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Ron Responds

May 16, 2008

Ron's Response

By Ron Gambardella

Taxpayers should be very concerned with the passage of the last budget by the Henrici Council. We don’t have to look far to assess the mentality of Council President Al Gorman, Majority Leader Matt Fitch and Finance Chair Curt Leng. Apparently, Curt Leng has emerged as the spokesperson for the trio. From Mr. Leng’s recent comments, we learned the inner workings of the finance chair’s thought process and with it the consensus of his cohorts.

It is no wonder these elitists are completely out of touch with the current economic realities affecting each and every taxpaying citizen of Hamden.
Using Mr. Leng’s own words he states: “The Council was able to produce a very responsible budget, one that keeps us on sound financial footing, with the LOWEST tax increase in six years.”

Ron’s response: The man prides himself on the lowest tax increase as if this is a virtue. In the last election, I insisted on no tax increase given that we just had one historically high tax increase followed by another increase over the last two years. It is apparent from his statement that three back-to-back tax increases is an acceptable outcome. Can you believe this guy?

Curt Leng states: “We lowered the mil rate over one-half of a mil from the mayor's recommendation.”

Ron’s response: Curt, you have proposed another tax increase on top of two previous increases. No amount of linguistic antics is going to change this fact. You failed to help taxpayers -- period.

Curt Leng states: “The actual tax increase in dollars on the median single-family household next year will be $56.”

Ron’s response: No amount of minimization and/or rationalization will justify three consecutive tax increases. Mr. Leng, you cannot rely on this form of logic and expect to be credible in your role as finance chair. Perhaps this is the key reason it took you so long to react to the mayor’s unsubstantiated travel logs. You fail to grasp the importance of the numbers.

Curt Leng states: “We kept our commitment to the pension plan, by increasing the contribution to $12.5 million.”

Ron’s response: Mr. Leng, you appear to be unaware of the original proposal previously made by this administration. According to the schedule they published, the pension contribution was to increase by $3M this budget cycle. Perhaps you should be more careful with what you promise, and get better acquainted with the word “commitment.” Again, this may be a reason you appear to be challenged in your role as finance chair and the impact it has on the taxpaying public. Curt, you know as well as I, that this pension fund model cannot be sustained without significant tax increases in the foreseeable future. We must change this model. Taxpayers can no longer afford to sustain it.

Curt Leng states: “In the budget, we listened to our town auditors and other financial experts and responsibly funded our medical self-insurance and worker’s compensation accounts -- both of which were in poor financial shape just a few short years ago.”

Ron’s response: Curt, you voted against the budget in the last two years. Now you are taking credit for it being in good financial shape? Mr. Leng, you can’t have it both ways. What do you want us to believe today?
Curt Leng states: “… if Mr. Gambardella had attended even one of the budget sessions, he would know that this year -- like most -- I was consistently trying to reduce account after account, line by line, in department after department.”

Ron’s response: Over the last four years I have insisted that this is no way to plan a budget. I have a master’s degree in business with over 20 years of budgeting experience and can emphatically conclude that this approach is a complete waste of time and energy. It seems to produce the same result: more tax increases.

Curt Leng states: “Save the campaigning for campaign season, Ron, I’ll welcome the debate when it’s time.”

Ron’s response: Hopefully I will be debating someone who can honestly and accurately represent the facts and offer realistic solutions to the tax issues. Curt, you have been on the council for nearly a decade. If you haven’t been able to find a solution by now, you never will.

Friends, it is easy for elitists to lure us into a false sense that all is well with our town’s government. If Mr. Leng’s comments were to stand unopposed, you would think he did us a favor by agreeing to raise taxes for a third straight year. This is why we cannot afford single-party domination. He, like his cohorts, must go. Otherwise, expect more of the same.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

May 8, 2008

We Deserve Better Than Henrici, Fitch, Leng, Gorman

By Ron Gambardella

Friends, our mission continues. Hamden’s taxpayers are about to be given another dose of Henrici, Fitch, Leng and Gorman. These four individuals are out of touch with reality. It seems they simply cannot understand that Hamden taxpayers are tapped out. What part of “no more taxes” can’t they understand?

Behind every decision they make, these men have their own personal agendas and political ambitions. Make no mistake, each are, in their own right, responsible for the astronomical tax increases of the last three-plus years.

The most recent atrocity occurred when they ignored the plight of hundreds of residents looking for a more cost-effective way to build a new police facility, arguing that the plan in place is the plan we are going with!

Who operates in this way? Only those who are entrusted with spending other people’s money. We all agree, Hamden's police officers deserve and need a new facility. What should have been done, and what I have argued for, was to evaluate several plans and locations. Then choose the plan offering the most cost-effective solution and the greatest value to the town. In essence, a plan that makes sense.

If you recall in last November’s election, I offered a plan which included a segment of the Putnam Avenue property (Dadio Farm). This plan had the potential of offering the southern part of town much-needed economic revitalization. Now we are about to embark on a plan that will continue to drain away taxpayer dollars by committing more money to a construction project that is doomed to overrun even the most aggressive cost estimates.

Why? Simply because the mayor wills it, and for no other reason. If this isn’t political elitism, then nothing is. Henrici's willing accomplices just nod their heads up and down.

Hamden is victim to the political elitism of Mayor Henrici, Majority Leader Fitch, Council President Gorman and Finance Chair, and  ultimate "tax and spender," Curt Leng. Whether it is from the mayor's office or the current leadership on the Legislative Council, these people actually believe Hamden taxpayers can continue to foot the bill and afford yet another round of tax increases with the current budget and now this ill-conceived project. They make no attempt to tackle the tough issues that face us, and simply pass the buck onto the taxpaying public.

Given the mayor’s recent activities -- dog dumping, unsubstantiated financial reporting, unresolved investigations and the piling up of ethical violation complaints -- the Council has now decided that it makes sense to entrust the mayor with a multimillion dollar project. The mayor has shown little ability to manage such an undertaking and his recent record is a precursor of what’s to come. All this translates into more taxpayer dollars to support a local government that is challenged with simply telling folks the truth. Hamden deserves so much better than this.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

April 22, 2008

Not Too Shabby (Hamden Schools)

By Ron Gambardella

As the town continues to develop the 2008-2009 budget, it is interesting to note the Council will spend weeks discussing nickels and dimes related to the town budget, but just a few hours debating the education budget. When you consider the cost of education is the single greatest taxpayer expenditure, it would seem that a bit more due diligence would be a worthwhile endeavor.

Let's examine the numbers. The Board of Education recently submitted a $77M budget for fiscal year ’08-’09. When you add the cost of employee benefits to the total (approximately $16M), the true cost to the taxpaying public is about $93M. This works out to be approximately $15,000 per student. In order to determine if this number is reasonable, perhaps a current comparison to other towns of similar size and scope would be beneficial.

I am not now nor have I ever been comfortable with the review process the legislative council embraces when it comes to assessing the reasonableness of the BOE budget. As a first step, the council would be well advised to look beyond the numbers to assess reasonable levels of spending.

The most common measurement used to determine how well our schools are performing is test scores. However, there is other interesting information available that can shed additional light on the value of our school system. The most important question I ask is whether ALL Hamden students are given a fair distribution of the public tax dollars. The needs of all students must be addressed in the budget-making process.

Listed below are some interesting questions and answers that the public seldom, if ever, has an opportunity to review. This information may be helpful in deciding how best to move forward. The responses listed below have been provided by Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz’s office.

Q. How many students does Hamden currently educate? What were the totals for the last three years?

A. In 2007-08, there are 6,164 students enrolled in grades K-12. In 2006-07, there were 6,188. In 2005-06, there were 6,226.

Q. What percent of Hamden students are minorities?

A. There are 3,291 minority students or 55 percent of the total student population.

Q. What is the total dropout rate per year for Hamden High School (excluding transfers)?

A. The cumulative four-year dropout rate for the class of 2006 is 3.9 percent.

Q. How many of the dropouts are minority?

A. In 2003-04, 13 out of 22 dropouts were minorities; in 2004-05, 14 out of 25 were minorities; and in 2005-06, 6 out of 12.

Q. How many special programs like TAG does Hamden offer and what are they?

A. Hamden offers the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG) and the Advanced Math Pplacement Program (AMP). There are 255 students district-wide that participate in these two programs.

Q. How many minorities participate in these programs?

A. The minority participation rate in the TAG program is as follows:
 2006-07 Grades 5/6, 27 out of 68 were minorities.
 2007-08 Grades 5/6, 30 out of 73 are minorities. 
 2006-07 Grades 7/8, 24 out of 113 were minorities.
 2007-08 Grades 7/8, 27 out of 104 are minorities.

 The minority participation rate in the MAP program is as follows:

 2006-07 Grades 5/6, 23 out of 55 were minorities.
 2007-08 Grades 5/6, 37 out of 78 were minorities.

Hamden High has an Independent Study Program on campus where the student participates in an advanced and/or specialized area of study with a teacher who serves as his/her tutor.

Eleven students participate in the following independent study courses:

 Post Colonial Conflicts of Africa Greek I, II and III
 Advanced Placement Music Theory Poetry Exploration
 Advanced Placement Spanish (after school) Physics
 Twenty-three students participate in the following independent study courses:

Advanced Art Studies
Advanced Ceramics
Advanced Drawing
Advanced Directing I and II
Advanced Painting
Advanced Photography
Technical Theater
Portfolio Development
Twenty-three students are enrolled in the UCONN Early College Experience Cooperative Program on campus.

There are 44 students participating in Independent Study Programs off campus, which include Yale Cooperative Saturday Seminars, programs in International Educational Resources at Yale, advanced calculus and computer programming classes at Gateway, Quinnipiac, SCSU and Stanford University (online), independent tutoring classes and one student who is participating in an internship at a local radio station.

Q. What is the total cost of these programs?

A. The TAG program costs approximately $200,000 per year. There is no cost for the MAP program. The costs for the Independent Study Programs, both on campus and off-campus, are approximately $10,000 per year.

Q. What is the average GPA for a Hamden High student? What is the average GPA for a Hamden High minority student/white student?

A. This is not possible to calculate because of differences in levels and rigor.

Based on the above questions and answers, our schools appear to be doing a reasonably good job of balancing the needs of the overall student population. For example, had the above numbers revealed a statistically slanted view of a particular student group failing, or not participating in available programs, it would appear as though the system was not fairly and equitably reaching all students. However, the numbers show that students are fairly represented based on the overall student population. Teachers and para-educators should be credited for the hard work they do in making this a reality.

While I cannot say that these statistics justify the need for significant increases beyond contractual obligations, I can say that the school system is doing a reasonably good job of inclusion. As a first step, it would appear the overall level of spending at least addresses my primary concern of ensuring ALL Hamden students are given a fair distribution of taxpayer dollars.

It seems Hamden offers all students the chance to be successful. I would, however, like to see the school department and its employees learn to be more creative and innovative in doing more with what they are given. The level of spending continues to grow while the ability of taxpayers to pay continues to diminish.

When the Council considers the current education funding request, we all must keep in mind that taxpayers are reaching a breaking point. We must work together to find ways of balancing the necessity of higher student achievement along with the ability to pay for new programs and personnel to accomplish this task. I look forward to our new superintendent's ideas and input on how we can best move Hamden forward, and make our schools even better than they are today.

(Editor’s note: The Council is scheduled to vote on the school budget on April 30. The meeting, which includes other items, begins at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.)

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

March 24, 2008

Mayor’s 3rd Tax Hike Shows Indifference

By Ron Gambardella

For the third time in as many years, Hamden taxpayers will have to endure another round of tax increases. It is unfortunate that the mayor clearly has ignored the pleas of Hamden seniors and young families who are struggling to make ends meet. Let’s take a minute to review the facts.

For the period ending June 30, 2006, the town of Hamden spent $153M to meet its obligations. The mayor recently proposed a budget of $177.3M. Since the mayor has been in office, he and his council have managed to increase yearly spending by $24.M and he is not yet done!

Here is what the mayor had to say when asked to comment about the latest assault on taxpayers.  “This is a bare-bones budget ... Even though the country is in a recession this is no time to skimp ... I had homeowners in mind as I made my decisions ...” It seems the mayor is confused. In one breath he says this is bare-bones budget and in the next breath this is no time to skimp. Then to add insult to injury, he suggests he has homeowners in mind when making his decisions.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. During our mayoral debates last year, he repeatedly refused to commit to a no-tax-increase budget. Unlike many of his other campaign promises, this is one promise he has unfortunately kept.

Hamden residents continue to suffer through this madness. Hamden seniors, just trying to stay in their own homes, have been forced to cut their own budgets to the bone. What suffers? The extra money for a night out with the grandkids, the day trips and visits with extended family members are minimized or eliminated due to increasing Hamden property taxes. Residents who have spent decades trying to own their own home and live life to the fullest have been hardest hit by the current mayor's policies. If you are among the fortunate who can easily pay these tax increases, please don’t presume that everyone can. People are hurting.

Young families, just trying to make ends meet, also continue to leave our fine town. Hamden used to be the place to move for high-quality schools, nice parks and public safety. Young families, looking to stay in their homes and improve them, are now forced to cut their own budgets and curtail their own everyday enjoyments. Residents, especially in southern Hamden, continue to feel like the mayor has abandoned them. Many feel their neighborhoods are not given enough attention by the town. When does our attention shift to them?

I am also surprised by the silence of the Fire Department. By building a costly police facility in the center of town, as quickly as the money can burn through the mayor’s hands, he is actually jeopardizing the construction of a new fire facility. Keep in mind that the mayor’s project will cost significantly more than the $20-million estimate currently on the table. Taxpayers will not have the intestinal fortitude to stomach project overruns, while at the same time embarking on the construction of a new fire facility. My guess is that by not combining the construction of Police, Fire and Animal Control on Putnam Avenue, the Fire Department will be waiting a lot longer than anyone realizes.

This administration lacks integrity. Numbers are made up when it suits the administration. Take for example the last-minute introduction of $1.3M in out-of-town license plate revenue introduced by Finance Chair Curtis Balzano Leng during last year’s budget fiasco. This revenue was never realized, nor did it have the slightest chance of coming to fruition. I vehemently objected to this addition as a blatant attempt to balance the budget with made-up numbers. Rather than cut expenditures, the council moved forward hoping the outcome would be favorable.

The mayor appears to be oblivious to his performance to date. In the mayor’s own words he stated the following: “We have conducted business positively and quietly. When dead dogs and mileage are the biggest issues, I think we are doing OK.”

Let’s see. He quietly tried to implement a policy that allowed dead dogs to be dumped. He quietly dismisses anyone opposing his policies -- such as a well-qualified dog warden and commissioners who actually have the best interest of Hamden in mind.  He quietly included raises for his cronies in his budgets. He quietly increased his salary by submitting unsubstantiated mileage reports. He certainly has the “quiet” part down pat, but he still has a lot of work to do on “positive.”

What the mayor and his cohorts, Leng, Gorman and Fitch, have failed to realize is that Hamden residents are tapped out and fed up. They cannot afford more tax increases. The mayor and the members of the Legislative Council should cut the budget, the way many of Hamden's fine residents have been forced to at their kitchen tables.  I look forward to the upcoming Council debate over the Mayor's proposed tax increase. Let's see if they have learned anything from the last election.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.

March 4, 2008

Ms. Helou’s Great Offense

By Ron Gambardella

Something is seriously wrong with Hamden’s government. We have a mayor who appears to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Let’s look at the evidence. He institutes policy changes and then shortly thereafter reverses the policy changes. He fires competent people and hires incompetent people. He files financial reports with little or no thought. He quickly removes those who oppose or challenge him. He believes his decisions should go unopposed without public comment or input. When things don’t go quite as planned, he then begins an investigation to determine who’s to blame.

This is beginning to look like a dictatorship. And like all dictatorships, there are those who derive status and power by their close association and blind dedication to their leader. Just read the following quote:

“I was told by Council President Al Gorman very clearly at the end of the meeting that this Town Hall/police station plan was set and that input was only needed on ‘where to put the marble and the PV panels.’” -- Michele Helou, ex-resident-elect on the Town Building Committee kicked off after one meeting.

Can you imagine a more pompous, belittling retort by a man who presides over Hamden’s Town Council? The issue of the construction of a new police department in the center of town was determined by the mayor. From the opening paragraph, it has been established that the mayor’s decision-making abilities are shaky at best and seriously flawed at worse. Yet, his devotees are marching forward without challenging his decision, denying Hamden taxpayers due diligence. When Michele Helou disagreed with the mayor’s police plan, rather than being applauded by individuals who don’t have the courage or fortitude to state the obvious, she was simply removed for being willing to say it like it is.

So why should we take Ms. Helou’s word over President Al Gorman’s? Well, to be frank, Ms. Helou’s credentials -- a bachelor’s in engineering from the University of Virginia and a master’s in architecture from the University of Oregon. Last I checked, President Gorman does not have any formal education in engineering or architecture. For that matter, neither does the mayor. You would think that comments like Ms. Helou’s would be welcomed. And you would be wrong! She was shown the door.

Friends, the mayor needs rest. He is in no condition to be making multimillion-dollar decisions that have no basis in fact. He is forging ahead with his plans encouraged by his entourage without any public input or due diligence. What was Ms. Helou’s great offense? She wanted to know if there was a feasibility study to address:

  • traffic impacts on police response times
  • historic preservation
  • handicap accessibility
  • structural/foundation assessment
  • fire code egress
  • state program requirements
  • acoustic impacts
  • planning and zoning review

I especially liked what she had to say regarding our beloved Town Hall:

“Town Hall should remain welcoming, familiar and a center for government and community again. It should be where you sign your kid up for Little League, where you come to sit in on a commission meeting or a planning review, and where you attend public events. Nobody is going to feel like going to a council meeting at our Town Hall when there is a jail attached to it.”

For her outstanding efforts and courage, she was summarily dismissed. So much for open government. Council members who support this folly should and will be held accountable.

Former Republican Councilman and '07 mayoral candidate Ron Gambardella will comment on town affairs in this column. He can be reached at rongam@yahoo.com.


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