Security. Many can also expect to retire early and live much more comfortably than their occupational credentials or position would ever have predicted. Consider the fact that Washington now has an unfunded commitment to their workers (including retired military) that actually exceeds Social Security! The crazy spending is happening at all levels!

It is time for the mayor and Town Council to draw a hard line on spending. Citizens should demand zero growth this year and maintain that posture in the future, allowing the only growth to be from the grand list. Some would argue that this is impossible due to commitments, particularly to the myriad unions. I believe that is exactly where we should find much of the savings.

It is time to hold the line with the unions. Unreasonable/expensive perks should be renegotiated and workers should pay a larger share of benefit funding. Refusal to make concessions should be met with a loss of jobs to accomplish the spending freeze.

Town workers need to understand they are getting a level of treatment that cannot be sustained. The real world does not work a 35-hour week or a 180-day year. In the private sector, defined benefit pension plans are becoming extinct. The real world retires at 65 or older, not 60 or 55 or even younger like government workers are able to. Real-world workers pay a large portion of their own benefits. As a society we need to improve the retirement and health-care systems for everyone. That should be done through national health care and expanding Social Security. We cannot afford to make public-sector workers the privileged ones. It just isn’t fair for government workers to live better than their neighbors who are paying the bills.

One union representative told me that public-sector workers are not getting anything special; they are simply the last bastion of the middle class. It is an interesting spin. There is no question that the middle class is being squeezed, public and private sectors alike.

George Levinson lives on Shepard Avenue.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

April 19, 2007

Tom Wydra

Just the Facts, Ma’am

I would normally resist offering a response to Councilman Ron Gambardella’s “Rap” published on the Hamden Daily News on April 13, in which he criticized my presentation of the 2007-08 Police Department budget. But I find myself compelled to respond.

Many of Mr. Gambardella’s comments are, at best, misleading. Our police officers have always done with less. The outdated and undersized facility that has housed our officers for the last 55 years is significant evidence of that. It is arguably the worst law enforcement facility in the state of Connecticut. Our police force is currently budgeted at 107 sworn members, a significantly low number when considering we are responsible for delivering law-enforcement service to a growing population of more than 58,000 residents bordering one of Connecticut’s largest cities. We are also responsible for providing this service to Quinnipiac University and its expanding campus and student population.

Connecticut cities similar to Hamden in this region include Meriden (60,000 population) and West Haven (52,000), whose sworn police forces number 126 and 119, respectfully.  In a financially perfect world, we would be able to employ between 120 and 125 sworn officers to provide the most optimum law-enforcement services to our citizens.  In my budget proposal to the mayor, I recommended adding four new entry-level sworn positions, which would bring our force to 111 so we can grow in proportion to the town’s growth.  My request to the Legislative Council on April 13 that they give serious consideration to fully funding 107 sworn positions is, in my opinion, reasonable, responsible, realistic and prudent.

Mr. Gambardella states that he was “ready to hear an innovative approach to solving the service versus funding issue.” Our already low staffing level of 107 and deplorable working conditions suggest that we solve this issue every day.  I invite Mr. Gambardella -- or any other elected town official -- to come to our department to witness firsthand how we deliver our service and the working conditions from which we deliver it.  Perhaps, Mr. Gambardella can come up with an “innovative” way of funding a new state-of-the-art police facility.

Mr. Gambardella writes, “I further suggested eliminating officers having to work overtime to direct traffic for roadwork.  He (Chief Wydra) shot back that these officers are there for public safety and could not be safely replaced by a flag person.”  Mr. Gambardella also stated that I was in no mood to talk savings or consider an alternative, and “If overtime saves money, why burn up overtime on nonessential work related to road construction.”

These statements are perplexing and suggest to me that Mr. Gambardella has no understanding of this topic. Overtime is an expense related to work performed for the town and paid for out of the Police Department’s operating budget.  This can and does occur frequently to replace officers out sick or on vacation or personal time, or for a variety of other reasons related to providing police coverage including during emergencies or major incidents.

Officers directing traffic in the roadway or performing assignments for Quinnipiac University, Stop & Shop or any private business are working “extra duty,” as defined and negotiated in the police labor agreement. They are being paid by the vendor or company that hired them.  They are NOT working overtime at the taxpayers' expense. Actually, the town is paid a 25 percent administrative service charge for every hour an officer directs traffic at a road construction site. In the 2007-08 budget, the Finance Department is projecting $400,000 in revenue as a result of extra duty work.  In addition to the revenue, the town and Police Department also benefit greatly by having uniformed police officers working at construction sites.  They are fully equipped and have on many occasions supported our officers in the field working regular duty during emergency situations.  We have even had instances where burglary and robbery suspects were apprehended by officers working extra duty.

A small portion of extra duty assignments are performed for the Board of Education and the Public Works Department.  I can say that we have an outstanding relationship with the administration of both of those departments, and only the appropriate number of police personnel are hired to provide adequate protection at their events.

I would never agree that police protection at a road construction site is “nonessential work,” as Mr. Gambardella has described.  Any officer who has ever directed traffic at a road construction site can attest to the dangers and difficulties often associated with this type of work.  Mr. Gambardella begs to differ.  I know that my opinion comes from training and vast experiences performing this type of function.

Mr. Gambardella suggests that freeing up the overtime from road construction work will allow the chief to administer the Police Department at a lower cost to the taxpayers.  An untrue statement, as I have already explained that overtime and extra duty work have nothing to do with each other in a fiscal sense, and that there is significant revenue made for the town from extra duty.  I can assure all of our residents and vendors that extra duty officers are hired in accordance with the labor agreement and by strictly adhering to section 97.03 of the Hamden Code of Ordinances, commonly referred to as the “Open Hole” Ordinance.

This ordinance requires the use of uniformed police officers only at those construction sites that create a traffic hazard and significantly restrict a roadway to traffic.  The police chief can also require the use of officers at construction sites for traffic control and public safety where a hazard to traffic patterns and flow is identified.  Therefore, Mr. Gambardella’s suggestion that the Council pass a resolution eliminating the need for an officer to be present where traffic concerns are less of an issue, such as on side streets in residential areas, already exists in this ordinance. It was passed by the Legislative Council about six years ago.

It appears Mr. Gambardella believes that the size of our police force is in some way dictated by the amount of extra duty work performed.  This is simply not the case.  Police departments are sized based on many different factors including population size and density, calls for service requests, retail and commercial industry size, crime statistics as well as expectations by our citizens that we perform and provide certain specialized services.  Our current staffing shortage has caused vacancies in our Patrol Division and doesn’t allow us to deploy a full-time Bicycle Unit in areas such as the Farmington Canal Line, the Highwood section or the Hamden Mart and Plaza, where I believe they are very much needed.

We are also unable to assign an officer to conduct full-time community liaison duties. This position, in conjunction with a full-time Bicycle Unit, would allow our department to centralize these community-oriented responsibilities, and enhance our ability to maintain the close relationships that we enjoy with our block watches, civic organizations, student groups and the many other businesses and groups that contact us for presentations and dialogue.

During the last several years, the Police Department has relied on and received the support and commitment from the Legislative Council during budget deliberations.  I am confident that this year will be no exception.  The police budget that was presented to the Mayor’s Office in January was responsibly and carefully prepared, taking into consideration any cost-saving measures possible.  We continue to collaborate with the Council in the 2007-08 budget process, and I look forward to reaching common ground on staffing issues that will offer the safest environment for our dedicated police officers and citizens.

Tom Wydra is Hamden's police chief.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

April 12, 2007

Mark Sanders

Pension Fund Mythology

The town’s pension fund is a battleground of late. And for good reason. It occupies one of the few budget lines large enough to enable meaningful tax relief. This reality compelled me to examine the “conventional wisdom” and try to think “outside the box” -- a process that has led to a surprising but exciting conclusion.

Allow me to explain. Thus far, the discussion of how to address our pension responsibilities has focused on only two alternatives: (1) a steady and aggressive building up of the town’s pension fund (“Steady Augmentation Plan”), or (2) a massive ($55 million) lump sum augmentation of the fund through the issuance of pension obligation bonds, coupled with additional annual contributions as recommended by actuaries (“POB Plan”).

As different as these two approaches appear on the surface, they actually share a fundamental misconception -- that the pension fund is severely under-funded. The truth of the matter, however, is that this reserve fund needs no further augmentation. Translation: we don’t really have a pension crisis!

Don’t believe me? Then consider these numbers, taken from the most recent Hamden retirement plan documents: (1) annual pension benefit payments to retirees and other beneficiaries total approximately $15 million; (2) the fund has a principal balance of $82 million, currently earning income of $7.5 million annually; and (3) current employees contribute at least $1.5 million to the fund each year.

So if you asked the man on the street what the town should contribute toward its pension responsibilities this year, he’d logically say $6 million, i.e. the difference between $15 million (annual benefits due) and $9 million (annual fund income and employee contributions). And he’d be right.

Yet most folks in town seem to believe that simply paying our pension obligations as they come due, i.e. “paying as we go,” is not enough. There is a widespread belief that we also need to be building up a reserve fund for pensions. Why?

I suspect it has a lot to do with our blind acceptance of our actuaries’ recommendation that we build up a $278 million pension fund. I contend, however, that the actuaries are giving us an unnecessarily inflated recommendation. Am I saying that the actuaries are making quantitative or analytical mistakes in their fund valuations? No, I’m sure they know their science well. However, it’s my reasoned opinion that although the actuarial analysis is technically correct, it is based on a flawed premise. Specifically, there is a misconception that a municipality’s pension obligations must be funded in the same way as those of a private company.

When a private company establishes a defined-benefit pension plan, it is logical that it be required to build up a fund of sufficient size so that, at any moment, it can pay all benefits contractually due over the life expectancy of the current and retired employees. The reason is that the company could go out of business at any moment. If that private employer shuts down before a pension fund is fully endowed, vested pension beneficiaries could be left high and dry.

By contrast, a municipality, such as the town of Hamden, will never go out of business. The town can and will honor its yearly pension benefit responsibilities because it has the power to tax. Therefore, there is no need for a fund to be built up to assure public employees that their pensions will be provided when they retire. They can rest assured that their benefits will be paid as long as there is a Hamden!

[Note: Although a municipality can adjust its debts under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the Bankruptcy Court’s 1991 dismissal of the bankruptcy petition of the City of Bridgeport has practically foreclosed that option for Connecticut towns.]

So since a pension fund is not necessary to protect the employees’ interests, why do we need to build up a fund at all?

1. Is it required by law? No. In contrast to private pension plans, no aspect of state or federal law requires a Connecticut municipality to build up a pension fund to provide its retirement benefits.

2. Do our union contracts require it? No. There is nothing in any of the town’s collective bargaining agreements that require the town to fund the pension plan in any specific amount. Indeed, the “Notes to the Hamden Retirement Plan’s Financial Statements of June 30, 2006” confirms that the town makes contributions to the fund “at the discretion of the [Legislative Council].”

3. Would it improve our bond rating? Perhaps. But so would a supplemental tax to retire all of our outstanding bonds! The question is not what can improve our bond rating, but rather does the cost (tax burden) required to achieve an improvement outweigh any future interest savings realized from the incremental ratings boost? Have you ever heard an administration official place a dollar value on the interest savings we might achieve with a slightly better bond rating? That silence speaks volumes. The crass reality is that bond ratings are most important to government officials as political tools (especially in an election year), i.e. as some kind of objective stamp of approval of their fiscal stewardship that can be trumpeted in debates and slick campaign literature.

4. Is a pension fund a good investment? I reviewed the concepts of this column with a friend who is a union organizer/administrator in New York. He says that although municipalities and their unions may not need pension funds, those funds can be a good investment for the municipalities. Of course, this all depends on where the funds are invested and what is happening in the relevant markets. More fundamentally though, why should taxpayers today suffer higher taxes just so their tax dollars can be invested in the stock market, even if those investments might pay off for other taxpayers years down the road?

5. Do financial professionals need our business? What do you think? Of course the question is rhetorical; I only mention it because we shouldn’t pretend to be oblivious to the way the world works. Politicians and financial professionals (investment bankers, fund managers, etc.) have always had a symbiotic relationship, to the detriment of the taxpayer. Are there “friendly” folks out there already licking their chops at the prospect of managing a $278 million portfolio, or underwriting a $55 million POB issue? Again, what do you think?

The absurdity of continuing to build up the pension fund becomes even more graphic when you consider that Hamden is phasing out the very retirement plan for which the fund was created. As the mayor stated in his budget address to the Council: “Instead of receiving a town pension, we can begin to transition some of our newly hired employees to the state of Connecticut's Municipal Employee Retirement System. This assures that, over time, Hamden's unsustainable pension plan will simply go away.

So if Hamden’s pension plan is fading away, why engage in an aggressive building up of the fund today, for the ultimate benefit of a future generation of taxpayers? Has anyone stopped to consider what will happen to a $278 million pension fund when our defined benefit responsibilities begin to seriously wane, and eventually cease altogether? I can tell you. Taxpayers at that time will reap a $278 million windfall!

Is this fair? Is it even wise? What about preserving Hamden’s prosperity and livability today, before it can no longer be recovered? Will history judge us well if in needlessly sacrificing for future generations we deprive ourselves of the ability to leave them with anything but an empty shell of a town?

Isn’t it infinitely more logical and equitable for each generation to pay the pension benefit obligations that come due on its own watch? We have just been hit by the largest tax increase in Hamden’s history. Ordinary Hamden taxpayers have suffered enough. Why compound their misery with absurd solutions to mythical problems?

We should contribute no more than $6 million to the pension fund in fiscal year 2007-2008. Sure, $6 million is still a lot of money, but it’s a heck of a lot less than the annual costs associated with either a POB or Steady Augmentation Plan.

By budgeting only what is needed in a given year to meet our current benefit responsibilities, we can create a system that is both wise and fair. More importantly, the “pay as we go” approach can be an agent for significant relief for ordinary taxpayers. By contributing $6 million to the fund this year, rather than the sums required by the POB or Steady Augmentation Plans, we can save taxpayers at least $8 million -- or 2 full mils!

Works for me.

(Endnote: I attempted to speak with Hamden’s actuaries about the concepts of this column prior to publication. They were quite willing to do so, but informed me that Finance Director Michael Betz had instructed them not to speak with me about the pension fund. As a result, I was forced to retain my own actuary for review purposes.)

Mark Sanders is an attorney and member of the steering committee of the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation (HART). He lives in Whitneyville.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

April 2, 2007

Joseph P. McDonagh

Too Much, Ron

I feel compelled to respond to Councilman Ron Gambardella’s recent columns, attacking the Henrici Administration and the Council’s Democratic leadership.

Ron’s most recent column tried, without much success, to defend his vote against accepting gifts from Three Brothers Diner and Quinnipiac University. Why? Because Ron is certain that these two acts of generosity were in fact subterfuge, that they were attempts to buy favors. “Unintended consequences,” he warns, “an unspoken expectation for special privileges.”

Ron’s argument is an insult to these two donors. In addition, it has to make any prospective donor wary of approaching the town. Why make a contribution to Hamden if the attempt will be belittled and your motives will be questioned?

Thankfully, the rest of the Council -- everyone else on the Council -- ignored Ron’s mean-spirited, Ebenezer Scrooge-like diatribe, and endorsed accepting the gifts. I look forward to seeing the donors to Ron’s mayoral campaign. Since Ron is so certain that anyone making a contribution must be looking for favors, that list should demonstrate just who in Hamden expects to receive a quid pro quo from a Gambardella administration.

In previous columns, Ron has played politics, while ostensibly decrying the practice in others. Mayor Henrici has just successfully negotiated new contracts with the Police and Fire departments that will completely change the way that retirement benefits are calculated for all new hires -- something that will have more impact on Hamden’s taxes over the next few decades than anything done by any administration in the past 20 years.

What was Ron’s response? He ignored it. The contract requires police and fire employees to pay more than ever before for their health insurance. Ron’s response? He wants more. Ron appears not to understand collective bargaining. In fact, he appears not to understand the meaning of the word “bargaining.” The contracts that were negotiated represent a major step forward for fiscal prudence in Hamden.

In fact, Ron ignores all the achievements of the Henrici Administration. For instance:

  • Mayor Henrici’s 2007-08 budget includes an increase in health insurance costs of one-third of 1 percent. Although Ron professes to be an insurance agent, he is woefully ignorant of health insurance trends in Connecticut, and complains that we should be reducing our health insurance costs. Ron, I am an insurance agent, and I know that single-digit rate increases would be a blessing to most Connecticut businesses, let alone an increase of less than 1 percent.
  • The help desk, which Ron dismisses, has fielded over 1,600 calls in just 16 months and has helped make Hamden government citizen-friendly, solving residents’ problems that in the past might have ended in frustration, with a caller being moved from one department to another.
  • Standard and Poor’s gave Hamden a positive report, emphasizing that the Henrici Administration has acted responsibly. Ron, not surprising, misunderstands S&P’s report as an endorsement of higher taxes. No, they applauded our prudent financial management.
  • Ron has lied to the public about the matter of bid waivers. Most bid waivers -- and Ron knows this very well -- are done because (a) there is only one vendor capable of providing the service, (b) the task requires professional services that don’t lend themselves to the “lowest bid” approach, and/or (c) the town instead uses a request for proposal (RFP), which requires vendors to submit proposals, allowing the town to compare and choose based on cost and qualifications. In the Henrici Administration’s 15 months, 47 bid waivers were submitted to and approved by the Council. During the previous administration, over 80 bid waivers were submitted and approved. Ron was on the Council and voted to approve most of those 80-plus bid waivers. Why the change? No doubt because he has decided to run for mayor and a “bid waiver” sounds like a sexy campaign issue.

Ron appears to think that his role on the Council is to be our Cassandra. Instead, he reminds me of the fellow in The New Yorker cartoon, walking along a New York sidewalk with a sandwich board proclaiming, “The World Will End Tomorrow.” When tomorrow comes, and the world hasn’t ended, that fellow (and Ron) doesn’t imagine that he was fundamentally mistaken. He simply figures he had the wrong date.

Joseph P. McDonagh chairs the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

March 26, 2007

Clark Hurlburt

Plea to Council: Keep OEM Intact

Much has been said and done regarding the status of Hamden’s Office of Emergency Management since our surprise on March 15. The status of the organization was uncertain as was the future of the all-volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Last Wednesday, in a lengthy meeting with Fire Chief Berardesca, a structure was agreed upon which -- if the Legislative Council chooses to go along with the mayor’s suggested reorganization -- will allow the OEM command structure to remain intact.

This plan would move the current Office of Emergency Management over to the Fire Department, but as a separate division. Other than having the fire chief in the flow chart between the Emergency Management director and the chief elected official, the rest would remain the same. Our volunteers and activities will still fall under the protection of Title 28 of the Connecticut General Statutes. An extra deputy director position would be added to directly oversee the law enforcement, anti-terrorism and homeland security missions. The police chief would name that deputy director.

The current deputy director position -- hopefully Neil Gorfain will retain that spot -- will continue with overseeing our current missions and the CERT members. These missions include the opening and managing of all the town’s emergency shelters, giving victim care at emergency scenes, doing rehabilitation activities for public safety personnel and carrying out all the variety of community service activities currently planned.

As for the budget, it is hoped that the Council can be persuaded to restore the original OEM request to the proper levels. This is a small amount that is basically used for the general activities needed to support our planning and preparedness efforts as well as our 65 active volunteers. I would be willing to operate the division on the funds provided by FEMA through the Emergency Management Performance Grant. That way our programs can continue at no direct cost to Hamden taxpayers.

It would not be fair to all those involved in the OEM to say that we are pleased with recent developments. We have always worked for the good of the citizens of Hamden at a minimal budgetary burden, and have functioned efficiently as a separate agency. I do feel, however, that we can continue our work under the new structure, provided that we are allowed to continue our missions as before. The cooperation of Chief Berardesca is appreciated in allowing a reorganization of the Fire Department’s division structure to make room for Emergency Management.

He has promised that we can go on as before and he is a man of his word. The bottom line has always been that the functions that the OEM is responsible for are critical to the town, especially in today’s world. We are committed to leap whatever hurdles are necessary to assure the safety of the citizens of Hamden.

Clark Hurlburt is Hamden’s deputy fire chief and director of Emergency Management.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.


Auto Accidents
860 343 3443

email us

Check us out!

Help support the Hamden Daily News by clicking a link below. If you purchase something at one of the advertised businesses via that click, we get a few bucks -- while you don't pay an extra cent.

21st Century Insurance
Anna's Linens
Barnes & Noble
Beau Ties
Beyond Bedding
Big Mans Land
Cheap Trips
Constructive Playthings
The Container Store
Cuban Crafters
Dancing Deer Baking Co.
Green Cine
Kaplan Test Prep
Lane Bryant
National Pet Pharmacy
Nirvana Belgian Chocolates
Office Depot
Sierra Club
Thrifty Rent-a-Car

Talk To Us
Talk To Us
Letters to the Editor
Copyright© 2005 Hamden Daily News
Site designed by Joanne Kittredge

Tip Us Off
Send news tips