April 30, 2008
Look what's for sale -- and at what a bargain!
By Sharon Bass
Tucked in the Finance Department’s “miscellaneous” revenue line is somewhat under $1 million for the sale of the old middle school on Newhall Street. There had been no discussion about it and councilmembers were not only angry for being left out of the decision, but wondered why the asking price is so darn low.
“Here’s a huge, huge decision to make. The whole budget process we didn’t get any backup on this,” Councilman Craig Cesare said Tuesday evening during budget deliberations.
“Well, I’ll be getting more information,” said Finance Director Mike Betz.
Councilwoman Betty Wetmore said it seemed premature to figure sales proceeds before deciding if “we’re going to sell the middle school. We’d just be padding the budget.”
Councilman Mike Colaiacovo asked Betz for the appraised value of the 30-acre parcel in the Highwood neighborhood and exactly how much the town is asking for.
“Well, the appraised value is many, many millions,” said Betz. “I want to say [the asking price is] $1 million but it doesn’t add up.”
That “miscellaneous” revenue item is funded at $1,120,000 and includes “lien payments, sale of obsolete equipment, billboard rental, reimbursements, etc. FY07 included $100,000 UI rebate for new HMS and $150,000 from Board of Ed.” Nowhere is there mention of the middle school sale. And there’s no extra million in there.
Finance Chair Curt Leng said if the potential school sale is going to be in the operating budget it should be at a higher figure.
Councilman Matt Fitch said the building is worth $5 million to $6 million. According to Vision Appraisal, the appraised figure is actually $10.4 million.
Cesare asked Betz for the status of the sale. Betz said he didn’t know. Council Prez Al Gorman said the matter would be taken up in executive session before tonight’s budget deliberations.
“Has there been an offer on the building?” asked Councilman Jack Kennelly.
“Not that I know,” said Betz.
Miscellaneous and department revenues, fringe benefits, pension, Legislative Council Office, positions (some)
’08-’09 Budget Scorecard
By Sharon Bass
By the time councilmembers got to town “positions” last night -- clearly the most sensitive budget area yet discussed -- the clock had struck 10 p.m. They had been deliberating since 6:30 p.m. and were weary. But they couldn’t stop. Passion ran high.
Especially for Councilwoman Carol Noble, when discussing the mayor’s second attempt in as many years to give a big raise to Pat Riccitelli of Finance.
Raising her voice, Noble said there should be no raise for Riccitelli, whose current salary is $63,773. With a title change from “data control supervisor” to “operation manager,” Henrici put her in the budget for $73,161. When he tried that last year, the Council tabled it.
The same thing happened Tuesday evening.
In addition to her salary, said Noble, Riccitelli gets a $3,640 yearly stipend for being on “standby.” There was no explanation given for what she does for the extra loot.
“What I think is offensive to us on the Council is the dollar amount,” said Councilman Jack Kennelly. “I don’t care what this title is. Leave the dollar amount what it is.”
Finance Director Mike Betz was asked if the new job title was negotiated through the union. He said it was. He was also asked why the need for a job upgrade.
“This is the final piece of what makes this department … what I think is right for the town,” he said. At one point during Betz’s statements, Councilman Curt Leng remarked, “I didn’t understand one thing you said.”
Noble said Riccitelli’s job title is incorrectly labeled in the budget. It should still state her current title as data supervisor, she said, because the Council hadn’t voted on it. “I want people to follow rules! There are many rules not followed in this town!” bellowed Noble.
“I don’t think the job title matters,” said Councilman Matt Fitch.
Noble disagreed and made a motion to leave Riccitelli’s salary as is.
But Councilman Jim Pascarella wanted it tabled until he could get an opinion from the town attorney and a copy of the stipulated agreement for Riccitelli’s new job title. And he got his way.
And there was the ACO discussion
Councilman Mike Colaiacovo made a suggestion. Not only deny the 3 percent raise the mayor wants for Animal Control Officer Chris Smith, but only put $14,560 in his salary line and the remainder of the $39,959 (or $25,399) into the Legislative Council’s emergency and contingency account.
Then he explained.
“The rationale behind that is there’s an investigation in that department. We asked for an investigation,” said Colaiacovo. “We thought we’d get to pick the investigator, but we didn’t.” Henrici picked attorney Andy Houlding of Hamden for the probe into why Smith dumped dead dogs off a cliff at the transfer station.
“That is as absurd a motion I’ve heard in a long time,” he said. “It takes us back 200 years. Innocent until proven guilty.”
Council President Al Gorman told Colaiacovo “we have to address the position. Not who’s in it.”
“I share some concerns about the ACO but this isn’t the right move tonight,” said Finance Chair Curt Leng. “I’d rather deal with cutting the raise out.”
“I agree with Mr. Colaiacovo’s principle,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “I think the town has lost faith in our animal control. But I just need to understand the reasoning behind this. We’re not stopping the salary. We’re just moving it.”
Then Gorman brought up a sore subject. In 2006, the Council stripped Library Director Bob Gualtieri’s salary. No one had discussed this with Gualtieri. His paycheck was reinstated shortly thereafter.
“We’re going down the same path,” said Gorman.
“That was a lot different,” countered Wetmore. “We eliminated the position.”
But in the end, only Colaiacovo voted for his motion. The Council soundly defeated the raise.
Labulis almost nabbed it
Building Official Bob Labulis asked the mayor for a pay hike -- from $75,000 to $82,000. Henrici turned him down but there was noise on the Council to reverse the mayoral decision.
“I think it’s an insult not to give [Labulis] a raise,” said Kennelly, who like others said the building official is an excellent employee.
“I gotta agree,” said Pascarella. “The way we treat department heads as an employer is awful.”
“If we give this gentleman a raise, we should give everyone a raise including the animal control officer,” said Fitch. “There are lots of deserving people.” He said Labulis got close to a $10,000 hike last year.
Pascarella said there’s “no rhyme or reason” to why some department chiefs get raises and others don’t. He suggested setting up a merit-based system for department head raises, with review committees making recommendations.
The Council also restored some positions. Henrici didn’t fund the “deputy fire marshal” vacancy, which leaves Marshal Brian Badamo to run the office solo as he has been doing for nearly two years. The position was funded last night for the second half of the fiscal year at $36,642.
Two of the four vacant and unfunded “firefighter B” spots were also given 50 percent funding, at $19,902 apiece.
Before the vote, Fitch said Councilman and retired Fire Chief Jim Leddy (who was absent from the meeting) told him “those four positions are not needed.”
“Chief Berardesca said these positions are very important,” said Public Safety Chair Kath Schomaker. “He’s seeing the stress” on firefighters from working a lot of overtime.
“Positions” will continue tonight at 6:30 inside Council Chambers, followed by the Fire Department (earlier tabled), Finance mileage account, state revenues, “review of departments” and the school budget.
The following non-tax revenue projection hikes were made Tuesday, as per Leng: Miscellaneous Revenues, “pilot water authority” upped from $630,564 to $640,022; Building Department, “electrical permits” from $150,000 to $160,000; Economic and Community Development, a new revenue line was added “grant/admin,” for $10,000; Engineering, “sidewalk licenses,” from $2,000 to $2,100, “street permits” from $24,000 to $25,000, “photogrammetry prints, from $150 to $250, and “tax map” from $300 to $500; Finance, “income on investments,” from $970,000 to $990,000; Parks & Rec, “skating rink,” from $350,000 to $375,000; Planning, “I.W.C. applications,” from $5,000 to $15,000, “prop. maintenance,” from $10,000 to $15,000; and “anti-blight fees,” from $10,000 to $20,000; Public Works, “transfer station fees,” from $20,000 to $30,000, and “recycle material-sales,” from $60,000 to $70,000; Tax Office, “back taxes,” from $1.1 million to $1.15 million, “interest-property taxes,” from $720,000 to $740,000, and “susp book tax collection,” from $65,000 to $70,000.
Total new projected revenues of $195,858 would provide that much tax relief if realized.
Fringe benefits got some tweaking. “Workers’ Compensation” was reduced from one million to $900,000; and “anticipated retirement savings” was increased from negative $200,000 to negative $300,000 (savings realized from vacancies.) The medical self-insurance line was lowered to $21.5 million from the mayor’s $23 million. This account covers both the town and school sides.
Legislative Council Office Expenditures
The Council made the following changes to the mayor’s proposal: “overtime,” from $0 to $50; “mileage,” from $0 to $30; “postage,” from $0 to $100; “special projects,” from $0 to $1,000; “legal lawyer,” from $1,000 to $5,000; “annual audit,” from $35,000 to $40,000; “duplicate/photo supplies,” from $0 to $100; “emergency & contingency fund,” from $1 million to $1,413,000 (the increase is from money put in E&C that was taken from other departments during this deliberation process); “professional/tech service,” from $12,000 to $12,500; and “settlement reserve,” from $60,000 to $100,000.
April 29, 2008
As the Council appropriates more money for the new police facility, some are still fighting the location
By Sharon Bass
Names leapt off a petition and landed in chairs inside Council Chambers Monday evening. They came to protest a proposed ordinance asking for $1,020,000 for more design work and two cost estimates on the new police headquarters. They say the public wasn’t given a voice in the project and the administration didn’t consider any other sites but Town Hall.
Michele Helou has been openly against this project. She was removed from the Town Building Committee (overseer of the project) after voicing such objection. She voiced it again last night.
“To date no properly conducted independent cost feasibility study has been completed,” she said during the public hearing. “The accepted process for selecting sites, developing cost estimates, review of site design options and public comment has not been followed.”
Like others to follow her to the podium, she advocated putting the police facility on the Dadio Farm with the new fire and animal shelter buildings. A professional architect, Helou has been critical about altering Memorial Town Hall, a historic building, and razing the police records building.
Helou also contended that it would be significantly cheaper to build the trio-complex on Dadio. “Our town could have something so much better for so much less,” she said.
“Spending another million dollars is giving credence to this plan,” said George Levinson of Shepard Avenue. “It’s a mistake to take the most beautiful historic building in town.”
Speakers like Levinson seemed at least slightly hopeful that the project will be halted and relocated. But Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson has been telling the Council for months that the site is a done deal. And that is the same mindset of the building committee.
“There’s no need to rush to judgment,” said former Councilman Ron Gambardella. He had pushed for police and fire to be built on Dadio, and campaigned on it during his mayoral bid last year.
Gambardella said there should be a cost comparison done between building onto Town Hall versus building on Dadio.
“It appears to me that everyone is fixated on this project,” said Jacquelyn Menefee. “To spend another $1 million to go down the same path.” She called for studies “to find the best location.”
The Council opines
“I don’t believe this is the best location,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. She asked how much money has been spent so far on the police station.
Jackson said $400,000 has been spent and committed. He said the funding is being done in phases. The $1.02 million at question last night was for phase two, which includes getting a construction manager.
Councilman Jack Kennelly asked Jackson to tell the people how the site was selected.
When Mayor Carl Amento, Fire Chief Jim Leddy and Police Chief Bob Nolan were in office they too wanted to erect a new police headquarters, said Jackson. After surveying the town, he said, they chose old Town Hall as the second best site.
Except the 2003 Kaestle-Boos study that Jackson was referring to did not include using Town Hall. And, said Helou, who’s studied the plan, it never came in No. 2. Not even close.
“It didn’t make the top eight sites to be analyzed,” she said. “The recommended site for police facilities was the northeast corner of Dixwell and Mather Street, as it is in a central location. The study did recommend against combined police and fire facilities due to the requirements of closed and protected police offices and the more open and ‘porous’ nature of fire facilities.”
What’s the bottom line?
Councilman Craig Cesare asked how much of the $1.02 million will be spent before there’s a cost estimate for the entire project.
“It depends on the firms but it will be their first order of business,” Jackson said of the construction manager.
“Only spend what it costs to get an estimate,” said Cesare. “Why would we want to go any father at this point?”
“I don’t want the construction manager to determine the cost,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “That’s a conflict of interest.”
“We need to trust our construction manager,” said Jackson.
“What would it cost for an independent estimate?” said Colaiacovo.
Jackson said he didn’t know.
Councilman Jim Pascarella asked how much would be spent before the site is definite.
It is already definite, said Jackson. “The site is chosen already. At any time, the Council doesn’t have to approve the funding.”
“In reality, we’re not bound to this project,” said Pascarella.
Councilman Curt Leng asked if the architect, Bianco Giolitto Weston of Middletown, looked at other sites.
“No,” said Jackson. “We need to move forward expeditiously. This should be the No. 1 site. It’s where the police are.”
“When was it determined that there were no other good sites?” said Leng.
“The mayor made that call in summer of 2007,” said Jackson. “This was picked as a site for a number of reasons. We need a town center. This is a great building. It needs life.”
“What’s the problem with having an independent cost estimate?” Leng asked. “How much could it possibly cost?”
“You gotta trust someone,” said Jackson.
“Let’s get some numbers and then move forward,” said Leng.
But Jackson said he was against getting an estimate before the $1.02 million ordinance was approved.
“Why can’t we select a firm, find out the cost? ” said Leng.
“Changing midstream is not something I’m comfortable with,” said Jackson.
Councilman Matt Fitch then motioned to go into executive session to discuss the estimated cost. Apparently there was one, but to publicize it could hinder the competitive bidding process.
About 30 minutes later ...
“You need this money to go to the next stage,” said Councilman John DeRosa, fresh out of exec sess.
The Public Safety committee voted. (Next Monday, the full Council will take a vote.) Kath Schomaker, Colaiacovo, Fitch, Jack Kennelly and Gretchen Callahan were in favor. Wetmore said no and Cesare abstained.
“I feel the Council was not given a choice about the site at all,” said Wetmore. “I’m definitely for the police getting the safest, most efficient building possible. [But] with the middle school we were given other choices before we settled on the Meadowbrook site. This was just thrown at us with no option.”
Cesare said he abstained because he needed more information. “I don’t feel like we’ve been adequately informed,” he said. “I’m starting to feel like we’ve been rushed to spend millions of dollars on this project. I’m not totally comfortable with it. And I’m not really crazy about that spot.”
By Sharon Bass
Two memos about Mayor Craig Henrici’s unauthorized travel allowance hit the Council bench at last night’s Finance Committee meeting. One from the town attorney; one from the mayor.
Chair Curt Leng asked for an opinion from Town Attorney Sue Gruen on the nearly $6,000 Henrici paid himself for “business travel” from September 2006 through June 2007 without getting Legislative Council approval, as mandated by the Town Charter.
Gruen writes in her April 26 response: “Your specific requests … would require that I make a finding about the actions of an employee and/or official. Because this office represents such Town employees and/or officials, any such opinion rendered by me could be considered a conflict of interest and therefore I am unable to answer you at this time.”
Leng said he was fine with her response and understood. What he didn’t understand, however, is why it took nearly a month for Gruen to receive his request. He said he asked the Legislative Council Office to send his memo to Gruen on March 31. Gruen writes in her April 26 response that she received it on April 24.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” said Leng when asked.
In Henrici’s letter to the Council, he writes neither Attorney General Richard Blumenthal nor State’s Attorney Michael Dearington would comment on the allowance controversy. Henrici had a packet of documents sent to the attorneys after the HDN reported that the mayor had taken $587 a month for 10 months for undocumented business travel and barely a soul knew.
Most councilmembers who served last term (during the period Henrici was receiving the money) said they were not aware it was going on. The charter mandates that all compensation given to the mayor be approved by the council. (Click here to read Henrici’s letter.)
Furthermore, in a seemingly preemptive move, Henrici writes in his letter that he is “requesting an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Ethics as to whether the decision to draw car allowance expenditures from three vehicle-related accounts constitutes any violation of the Town Charter.”
It has been reported in the HDN that Councilman Mike Colaiacovo said "it is very, very possible" that a complaint would soon be filed with Ethics about the mayor’s self-drawn allowance. At Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, Colaiacovo asked Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson if he could add to the complaint the specific charter violations (Sections 5-1 and 18-8) in question.
“I cannot answer for the mayor,” said Jackson.
Leng had also requested a copy of the alleged administrative travel-allowance policy for the mayor, which at an earlier meeting Jackson claimed existed. And also the purchase orders showing the money transfers from the three line items that were used to pay the mayor.
This marked the third time Leng asked for the documents. And the third time none were produced and no explanation given.
Rose Mentone hopes to replace her
By Sharon Bass
Peggy Rae has one more election left. “One very big one,” said Hamden’s Democratic Registrar of Voters of the upcoming presidential election. After exactly a decade, Rae is retiring from the elected post for things less political.
More vacations. More time with her husband. More singing (a little more about that later).
The Democratic Town Committee will endorse Rae’s replacement at its May 22 meeting. That person’s name will be on the November ballot with Republican John McCain and either Democrats Barack Obama (who mathematically has won the primary) or Hillary Clinton (who’s trying to outdo him by getting enough super-delegates to swing her way).
“I’m retiring ‘young’ because I want to enjoy the rest of my life,” said Rae, 64. “It’s been a good long time.” She was first elected in 1998. She served five terms and was never challenged. She leaves the job leave next January when her term expires.
Seeking to replace her is Rose Mentone, recording secretary for the HDTC. She said Chair Joe McDonagh has pledged his support to her. McDonagh did not return a message seeking comment.
“Politics has been in my blood since I was a teenager,” said Mentone, who holds the distinction of being the only female Dem party chair in Hamden. “I believe that Peggy Rae has set a good precedent for the office. It’s a very important job and I know I can handle it. It’s really the basis of our democracy -- voting and keeping accurate records.”
Mentone said she e-mailed town committee members on April 24 asking for their support. She said she's received positive replies from “different districts.”
The political bug bit Rae in 1968 while she was working on her PhD in microbiology at the University of Chicago and working on Eugene McCarthy’s campaign.
“It was so clear all of us had to get involved to help the political process,” she said. “The Vietnam War. It just seemed things needed to change. I wasn’t registered to vote but my sympathies were with the Democratic Party.”
In 1975, she moved to Hamden and taught at Yale. When her son started school in 1983, she stopped teaching and got involved in community and school activities. In the late 1980s, she worked as an assistant registrar in the 4th District.
Rae lives next to Johnson’s Pond, a small and magnificent piece of natural land in Spring Glen, which the town purchased in 2006 to save from being developed. With its abundance of plant- and wild-life, it serves as a good laboratory for science studies.
“A vague daydream is to do some microbiology on water from Johnson’s Pond with kids from Spring Glen School,” she said.
Rae also sings. She’s a soprano with the New Haven Chorale and has been a soloist at the Church of Medici in Florence and Rome, Italy.
“It was a high point of being a singer. As a kid I always wanted to be a singer,” she said.
Next month, Rae can be seen on stage in “Music Man” at the Unitarian Society on Hartford Turnpike. She plays a townswoman.
Getting rid of the dead
Right now the registrar said she’s buried deep in a project taking dead people off the voting list. University of Connecticut journalist students recently dug up names of deceased people who are still on active voting rolls around the state. Their results were published in the Hartford Courant.
The students found 39 “dead voters” in Hamden. Two are “alive and kicking,” said Rae, one was an identification error and the others died a long time ago.
“There are people who have the same birthdates and names in the state. So you’re going to have some cases as we did” of mistaken identity, she said. Of the 39, just a few are left to check, said Rae.
Political passion aside
“Starting with the Lamont/Lieberman 2006 primary and the 2008 presidential preference primary is this great registration move,” she said. “People are voting early and switching party registration. The high registration moments have been personal highs for me.”
But Rae is ready to leave.
“Ten years is a good chunk of time. I’ve enjoyed the job but I don’t want to continue it. I really enjoyed being part of the election process. When I drive down the street on Election Day and see people streaming into polling places, I get a lump in my throat. People take voting seriously and it’s a real honor to be part of that,” she said.
“One of my joys is working with [Republican Registrar] Tony [Esposito]. It’s been a pleasure. This is a very stressful job. Having the two of us working together has been a pleasure.”
By Sharon Bass
It seemed Wiley, the once-roaming dog, was safe and sound with his new owner. It seemed. Police Chief Tom Wydra gave his stamp of approval Monday for local dog groomer Gabrielle Scirocco, of Hot Diggity Dog, to keep the pup.
But the state Animal Control Office yesterday overruled Wydra and has threatened to confiscate Wiley, according to Joanne Phelan and Dolores Giannini, both of Happy Tails Foundation.
"I thought everything was fine," said Giannini. "Then I called Gabrielle and she told me that the [police] chief called her and said a call was received from the state saying they were going to confiscate Wiley. This is nuts."
“The state Animal Control Office may want to revisit the matter," said Wydra. "But I don’t see any reason to look into the matter further."
"What this boils down to is, a bunch of gung-ho ACOs were outsmarted by a 2-year-old husky/shephard mix," said Giannini, "and they're not willing to give up. They're just not willing to let it go."
Hamden Animal Control Officers Chris Smith and Steve Gimler tried in vain for eight months to catch the dog, when all the while he was being cared for by Debby Campagnuolo of Thomas Street. On April 24, she gave Wiley to Scirocco, who has since had the dog vaccinated, examined by a veterinarian and registered with the Town Clerk’s Office.
That satisfied Wydra.
He said he talked with Smith and Gimler Monday and all agreed Wiley should stay with his new rightful owner, Scirocco. State law says animal officers may seize roaming dogs, put them in a shelter and advertise their capture in case there’s an owner. But Wiley never had an owner -- until now. He was one of a pack of five roaming dogs.
“None of us seek to do anything else,” said Wydra, “mainly because there was never an owner so there’s no reason to advertise.”
Scirocco could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"The state is not taking what's best for the dog into consideration. They want to win no matter what," said Giannini. "Here we have a wonderful home for the dog with an owner we never could have imagined would take this on and she's created a miracle in three days, and now the state wants to reverse everything and be damned with the welfare of the dog."
April 26, 2008
Whose dog is it anyway?
Story and photos by Sharon Bass
Hamden Animal Control and a popular local groomer are in a standoff over a stray-turning-domestic dog known as Wiley.
The tug-of-war started Friday when Animal Control Officers Chris Smith and Steve Gimler told Gabrielle Scirocco, owner of Hot Diggity Dog, that Wiley had to go to the North Haven Animal Shelter. Scirocco had taken in Wiley the night before to train and possibly adopt him.
Smith contended that under state law the shepherd/husky mix had to go to the shelter because he was a stray. Scirocco said that would traumatize the two-year-old pup who wasn’t exactly a stray anymore. For the last eight months, he was being cared for by a local family.
Wiley is one of the five dogs recently found roaming around Southern Connecticut State University. Two were put to sleep. Two were adopted by Scirocco’s employee. And then there’s Wiley.
According to Scirocco and Dolores Giannini, of Happy Tails Foundation, Smith and Gimler had been trying to capture Wiley for eight months, and with no luck. All the while, the rascal was hanging out with the Campagnuolo family on Thomas Street in Hamden. The mother, Debby, said they fell in love with him. They bought him a collar. They fed him. They played with him.
Then on Thursday, Campagnuolo said her next-door neighbor called the police about Wiley saying “he was an aggressive dog.” Cops came out to talk to the neighbor and observe the dog, she said.
“[The cop] said the dog is not aggressive. The dog is not rabid so he can’t shoot it. He said don’t even worry about it. I’ll talk to Chris [Smith] tomorrow [Friday],” Campagnuolo said.
But she said that worried her. She said she didn’t trust Smith, especially after learning he had thrown dead dogs off a cliff at the transfer station. And she doesn’t have a fence around her house to keep Wiley from getting away. So Campagnuolo called Scirocco for help Thursday evening. The dog groomer fetched Wiley that night.
“Debby was in a panic,” said Scirocco. “[Former Hamden Animal Control Officers] Jean Murray and Gina Cahill over the years, they earned the public’s trust and respect. And Chris hasn’t earned that. And this thing with the dog dumping, people fear him. People feel he has no compassion for animals.”
Neither Smith nor Gimler returns messages from the HDN.
The ACOs cited a provision in the Connecticut statutes (Chapter 435, Sec. 22-332) that they said mandates them to take the dog to the shelter, said Scirocco. That clause reads: “Impoundment and disposition of roaming, injured or mistreated animals. Authority to spay or neuter unclaimed dog … Any such officer may take into custody (1) any dog found roaming in violation of the provisions of section 22-364 …”
Giannini, who was at Hot Diggity Dog yesterday with other local animal activists to lend support to Scirocco, said the law says “may” not “must.”
She sounded apologetic when she said she called Smith Friday morning to let him know where Wiley was and that “he was doing fine.”
“Chris said the dog has to go to the shelter,” said Giannini. “That [Scirocco] has no right to take him. But the law says ‘may.' Chris said he’s got to do what he’s got to do.”
“You try to do a good thing and it blows up in your face,” said Scirocco, who grooms Hamden’s stray animals before they’re brought to the shelter, to make their more adoptable. She’s slow to admit she doesn’t charge a dime for those services. Her explanation is simple: “I love dogs,” she said.
Susan Spetrini of Happy Tails questioned who owns Wiley. The town or the person who feeds him? “They say if you feed a feral cat, it’s your cat,” she said.
Scirocco said Smith told her he wants to take Wiley to the shelter to determine if he’s adoptable. “What qualifications does Chris have?” she said. Scirocco seemed so determined to keep Wiley away from the shelter yesterday, that even a threat of being arrested didn’t move her.
Campagnuolo said Gimler called her Friday morning after learning Scirocco wouldn’t give up Wiley.
“He said Gabrielle was interfering and they were going to seize the dog. He said that he’d have to do it the hard way,” she said. “That he had a state trooper there and he was going to pick the dog up come hell or high water. He said she’s interfering with the law now and he could have her arrested.”
Diagnosis: Healthy Dog
At 3:20 p.m. yesterday, Dr. Kristine Matz -- the “traveling vet” from Cheshire -- and her assistant came to exam Wiley.
Before she began, Matz told Scirocco she’d have to sign as Wiley’s owner on his vaccination papers and would be legally responsible if Wiley bit someone. Scirocco agreed.
Wiley shook as Matz examined him, but didn’t flinch when the vet gave him a rabies shot.
“He looks healthy. He’s nervous. He’s scared,” said Matz. “He seems like an adoptable dog.”
Hot Diggity Dog’s phone rang at 3:45 p.m. It was Smith. Scirocco, who was busy grooming dogs while trying to deal with the Wiley situation, took the call on speaker phone.
“I honestly didn’t think this was going to be a big deal,” she said to Smith. “You tried catching that dog and you couldn’t.”
“I agree,” said Smith.
“Now you want to put this dog in a shelter. That’s traumatizing. I am willing to take full responsibility,” Scirocco said. “We need to come to some kind of middle ground.”
“You’re not going to allow me to take your dog then?” said Smith.
“I don’t see what taking the dog to the pound will do,” the dog groomer said.
“So if I get this straight, you’re not going to allow me to take the dog, are you?” the animal control officer said.
“What’s the consequence?” asked Scirocco. “Are you going to arrest me?”
“I’ll have to talk to my supervisor,” said Smith. “I should have been aware of the dog being taken.”
“Taken?” said Scirocco. “I didn’t plan this.”
“Let’s just sit back and cool off over the weekend,” Smith said.
Campagnuolo said she doesn’t mind giving Wiley to Scirocco. “I wanted to keep him but my house is not fenced in,” she said. “He’s a one-in-a-million dog. He’s an angel.”
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On April 23 at approximately 10:30 p.m., Street Interdiction Team officers observed suspicious activity in the area of Abbott Printing, 910 Dixwell Ave. Survelliance was subsequently conducted.
A short time thereafter, officers observed Joseph Giamattei force entry through a basement window. A second individual, later identified as Darryle Cockefur, was allegedly acting as a "lookout." SIT members and patrol officers apprehended Cockefur after a brief foot pursuit. Giamattei was found hiding in the basement of the establishment.
Giamattei, 41, of 1735 Dixwell Ave,, Hamden, was charged with burglary in the 3rd degree, conspiracy to commit burglary in the 3rd degree, criminal trespass in the 2nd degree, criminal mischief and interfering with a police officer. He was detained at police headquarters on a $45,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on May 7.
Cockefur, 47, of 173 Morse St., Hamden, was charged with conspiracy to commit burglary in the 3rd degree and interfering with a police officer. He was detained at police headquarters on a $45,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on May 7.
April 23, 2008
Town hopes summer volunteers will clean up the long-ignored mess
Story and photos by Sharon Bass
Joan Warren regularly walks and bikes the Farmington Canal Greenway. One particular stretch has her distressed. It’s got a bad case of litter-itis.
“I have never seen it as bad as I saw it this year. I’ve never seen so much trash on the trail,” Warren said of the roughly one-mile stretch between Skiff Street and Connolly Parkway, where the canal line currently ends.
At the April 8 public budget hearing, she reported it to the Legislative Council. She implored her elected reps to spend “10 minutes” walking that patch. “It’s very distressing for me to see the way the trash collects and also that nothing is done about it,” said Warren, who lives in Spring Glen and is a member of the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation.
Warren’s not exaggerating.
The southernmost portion of the trail in Hamden is disgracefully littered. Piles of stuff like plastic shopping bags, empty cigarette boxes and fast-food containers line both sides of the trail, which traverses the Stop & Shop shopping center. Dented shopping carts are also seen along the trail. Thought is much of the garbage comes from store employees and customers who litter on the adjacent parking lot and is blown onto the trail by the wind.
According to David Schaefer, chair of the Farmington Canal Commission, Parks & Rec is ultimately responsible for trail upkeep.
“If the user of the trail drops trash, it’s against the rules,” said Schaefer. “The person is responsible to pick it up. But that person may be long gone so it’s the town’s responsibility -- Parks & Rec. But if the trash is coming from businesses along the trail it’s those businesses’ responsibility.”
Problem is, said Schaeffer, it’s hard to prove from where the litter originated and it’s been all but impossible to get businesses to cooperate, so the cleanup burden again falls on Parks & Rec.
“We hear about this all the time,” Schaeffer said about the southern end. The northern portions of the trail are much cleaner.
Parks & Rec Director Frank Rizzuti acknowledged trail maintenance is his department’s responsibility but said his staff doesn’t have the time.
“It’s a problem no doubt about it. But we can only do so much,” said Rizzuti. “It is our responsibility. What we try to do is wait for the summer help to come out. A lot of the trash is from the businesses along the stretch.”
He had also hoped that part of the trail would make it onto the Clean & Green Commission’s upcoming cleanup list. But it didn’t.
“We had discussed this area at our previous meeting and it is in serious need of attention,” said member Diane Hoffman. But at the commission meeting last week, it was decided instead to clean south Dixwell Avenue, around Columbus and Goodrich streets. (Those interested in giving a hand should come to the Keefe Center on May 3 at 8:45 a.m.)
Rizzuti said littering on the trail has been a problem for a couple of years and the businesses won’t take responsibility.
“We’ve been trying to work on it with volunteer groups,” he said. “Businesses like Stop & Shop say it’s their customers who do it. I think we all do that. We drop the bag and you get a strong wind and some of the debris blows out.”
But Warren said she’s not convinced that the bulk of the litter comes from the shops. She also doesn’t think it comes from users of the trail.
“I have seen people with bags who look like they might be homeless standing on the other side of the fence,” said Warren. “They were just standing there amidst all the trash.”
Schaefer’s Trail Facts
The first phase of the Farmington Canal Greenway in Hamden was completed in 1993. To date there are 7.5 miles of completed trail in Hamden. It starts at the Cheshire border and ends at Connolly Parkway.
The fourth and last phase is now underway. It will go from Connolly Parkway to the New Haven border, about three blocks south of St. Ann’s Church. Construction should start this June and take a year. It will be funded with 80 percent federal highway money and 20 percent local dollars. Construction costs are estimated at $2.7 million, which doesn’t include the design, construction supervision and state administrative fees.
Meanwhile, New Haven is building about 1.5 miles of trail from the Hamden border to the New Haven Harbor. The Farmington Canal Trail is also being extended north, to destination Northampton, Mass. Until 1982, the line was an operating railroad that went from New Haven to Northampton.
April 22, 2008
By Sharon Bass
At last Saturday’s budget meeting, Finance Chair Curt Leng asked President Al Gorman who’s paying for the ongoing dog-dumping investigation. Gorman said the money is coming out of the Legislative Council’s professional/technical account.
Huh? Leng said he had been told the $200/hour being paid to attorney Andy Houlding was being extracted from the Town Attorney’s Office. The Council should have been informed the funding was coming out of its own pocket, Leng said.
On Monday, the HDN asked Gorman for clarification. “It may be coming out of the Legislative Council’s account,” he said, adding that Houlding hasn’t been paid a dime yet. The account was funded with $15,000 in the ’07-’08 (current) budget. According to the new budget book, written in March, it has $7,531 left.
It’s unclear when the investigation will be done.
Acting on multiple tips, on Feb. 21 the HDN went to the Transfer Station and found and photographed about five dead dogs at the bottom of a steep cliff. After the news was published the next day, the town was in an uproar and the Legislative Council addressed the issue at its Feb. 25 meeting. There, Animal Control Officer Chris Smith said Mayor Craig Henrici had told him last fall to drop dead dogs at the station instead of having them cremated. Law says the animals must be buried. These dogs were fully exposed.
Councilmembers wanted to know why Smith dropped them off a cliff if they were supposed to be buried by Public Works. Why the mayor allegedly changed the policy from cremation to dumping. (He claimed it was to save money, about $1,000 a year.) How the dogs at the bottom of the cliff had died. Smith said he found them dead on the street. Gina Cahill, a former animal control officer, said there aren’t that many dead dogs lying in the streets of Hamden. The explanation later given was the dogs were euthanized at the North Haven Animal Hospital, put in a freezer at the North Haven shelter for an indeterminate amount of time, and then Smith retrieved the frozen carcasses and dumped them at the Hamden transfer station.
So Henrici hired Houlding to investigate.
Asked what he thinks the probe could reveal, Gorman said, “I’m just following the will of the Council.”
“We want the truth,” said Councilman Craig Cesare. “Who knew what? Even if the mayor did tell Smith to do that [dump dogs], Smith had a moral obligation not to.”
“We want to know what happened and why,” said Councilman John DeRosa. “And the truth.”
“I think we need to get to the root of what created the problem,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. “There are so many stories. It seems they’re [town administration] trying to point the finger at Public Works [for not burying the dogs after allegedly being told to]. But how do you bury dogs when they’re thrown off a cliff? It embarrassed the town.”
Gorman said he didn’t want the investigation conducted in house. “I said if we’re going to investigate it, we’re going to hire an objective investigator, not someone from the Police Department,” he said. “A respectable, professional investigator.”
Actually Houlding, who lives in Hamden, is not a licensed investigator. He was an investigative reporter for Channel 8 and is now a partner in the Hartford firm Rome McGuigan.
Tax Office, Fire, Personnel, Debt Service, Finance
’08-’09 Budget Scorecard
By Sharon Bass
Mayor Henrici’s travel allowance was the topic last night during budget deliberations. It was eventually tabled.
Just before the hot-button issue was discussed, the Democrats caucused for quite some time. When they returned to the bench, the three Council Republicans huddled against the wall caucusing. Democratic Councilman Matt Fitch attended both caucuses.
After revelations of Henrici’s mishandling and possible embezzlement of town funds to pay himself a “business” travel allowance, many councilmembers said they felt queasy about allowing the mayor a cash stipend. He is the first Hamden mayor who chose not to drive a town car.
Also, it was learned from Finance Director Mike Betz Monday evening that there never was a written travel allowance policy for the mayor, as Chief Administrative Office Scott Jackson told the Council, after the HDN revealed Henrici was getting $587 a month for 10 months last fiscal year without council approval or knowledge. (A complaint is expected to be filed soon with the Ethics Board.)
Councilman Curt Leng had asked Jackson for a copy of the policy but Jackson never produced it.
“I’m going to talk to Mr. Jackson,” said Leng.
In lieu of car cash, some councilmembers advocated a town car for the mayor.
Councilmembers John DeRosa, Betty Wetmore and Craig Cesare said they’re for giving the mayor a car from the town fleet, which would be much cheaper than buying him a new one. The town already bought Henrici a $30,000 SUV in early 2006, which he gave to Fire Chief Dave Berardesca that August and went on his clandestine business travel allowance.
Councilwoman Carol Noble said she’s in favor of a stipend. “It saves the people money,” she said.
Although no dollar figure has been officially calculated for the allowance, there was murmuring last night about $250. That equates to 500 business miles a month.
That figure was somewhat derived from the amount funded in the Finance Department’s “mileage” account in the 2008-09 budget. The mayor put in $12,000.
Fitch asked Betz how much of that money is earmarked for the mayor.
“I’d really be guessing,” said Betz. “I would say maybe a little less than half.” Tax Assessor Jim Clynes gets another good chunk.
Asked how much of the $12,000 goes to others, Betz said, “I’m sorry. I’m not prepared. It’s not substantial.”
This is when Leng asked if there was a travel allowance policy for the mayor as he was told by Jackson.
“No,” said Betz.
The finance director was asked for copies of mileage forms filled out by employees, and documentation of how the “mileage” money has been spent so far this fiscal year.
“We’re dealing with next year’s budget,” said Fitch. “What happened in the past …”
Wetmore cut him off. “We need to learn from history,” she said.
This office got a little leaner last night. The Council lopped $200 from “binding” ($1,250 to $1,050) and a grand from “municipal service fees” ($12,000 to $11,000), and added $285 to the unfunded “dues/subscription” line.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $487,965
After a confusing conversation with Fire Chief Dave Berardesca about contractual line items and size of force, Fitch moved to table all the departments’ expenditures.
“I spoke to Mr. Kelley today and he was very concerned with some of the line items,” Councilman Jim Leddy said of Personnel Director Ken Kelley.
Two accounts in particular, said Leddy. The mayor had reduced “test supplies” from $12,500 to $1,000, and “physical exams” from $25,000 to $10 grand. These items are for hiring.
“Even if there’s virtually little hiring, there’s going to be a flood of applicants,” said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker. She said with the bad economy, more people are vying for the same jobs.
Schomaker somewhat convinced the legislative gang. It put $5,000 in “test supplies,” but wouldn’t budge on “physical exams.” “Dues” got $2,900. And to compensate for the hike, Leng successfully motioned to cut $4,000 from the $18,000 in “temporary wages.”
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $250,903
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $13,100,902
There was more chopping in the money department.
“Pay differential” went from the mayor’s suggested $500 to $400; “dues” was fed $855; “professional/tech service” took a $5,000 hit (from $15,000 to $10,000); and “extra duty gen. supplies” was cut in half ($1,000 to $500).
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $3,892,317
The next budget deliberation will be on April 29 at 6:30 p.m. The Council will take up fringes/medical/pension, tax revenue, miscellaneous revenues, department revenues, the Legislative Council and salaries/positions.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On April 19 at approximately 1 a.m., Hamden police responded to Newhall and Goodrich streets on the report of shots fired. Prior to the shots being fired, a fight between two females erupted inside the Ebony Lounge. As management had the patrons exit the establishment, at least seven shots were fired outside. No one was struck during the incident.
Police ask that witnessess contact the department at 230.4040.
On April 18 at approximately 11:30 p.m., police were dispatched to the area of 70 Morse St. on the report of shots fired. Moments later, another gunshot was fired in the area of Dixwell Avenue and Goodrich Street. A juvenile advised officers that someone was shooting at him and gave a description of the person.
A short time later, Officer Paul Calamita observed an individual who fit the description. He had .45 caliber bullets inside his pockets. A subsequent search of the area led to the recovery of a LLAMA .45 caliber pistol.
A 14-year-old New Haven resident was arrested and transported to the Whalley Avenue Detention Center.
Also on April 18 at approximately 11:30 p.m., police responded to 22 Warner St. on the report of shots fired. Responding officers ascertained that the front door of the residence had been forced open. They believe that several shots were fired inside the residence. It appeared no one was home at the time of the shooting.
Police are looking for two individuals who were observed fleeing the area in a dark-colored, newer model sedan. Witnessess are asked to contact the police at 230.4000.
April 21, 2008
Mayor’s Office, Registrar of Voters, Engineering, Town Attorney, Youth Services, Community Services, QVHD
’08-’09 Budget Scorecard
By Sharon Bass
Where’s the black book? That’s what Finance Chair Curt Leng wanted to know this past Saturday morning as the Legislative Council added to and subtracted from line-item expenses inside the mayor’s proposed taxpayers’ tab for the next fiscal year.
“We’re kind of blind,” said Leng. The so-called black book (because it was black) was a good 500 pages, he said, and contained paragraphs explaining in detail each line item. Leng said this is the second budget season the Council has been without the book.
But Council Prez Al Gorman said there’s no need for the book. In the current budget book (green cover), there are explanations for expenditures. Still, councilmembers have asked questions during the four deliberation meetings that couldn’t be answered. So some items have been tabled, including all “electricity” accounts, which Henrici funded lower than what has been so far used this fiscal year and rates are climbing.
Unlike most departments, which were deemed underfunded and needed beefing up, the mayor’s request for his own was reduced.
Councilman Jim Leddy advised slashing a grand from “professional meetings.” Henrici wanted $5,800.
But Councilwoman Betty Wetmore tried to reduce it to $3,500. “I’d like to give him what he actually needs,” she said, “and give the money back to other departments.” (Henrici asked to have all “meeting” dollars from the departments kept in his office.) Year to date, $2,462 was used on “professional meetings.”
Her motion lost but Leddy’s prevailed.
Wetmore asked about the mayor’s mileage reimbursement account. It’s actually in the Finance Department funded at $12,000 (to cover Henrici's and other employees' business trips), and is scheduled to be taken up this evening.
“Dues/subscriptions,” another expense the mayor wanted to keep in a central account, was restored to his office at $180. “Professional/tech service” was cut to $10,000 from Henrici’s request of $12,000. And the Council slashed in half “computer equipment,” from $6,000 to $3,000.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $575,637
Registrar of Voters
The following lines were amended: “contract services,” mayor, $2,000, Council, $2,600; “dues/subscriptions,” mayor, zero, Council, $110; and “professional/tech service,” mayor, $15,000, Council, $21,475.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $133,169
Again the “Leng 20 percent OT cut” raised its head and again the Finance chair lost the fight. His peers would not take a penny from the mayor’s $8,000 request. The department had asked for $12,000.
When looking at traffic accounts, Councilwoman Carol Noble said the “backup is so insufficient.” And two lines were tabled.
Councilwoman Kath Schomaker argued not to cut the dough in the “professional/tech service” line. “We have a woeful lack of traffic engineering in this town,” she said. “And now we’re having traffic problems.”
But her fellow elected officials disagreed and lopped $500 from the account. They also put $350 in the mayor’s bare “dues” account; $2,600 in the bare “pay differential” line, a contractual item Henrici had zeroed out; reduced “traffic signal parts” from $15,000 to 10 grand; and doubled the $1,000 “bus shelter parts” line.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $705,050
The department that helps at-risk Hamden children got a nice little boost to its budget Saturday morn.
The director asked for $100 in overtime for herself, with a rather lengthy explanation. Leng said department heads are “well compensated” and shouldn’t get OT.
Apparently his colleagues disagreed. They not only gave Susan Rabino overtime, they tripled her request.
Councilmen defended the “contract services-youth prog.” line. It’s for two trainers for the town’s boxing program, which they said has been a huge success and, again, serves youth in need..
“Believe me, this is money well spent,” said Jim Pascarella.
“Summer is coming and this would help keep children off the street,” said Ozzie Brown.
“It’s a valuable program run by professional boxes,” said Jack Kennelly.
“I know a lot of these trainers put in a lot of volunteer hours,” said Jim Leddy.
They convinced the non-boxing faction on the Council. The account was increased from the mayor’s $25,000 to $30,603, the department’s request.
Food hit Councilman Matt Fitch’s button. The “food products” line was zeroed out by Henrici. The department asked for $5,650 although it has only spent $1,000 in each of the past two years on refreshments for events and meetings.
“At what point is enough enough?” said Fitch. “We pay for the programs. They can bring in their own food.” He suggested keeping the line item at zero.
But the Council voted to put $1,000 into it; $500 into the bare “dues” line; increased “professional/tech service” from the mayor’s $60,000 to $63,830; and dropped 300 bucks into “books/maps/manuals,” an account Henrici wanted to centralize in Purchasing, but councilmembers decided to restore the funding to the departments’ budgets instead.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $182,580
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $271,305
Quinnipiack Valley Health District
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $299,571
Starting at 6:30 tonight, the Council will review expenditures for the Tax Office and Fire and Personnel departments as well as do debt service and Finance/miscellaneous revenues. At Memorial Town Hall, Council Chambers.
April 18, 2008
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On April 18, shortly after midnight, Hamden police responded to Newhall and Augur streets on the report of "shots fired." Investigation revealed that a shooting occurred in the rear parking lot of a multi-unit condominium.
Brenton Cannon, 18, was meeting an individual in the rear parking lot of 659 Newhall St., when two males, wearing masks, approached him. One began shooting at Cannon as he fled on foot. He was shot in the hand and subsequently transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
An acquaintance of Cannon's, who was operating a motor vehicle, attempted to leave the area. His vehicle was riddled with bullets but he was not injured.
Witnessess described the two individuals as black males, wearing dark-colored ski masks.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Angelo DeLieto at 230.4040.
April 17, 2008
Parks & Rec, VNA, Public Works, Police
’08-’09 Budget Scorecard
By Sharon Bass
The guns came out last night. After two evenings of rather blissful budget deliberations, the Town Council started to crack Wednesday, as in divide. Particularly when it came to the Police Department.
“The budget has to be realistic,” said Councilman Jack Kennelly. “To undercut the needs doesn’t make any sense.” The line item in question was “vehicle replacement.” The mayor proposed $150,000; Chief Tom Wydra asked for $209,200. That account covers the current lease and purchase of nine new marked and three new unmarked vehicles and a multi-purpose pickup.
Kennelly and others argued that cop vehicles over three years old with 75,000 miles are not safe.
Councilman Matt Fitch called that “an assault to the taxpayers,” and asked Councilwoman Kath Schomaker how old her car is. She said 20 years.
Kennelly said one can’t compare the way Schomaker uses her personal car with the stress a police car goes through.
“The police will be on the roads 24/7 and our police should be safe,” said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore.
And Councilman Gabe Lupo, a Hamden police lieutenant, said more money would be spent on repairing older vehicles than leasing new ones.
“State police don’t keep their cars as long as the Hamden police do,” said Councilman Jim Leddy.
As with other controversial items last night, Fitch, Council President Al Gorman and Councilwoman Carol Noble were outvoted.
Parks & Rec
“I might add when I spoke with Mr. Rizzuti he didn’t have any problems with any of the line items,” Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan said of P&R Director Frank Rizzuti..
Little was altered last night in that department’s long list of expenditures. “Dues/subscriptions,” which the mayor didn’t fund for any departments and instead put the money in Purchasing, was restored to the tune of $1,400. And “professional/tech service” was also zeroed out in Henrici’s proposal and revived with $3,000.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $1,954,526
Untouched. The Visiting Nurse Association requested $67,842 and got every penny from the mayor and Council.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $67,842
“There are contractual items there were underfunded significantly,” said Kennelly. Such as fuel and heating costs.
Schomaker said with rising energy costs “we should really think about real, genuine building analysis” to determine how town properties can be made more energy-efficient. “This is a cost-benefit issue that we need to get a grip on.”
“I agree with Mrs. Schomaker but how would we go about it?” asked Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “Put money into an energy conservation [program]?”
Yes, said Schomaker. She said in the current budget there is money earmarked in the Legislative Council’s emergency and contingency account (E&C) but has not been used. “I understand the complications of this but this is what people have to do at home,” she said. Seal windows, lower thermostats. (Windows often need to be opened in the Council Chambers because of excessive heating.)
Public Works Director Joe Velardi asked for $125,000 in “heating fuel”; the mayor slashed that to $90,000. Already $130,000 has been spent this fiscal year and prices are expected to keep climbing. But instead of increasing the line item, Gorman suggested putting $40,000 in the E&C account, which the Council approved, leaving the mayor’s 90 grand intact.
(Note: When money is put into E&C instead of into a department it does not lower the bottom line of the budget [in fact it often raises it], just that of the department’s. Thought is there is better oversight of funds in E&C.)
Same thing was done with the “natural gas” account. Velardi requested $200,000, mayor proposed $160,000. Year to date, $172,984 has been encumbered. The Council voted to keep the $160,000 and put 20 grand into E&C.
But when it came to “realistically” funding the “gasoline” line, Wetmore argued to go with Velardi’s $150,000 instead of Henrici’s $120,000. “I’d like to keep our budget expenditures realistic,” said Wetmore.
“I think we need to send a signal to this department to restrict gasoline and diesel fuel for Public Works and Parks & Rec,” said Schomaker. “Look for ways to minimize use of gas rather than just indulging the habits of the cheap- fuel era.”
“I agree but I think we need to be realistic,” said Wetmore. “It’s still going to cost us more this year. I’d rather be realistic with the taxpayers.”
Velardi’s $150,000 for gas was approved. Other line-item changes: the unfunded “dues” was funded with $105; “professional/tech” was set at $6,000 (from mayor’s $5,000); $60,000 was earmarked for E&C for “snow removal” (Velardi, $180,000; mayor, $120,000); “leaf removal” $150,000 (from mayor’s $120,000); “parkway/trees” reduced to $7,000 from mayor’s $8,000; “water monitoring,” $5,000 (Henrici zeroed it out); “landfill materials &d supp,” $70,000 (up 20 grand from mayor’s proposal); “bldg/ground maint supp,” $150,000 (up from mayor’s $125,000); “vehicle repairs,” $95,000 (from mayor’s $85,000); “vehicle maintenance,” $60,000 (up 10 grand from Henrici’s figure); “gasoline,” $150,000 (up 30 grand from mayor’s proposal); “diesel fuel,” $150,000 (up from $130,000).
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $9,661,068
Council made the following line-item expenditure changes: “shift differential,” $105,000 (from mayor’s $100,000); “dues, subscriptions,” $2,250 (Henrici zeroed it out); “postage,” $300 (down from mayor’s $400); “professional/tech service,” $18,000 (from mayor’s $15,000); “books, maps, manuals,” $725 (mayor put zero); “education incentive,” $140,000 (mayor, $125,000); “professional/tech service,” $9,000 (mayor, $6,000); “uniform cleaning allow,” $32,500 (from mayor’s $28,000); another “books, maps, manuals” account, $1,000; “equipment repairs – other,” $200 (mayor zeroed it out); “general supplies,” $2,000 (mayor, $1,000); “vehicle replacement,” $171,000 (mayor, $150,000); “vehicle rental,” $20,400 (mayor $15,000).
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $10,999,620
The next deliberations will be this Saturday, April 19, at 9 a.m., on expenditures from the Mayor’s Office, Registrar’s Office, Engineering Department, Town Attorney’s Office, Youth Services, Community Services and Quinnipiack Valley Health District.
April 16, 2008
Arts Commission, Mental Health, Town Clerk, Purchasing, Elderly Services, Planning Department
’08-’09 Budget Scorecard
By Sharon Bass
Last night may have marked the end of the Legislative Council’s budget honeymoon. Like Monday, things went smoothly and quickly with little disagreement among the elected officials. They cracked jokes and appeared relaxed and breezy.
“This is the warm-up,” said Finance Chair Curt Leng. “And we’ve only been doing smaller departments and they’re not usually controversial.”
So far the Council has only been tinkering with departments’ expenditure lines. Salaries, vacant positions, revenues and the Big Departments have not yet been scrutinized. At 6:30 this evening, councilmembers will review the mayor’s proposed expenses for two of the Big Ds, Public Works and Police, as well as Parks & Rec and the VNA.
The Council got stuck on and eventually tabled the Arts Commission’s “professional/tech service” line budgeted at $8,000. The commission asked for $11,500. This account helps pay for police presence at the summer concerts as well as a host of other services used year round.
As has been its nascent wont this budget season, the Council discussed creating a central account instead of having separate line items for each department for the same service. In this case, it would an account in either Finance or Police for off-duty police protection.
“I never understood that,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella. “There are police line items in lots of departments. To me, it just seems all police expenses should be in the Police Department.”
Councilman Curt Leng liked what he heard. “I don’t think it’s too late in the game” to make the change, he said. “It’s night two.”
Councilman Matt Fitch didn’t like what he heard. “I’m just playing devil’s advocate,” he said. “I’m concerned the departments will ask for more police presence at events.”
Stationing police at municipal events is not an option, said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker. “If that’s the case, where is the danger of people asking for more than they need?” she said to Fitch.
Leng agreed with Fitch that departments wouldn’t be as “careful” with using their police protection money if it’s in a central account.
Schomaker again argued that police are needed at these events.
“Why do we want to change it now?” said Councilman Ozzie Brown.
“Tighter control. I think we’re trying to centralize it all,” said Schomaker.
“It’s worked fine. We’ve always done it this way,” said Fitch.
The item was tabled until possibly tonight while relevant information is gathered. The Council upped the Arts Commission’s “temporary wages” account from the mayor’s $2,500 to $4,460; and put $1,200 in “advertising,” which the mayor had zeroed out.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $126,150
This two-line-item office asked for $164,934. The mayor left it intact and so did the Council.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $164,934
Town Clerk Vera Morrison asked for $80,000 for “land records indexing.” The mayor gave her $65,000. At her recent department head budget meeting with the Council, she argued for at least $75,000 for the indexing. She said it was a state statutory requirement. “So I’ve given my warning in a nice way,” Morrison had said.
Councilman Gabe Lupo made a motion to give her $75,000.
“Any place we can take $10,000 from?” asked Leng.
“I think you can only do less indexing,” said Council Prez Al Gorman.
Seventy-five thousands dollars was unanimously approved. The Town Clerk’s “dues/subscriptions” money, which the mayor stripped from all departments in an attempt to merge them in one central account, was returned. Morrison asked for $630. The Council gave her $500.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $454,094
This department emerged with a lighter purse after the Council took a paring knife to it.
Schomaker questioned the $100,000 funding for the “postage” line. She suggested that Purchasing look into making some of its business transactions with residents and contractors available via the Internet to cut snail-mail costs.
“We could save 10s of 1,000s of dollars” down the road, she said.
The Council slashed the mayor’s suggestion of $226,000 for “telephone service” by four grand. The department wanted $230,840. “Advertising” had $500 skimmed off the mayor’s $16,900; “rental equipment” got a small bump from the mayor’s $4,000 to the Council’s $4,500; “office equipment repairs” took a harder hit. Mayor’s was $40,000; Council’s is $24,000.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $751,610
“This department has been very well run,” said Gorman, crediting recently retired director Carol Ireland.
The Council amended the following expenditures: “temporary wages,” mayor 10 grand, Council $9,000; restoration of “dues/subscriptions” with $100; “professional/tech services,” mayor $6,000, Council $6,500; “recreation supplies,” mayor $500, Council $700.
The only Elderly Services’ account left up in the air was “vehicle maintenance” for $5,000. The Council tabled it to find out where the money goes.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $405,905
Some $2,000 was added to the Planning Department Tuesday evening in accounts the mayor had completely stripped. The “dues” line got $1,000; “maps” got $500; and “professional meetings” got $500.
With the increase, Leng said something had to go. So he suggested shaving two grand from the mayor’s proposed $40,000 for advertising. The motion sailed through.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $438,827
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On April 15 Hamden Police arrested siblings Sharon Patterson and Robert Patterson in connection with the sudden death of 23-month-old Amari Jackson, a toddler left in their care.
Police were summoned on Feb. 26 to 364 Putnam Ave., Apt. 10, on the report of an unresponsive toddler. Jackson was subsequently transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the manner of death a homicide, with the cause being dehydration.
Hamden detectives conducted a lengthy investigation into Jackson's death. They determined that Jackson was deprived of liquids for a minimum of seven days. The deprivation consisted of lacing glasses throughout the house with hot sauce to prevent Jackson from drinking. Investigation further revealed that he was deprived of liquids as a form of punishment for wetting his bed.
Approximately two weeks prior to Jackson's death, he was left at the Patterson residence by his mother, Sarah Hicks. Hicks advised police that she left Amari with Patterson for the day, however those plans changed.
Sharon Patterson, 39, of 364 Putnam Ave., Apt. 10, Hamden, was charged with manslaughter in the 1st degree, cruelty to persons and risk of injury to a minor. She is being detained at Hamden Police Headquarters in lieu of a $250,000 court-ordered bond.
Robert Patterson, 31, of same address, was charged with cruelty to persons and risk of injury to a minor. He is being held at Hamden Police Headquarters on a court-ordered $150,000 bond.
April 16, 2008
By Sharon Bass
The Planning Section of the Planning & Zoning Commission gave the OK to the four-lot Dadio Farm subdivision Tuesday evening. Three lots are to be sold and the fourth is for the new fire station. In the current town budget, $1.2 million was factored in as revenue from the land sales. But nothing could be sold until the subdivision was approved, Economic Development Director Dale Kroop had said. He said there are two parties interested in building on the lots.
Councilman Curt Leng, who has taken a particularly keen interest in the project, said he was "pleased to see the town moving forward" and that the revenue could be realized in time for the '07-'08 audit. He said the Town Council will have to approve the sales contracts.
April 15, 2008
Assessor, Building Department, Probate Court, Animal Control, Board of Ethics, Library, Economic Development
By Sharon Bass
The Legislative Council took its first collective stab at the mayor’s proposed $177.3 million ’08-’09 budget last night, mending and amending a financial document some have called irresponsible. They say Mayor Henrici underfunded line items and exaggerated revenues.
Finance Chair Curt Leng opened the meeting with a motion to reduce all departments’ overtime by 20 percent, except public safety and Parks & Rec’s contractual expenses.
“It’s the Council’s job to cut budgets,” he said.
But nearly half the Council thought it was a bad idea.
“The mayor did chop a lot of the overtime out already,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo.
“As we do each department, we can always change it as we go,” said Leng.
Councilman Jack Kennelly said he also was “reluctant” to cut more overtime and suggested going through each department before making a decision.
But Councilman Matt Fitch backed Leng’s motion. “What percentage of overtime is not spent?” Fitch asked rhetorically. “If it’s in the budget they will spend it.”
“Every line item of every budget is an estimate,” said Leng.
The motion passed by one vote. Leng, Fitch, Gretchen Callahan, Carol Noble, Prez Al Gorman and Jim Leddy voted in favor, while Colaiacovo, Kennelly, Betty Wetmore, Jim Pascarella, Kath Schomaker and Ozzie Brown voted nay. John DeRosa abstained. (Craig Cesare is out of town.)
Seven departments were reviewed Monday night. But just their expenses. Salaries and revenues will be taken up at later meetings. (Note: All votes taken during budget deliberations are subject to change up through the day the Council adopts the budget.)
The Council revived three accounts in the Assessor’s Office that were unfunded. Two set precedents for all departments to come. In his proposed budget, the mayor took the “dues/subscriptions” money from each department and put it all in Purchasing. Henrici also zeroed out all the “books, maps, manual” line items to merge into one central account. But he didn’t create such an account in his budget.
Fitch defended the mayor’s merging decisions. “In 2004, we moved office supplies to one account and the town saved 20 percent,” he said.
“I think we’re talking apples and oranges,” said Kennelly. He said mops can be bought in bulk and money saved, but each department needs different maps and manuals and they can’t be bought in bulk.
Also, said Kennelly, “It seems like another layer of bureaucracy here. [The department heads] know what they need.”
“Mr. Kennelly took the words right out of my mouth,” said Pascarella. “I don’t see any savings. It kind of puts the purchasing agent” as overseer of the accounts.
On the motion to fund “dues/subscriptions” in each department rather than have Purchasing collect all the dough, only Fitch voted nay. No vote was needed on the “maps, etc.,” because those accounts weren’t funded anywhere in the budget.
Council approved $1,370 for maps; $1,000 for dues; and $1,250 for “education seminars,” which the mayor also unfunded, for the Assessor’s Office.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $336,644
This was the first department of the evening that had an overtime account, and so Leng’s 20 percent-cut experiment was put to the test.
“Cutting overtime is a false budget. I’d rather be honest,” said Wetmore. She pointed to the Building Department’s OT allotment of $900 and asked Leng if he wanted to reduce it to $720 when more than double that amount has so far been used this fiscal year.
“I don’t know what would be honest,” said Leng. “Overtime is for emergencies. Nobody’s going to know until the end of the year” how much they need.
Kennelly concurred most OT is for emergencies but said it didn’t make sense to reduce it.
“Now we’re creating a situation when [department heads] have to ask for money for overtime,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Not only did Leng lose his fight to cut 20 percent of Building Department OT, but his peers also voted to increase the OT from $900 to $1,500. They also put a grand in the unfunded “dues” account and $900 in the unfunded “maps” account.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $328,627
This division has three accounts. Unfunded “maps” got $1,000 from the Council.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $5,500
Again overtime hit the Council bench. And again it was increased. The mayor recommended $250. The Council doubled it.
“How come they get overtime? They’re not in the union,” said Fitch.
Schomaker said currently the two animal control officers get comp time for working extra hours. The $500 “is an option for them to get some overtime,” she said.
But Animal Control’s expenditure budget was evened out when the Council lopped in half the mayor’s $500 for “safety equipment.”
Colaiacovo wanted to add $4,500 to spay/neuter feral cats. He said nonprofit animal agencies would have the cats fixed at about $30 a head.
“It’s a good idea,” said Noble, “but I don’t want to put something [in the budget] by pulling numbers out of the air.” She said she wanted to see documentation on how this would work.
“There’s also some thunder from cat lovers to raise money for this,” said Schomaker.
Colaiacovo’s motion was tabled while more info is obtained.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $109,562
Board of Ethics
The board has one line item: “legal/lawyer” for $1,000. Henrici slashed it in half. The Council restored it.
“It’s not a good appearance” to cut that money from Ethics, said Leng.
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $500
Overtime was again an issue. Wetmore defended the mayor’s request for $20,000 (the library asked for $25,100).
“You say we’re falsifying the budget,” Leng said to Wetmore. “I respectfully disagree with you. This is one [overtime account] we should be comfortable with.”
The overtime was left intact, and the Council restored $500 to “education incentive,” which the mayor had wiped out, and $3,000 for “dues/subscriptions.”
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $1,715,752
Economic & Community Development
Wetmore asked why Economic Development’s “professional meetings” account was transferred to the mayor’s office. She was told that all “professional meetings” money was going there under Henrici's proposed budget.
But the Council nixed the transfer and funded the line item in Economic Development, but for $300 not the $500 that would have gone to the mayor’s office.
“It’s clearly an Economic Development account,” said Leng. “This is where it should go. The mayor’s office is not really the contact.”
“Make sure you take [“professional meetings”] money out of the mayor’s budget,” said Wetmore.
Leng made a motion to approve a 3 percent raise for grants coordinator Chris Marchand -- from the mayor’s proposed $49,500 to the department’s requested $51,100. Currently, 30 percent to 40 percent of Marchand's salary comes from the grant money he brings into town and the remainder from the general fund. But Leng wanted to change that to 50 percent from grants and 50 percent from the fund.
“We’re not giving anyone raises,” said Wetmore.
“He deserves a raise,” said Leng. “He brings back the amount that is his salary and six or seven fold.”
“Let’s reward this very successful grant writer so we don’t lose him,” said Schomaker.
“If we do a 3 percent raise for the grant writer our phones would be ringing off the hook,” said Colaiacovo. He suggested taking up Marchand’s salary with the others.
“I think Mr. Marchand is doing a wonderful job but a lot of people are,” said Wetmore. “What’s fair is fair.”
The mayor depleted Economic Development's “business travel” account of $200. “Mr. Kroop needs business travel money,” said Leng.
Henrici also cut the funding for the town’s membership to Regional Growth Partnership. Leng and others said Hamden gets a lot back from RGP. The annual cost is $23,580.
That money was put in the mayor’s office this fiscal year. But Leng said that’s not a good home for it.
“If we put the money in the mayor’s budget, he may not join RGP,” he said.
The Council approved the new RGP line account; reinstated Kroop’s request for $200 for “business travel”; gave Marchand the raise and approved funding his salary half from grants, half from the public trough; put $1,500 in “dues/subscriptions”; and $50 for “maps.”
Mayor’s total for expenditures: $171,513
At 6:30 tonight at Memorial Town Hall, the Council will deliberate the budgets of the Arts Commission, Mental Health, Town Clerk’s Office, Purchasing, Elderly Services and the Planning Department.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On April 11 members of the Street Interdiction Team observed a drug transaction at the corner of Warner and West Easton streets. Upon approaching the individuals involved in the transaction, they fled on foot. Officers were able to apprehend two men.
During a subsequent investigation, officers seized 42 wax folds of heroin (16.7 grams), five bags of cocaine (5.5 grams), 16 Methadone pills, 14 Suboxone pills, drug paraphernalia and $103. The estimated street value of the narcotics is $1,750.
Michael Decristofaro, 45, of 80 Alstrum St., Hamden, was charged with possession of narcotics. He is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on April 25. A New Haven man was also arrested.
April 11, 2008
An upcoming workshop for entrepreneurs is designed to help pave the way
By Sharon Bass
Hamden has about 1,400 businesses.
85 percent have fewer than 20 employees.
73 percent have fewer than 10.
That's according to Economic Development Director Dale Kroop.
“Yes, we have big boxes,” he said, “but they’re not as big a part of the Hamden economy as you would think.”
To draw and retain small businesses, Kroop started the Hamden Business Assistance Center in 2005 with Richard Pearce, the coordinator. The center provides free help with writing business and marketing plans, making cash-flow projections, you name it.
Starting next month, the center will offer for the first time a series of four workshops called “Things You Should Know and Do for Small Business Success.” (Click here for workshop details.) With the nonstop big-box invasion coupled with a very weak economy, the workshops seem particularly timely to help the small guy succeed.
Pearce said Hamden is one of the best places around for entrepreneurs to make it.
“I think it is much more fertile than many of our surrounding towns because of the ethnic diversity of the town. The Asian community. The Hispanic community,” he said. “And you also have the economic incentives the town provides. Sometimes the best purpose we provide is to help people realize that now is not the time to start a business.”
Pearce said the business assistance center works with an average of three budding entrepreneurs a week.
Through the Hamden Economic Development Fund, folks can get tax abatements, grants, building-permit fee waivers and low-interest loans to start or expand their shops or practices in town. (Small biz includes doctors, accountants and lawyers as well as retail stores.) Kroop said the development fund gets its loot from sources such as lot sales from the Hamden Industrial Park (50 percent goes to the fund; 50 percent goes into the town coffers). However, he said, all proceeds expected to come from the lots currently for sale at the Dadio Farm (which abuts the business park) will go to the town.
“To stay competitive let’s face it, we don’t have the lowest taxes,” said Kroop explaining the incentives. “We have to stand out and be competitive.”
But, he said, “People from the outside are seeing Hamden as a whole. They still see the positives of the town, the parks, the trails, the beautiful architecture, a brand new middle school.”
"Dale makes it happen"
“Here’s how Dale himself has made a really big difference,” said Guy Ortoleva, vice president of development for Tripeg Studios at 2155 State St. “Dale makes it happen. He puts the parties together.”
Tripeg is a tenant of State Street Partners. The town gave Tripeg a tax deferment when it moved into Hamden. But Ortoleva said Kroop’s TLC is what keeps the business rolling and in turn stimulates the local economy.
“When you call Dale and say, ‘I need help on this,’ he’ll be there. It’s that extra effort on a number of occasions that has made the difference of projects being shot in Hamden versus going to somewhere like Norwalk,” Ortoleva said. Keeping movie projects in town means Tripeg’s clients use Hamden hotels, restaurants and so forth.
Domenic Liuzzi likewise credited the business incentives Hamden offers to why he expanded his business, Liuzzi Cheese, to 86 Rossotto Drive.
He runs the retail store on State Street in North Haven, but when he needed more space for the manufacturing end of his cheese biz, he chose Hamden after getting a $5,000 grant and tax abatement from the town.
“It brought us over the hump,” said Liuzzi. “We wound up going way over budget with the renovations [of 86 Rossotto] so it came in handy. We were looking at North Haven [for expansion]. But North Haven doesn’t have the tax incentives. That helped us make the final decision.”
No tax abatement or other economic measure could have saved Glen Terrace Flower & Gift Shop. After nearly a century in business, the 1960 Whitney Ave. shop is shutting down at the end of April.
“We’re closing due to competition from the big-box stores -- Stop & Shop, Home Depot -- and the Internet,” said owner Jamie Everett Symington.
Her grandfather started the business in 1915 in its current location. Her father eventually took over. When he died five years ago, Symington took the reins. But by then, she said she could smell the shop’s impending demise.
“I felt it the minute I stepped in my role five years ago, but I didn’t want to say die. I loved it. I was passionate about it,” she said. Sales have continually decreased “and over the past eight years the economy has declined,” she said.
“Our customers are very sad. They don’t know where they're going to go for their floral needs,” she said. Symington is a social worker with a background in addictions and will likely return to the field. “Sadly, addictions are thriving.”
And not just drugs and alcohol. The country’s addiction to the “rolled-back” prices of the behemoth, impersonal chain stores is also thriving.
April 10, 2008
By Sharon Bass
After going through documents they received Monday from the administration in response to questions about the mayor taking nearly $6,000 in an unauthorized travel allowance, some councilmembers say they’re still left without answers. Answers, they say, that pertain to the issue.
“I think the issue is whether the charter was violated and whether accounts were misused,” said Councilman Curt Leng. “I thought that a lot of it was a retelling of how the administration feels the mileage policy saves the town money, when this issue did not relate to that.”
In the packet of information Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson gave to the Council, there is no mention of the charter. (Click here to see what’s inside.)
“It’s as incomplete as the [mayor’s proposed] budget was,” said Councilman Gabe Lupo.
“It was an incomplete packet,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “Some of the questions raised by councilmembers were not in there. It gave a chronological order for how it happened but it didn’t explain why he didn’t ask for council approval” to get a travel allowance.
From September 2006 through June 2007, Mayor Craig Henrici was drawing $587 a month from three line items outside his department. He did not ask for council approval for either his allowance or the transfers. The Town Charter requires he do both.
Waiting to be answered
At the March 31 Finance Committee meeting when the mayor’s unauthorized stipend was first discussed (the same day the HDN broke the story), councilmembers asked Jackson for various documents to answer various questions.
Leng asked for date-stamped copies of the requisitions for the allowance, with signatures of those who approved the line-item transfers. He didn’t get them.
He also requested but didn’t get the date-stamped written allowance policy the administration claimed to have made for the mayor.
“It doesn’t seem like these are hard documents to put together,” said Leng. “I’m going to request them again.”
Leng said he wants to hear what Town Attorney Sue Gruen has to say about possible charter violations before he decides whether the matter should go before the Ethics Board. “I think other people want to do it earlier and that’s their prerogative,” he said.
Gruen was on vacation last week and hasn’t yet made a judgment. She could also choose to have Ethics make that decision instead.
“The mayor responded to seven questions from five councilpeople when in actuality there’s more people who asked questions,” said Lupo. “There were questions flying all over the place” at the March 31 meeting.
Henrici responded to questions from the three Republicans on the Council -- Lupo, Betty Wetmore and Craig Cesare -- and Democrats Jim Pascarella and Kath Schomaker. “He claims these are his political enemies,” said Lupo in reference to Henrici’s letter to the Council, read aloud by Jackson at Monday’s meeting. In it, the mayor blames his “political enemies” for the current scrap he’s in.
“That letter was totally inappropriate,” said Lupo. “He’s making this a political attack. It’s not. First of all there are 12 Democrats on the Council and three Republicans. I don’t know how he can call it a political attack. His own party is asking questions. There wouldn’t have even been any questions if he had taken a company car and kept it. It’s not the Council’s problem. It’s his problem.”
(Click here to read Henrici's April 7 letter to the Legislative Council.)
Jackson said he was sending the documents to Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, and Police Chief Tom Wydra said he was forwarding them to State Attorney Michael Dearington.
“I thought, on a positive note, the administration sending the issue to two independent state agencies was a good proactive step,” said Leng. “It was, of course, based on the Legislative Council’s voiced concern of the matter.
“I think the state will look at whether any criminal activity took place. And it will be up to us as a town to look at the local charter issues and finance issues,” he said.
“We’re all supposed to be working for the betterment of the town,” said Lupo. “If Henrici did what he was supposed to do properly, we wouldn’t have to be cleaning up his mess. That’s what we’re doing here. This is not a political ploy.”
Messages seeking comment from councilmembers Carol Noble and Ozzie Brown were not returned.
April 9, 2008
By Sharon Bass
Along with choruses of “You’re spending too much” and “You’re not spending enough,” Hamden taxpayers voiced concerns about the environment and the planned police facility at a public budget hearing last night.
Forty to 50 came to the second, and last, hearing on the town side of the mayor’s proposed ’08-’09 budget of $177.3 million. There were regulars, like resident tax activists Mark Sanders and Marianna D’Albis, and some pretty new faces.
Like Robert Mark of Sherman Avenue.
“I am a concerned citizen and I am a taxpayer,” said Mark. He’s also the chair of the Solid Waste and Recycling Commission. He asked the Legislative Council to please approve funding for two part-time recycling coordinators. The mayor’s budget includes just the current coordinator, Pam Roach, at 19 hours a week for $25,441 and a proposed 3 percent raise.
Marks said Roach is doing an “excellent” job but needs help. “We are a disposable society. The waste we generate is out of control,” he said.
Commission vice chair Andrew Wormser said the town can save money by stepping up recycling efforts. “Both of these positions can pay for themselves,” he said.
Wormser said because there are no tipping fees on recycled materials as there are for trash, the town could save $750,000 a year. He also made a pitch for Roach’s pay hike.
Dianne Hoffman said she was “disappointed” in Leslie Creane's attitude about enforcing the blight ordinance, when the town planner spoke at the department-head budget meeting last week.
“She seemed to care more about the companies, turning a blind eye on the blight and litter,” said Hoffman, a member of the Clean & Green Commission and the Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation. “Now is the time to increase fines” on businesses and others who violate the ordinance.
Tony Sacchetti and two of his men approached the Council as a trio. He said Economic Development Director Dale Kroop needs to get his full $80,000 salary from local tax dollars “like everyone else.” The mayor budgeted Kroop’s salary with 100 percent local money; previously part had come from grants.
“I was surprised to see the elimination of our membership to the Regional Growth Partnership,” said Sacchetti, chair of the Economic Development Commission. He said yearly dues are $23,500 and “the town reaps a lot of benefits.”
Look at Alt-Energy; Rethink Cop House
Aaron Gustafson of the Energy Use and Climate Change Commission and HART suggested contracting with a company that provides onsite electricity generation.
“It allows the town to lock in its energy rate for the next 10 years,” he said. “It reduces the town’s overall energy costs by eliminating transmission fees and moves the town much further along toward its committed goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010.”
Gustafson gave each councilperson a HART-prepared document explaining the alternative-energy program.
Architect and fellow HART member Paul Laroque said the $20 million estimated to build a new police headquarters attached to Memorial Town Hall, as planned, is “grossly underestimated.” He said he’s worked on similarly sized building projects.
Laroque asked where in the proposed budget is money allocated for architectural and demolition fees.
“What will it cost?” asked Laroque.
HART’s Mark Sanders also questioned the financial wisdom of the police project. He said “rushing forward with the police station plans” without public input and meaningful conversation was a sign of the mayor’s “disrespect” for the people.
He predicted if plans go accordingly the project will be a “money pit” and outweigh any small savings achieved from making cuts in the operating budget.
Sanders said Mayor Henrici has shown “disrespect” in other ways, such as taking an unauthorized travel allowance and giving the Council a flawed budget, with revenues projected too high and some expenditures funded too low.
“It’s quite obvious the mayor has disrespected this Council and set you up to be the bad guys,” said Sanders. “It’s reflective of his disrespect for the taxpayers. Hamden homeowners have not been as burdened and battered as the last two years. The average home property tax went up 25 percent.
“We need tax relief and we need it now,” he said. “Your path to that goal has been seriously hindered by the administration. The public is losing confidence.”
Carlton Oneal said the mayor woefully shortchanged him. He’s chair of the Civil Service Commission and said he needs a lot more dough to conduct the testing, screening and other stuff needed to process job candidates.
He asked for $12,500 in test supplies for ’08-’09. The mayor nearly wiped it all out leaving just a thousand bucks. Year to date, the commission has spent $10,000 on such supplies.
Oneal also voiced support for a new position the mayor added to the Personnel Department -- an assistant director for (a prorated) $30,000.
Doing Much More with Less
Fire Capt. Dennis Baker cited statistics to illustrate the need to fully fund the Fire Department, including vacant positions.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, engine companies should be staffed with a minimum of four fighters. “We currently run with three,” said Baker.
Ladder companies should also have four on duty. “We currently run with three,” said Baker.
He said the 1981-82 Hamden Fire budget was just over $3 million for a force of 125, and comprised 7 percent of that year’s $43.1 million town budget. The department’s 2006-07 tab was $9.5 million for 98 firefighters, about 5.5 percent of the $169.8 million town budget.
“State government has added more responsibility to the fire service,” Baker told the Council. “The state added certification levels for all types of services we perform. A few examples are trench rescue, water rescue and hazardous materials. OSHA stepped into the fire service and we now have mandatory training in certain areas such as blood-borne pathogens, infectious disease, mandatory annual health fitness testing. OSHA has added mandatory staff positions within the fire service. We now must have a health and safety officer and an incident safety officer.
“We now have Homeland Securities, terrorism training,” he said. In 1994, Baker said the department had two training officers. Now there is one. “The other one was taken out of the budget,” he said. “I look at it this way. I am not asking to add more positions; I am asking that you return the positions that have previously been taken away.”
Tonight at 7 inside Council Chambers will be the final public hearing on the school budget.
April 8, 2008
"'The politics of distraction' is a well-known tool"
By Sharon Bass
Mayor Craig Henrici blamed his “political enemies” for the current inquiry into the unauthorized travel allowance he took from September 2006 through June 2007 -- seen by some as a potentially serious violation of the Town Charter.
Last night during the Finance Committee meeting, Henrici’s chief aide, Scott Jackson, read aloud the mayor’s written response to questions about the thousands of dollars he received for undocumented, alleged business travel. It was an allowance kept so quiet that even the town council knew nothing about it, but which the charter has a lot to say. (Click here to read the applicable charter provisions.)
After paragraphs of boasting about his accomplishments in office, Henrici got to the point.
“Questions like those enumerated by Council members regarding the implementation of a car allowance policy take time away from the type of work that can have direct impact on the lives of residents,” Henrici writes. “‘The politics of distraction’ is a well-known tool used to mire governments in the quicksand of answering a never-ending series of questions instead of doing the people’s business …
“When the political enemies turn the lens on you, and regretfully I believe that the Hamden political environment is devolving to this state, I hope that you can withstand the same level of scrutiny.”
Angry, insulted, shocked is how some councilmen described their reaction to the letter.
“It was an insult,” said Councilman Mike Colaiacovo. “And a threat. All we’re doing is our job. He’s saying, ‘How dare you ask questions.’”
“I’m a little taken aback that the mayor is saying this is political,” said Councilman Craig Cesare. “There’s people from both sides of the political spectrum that are asking intelligent questions.”
“This problem is not the council’s,” said Councilman Gabe Lupo. “It’s the mayor’s because he refuses to take a town car. Take the car! Every mayor has. Since when do we have to force someone to take a town car?”
The key question many councilpeople like Colaiacovo have is whether the mayor violated the charter by taking money from other departments without council approval. Colaiacovo said a complaint will likely be filed with the Ethics Board to make that determination.
Ethics Chair Colin Odell attended last night’s meeting.
“The council sets the mayor’s compensation, but not being a lawyer I’m not going to offer an opinion on what that means,” he said. “And I don’t have the history of the process relative to the car allowance issue.”
Odell said the mayor’s allowance issue is appropriate for his board to review. He said complaints go through a two-step process: the board determines if there’s probable cause (this is done in private); and if so, “it turns into a full public hearing.” Ethics is charged with offering advisory opinions pertaining to complaints and violations of the charter and code of ethics, he said.
Jackson also handed out packets to the Council of documents that pertain to questions asked at last Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. (Click here to see what’s inside the packet.) However, there is nothing in the packet that refers to the charter.
In his letter, Henrici said to put the issue to rest he is sending the packet to Attorney General Dick Blumenthal and State’s Attorney Michael Dearington “for analysis.” “… the only way to fully close this matter is through unbiased, outside review, and I have decided to take the bull by the horns to ensure that … The residents of Hamden deserve integrity in government …”
But Colaiacovo said he talked with Dearington a few times and was told that before his office would review the information, the town would have to do a forensic audit and the Council would need to decide if the mayor committed a crime.
The councilman said he also talked with the AG’s office and “they had no opinion. It’s kind of senseless to send it there.”
“It’s an opportunity to get some unbiased folks to give an opinion,” responded Jackson.
“This letter is an attempt to buy some more time because the attorney general and the state’s attorney are more than likely not going to act on this,” Colaiacovo said after the meeting.
Cesare asked why there was nothing in the council packet about the charter. Leng said Town Attorney Sue Gruen is to determine whether the mayor violated the book that governs Hamden.
“To me it seems as clear as day” there’s been a charter violation, said Cesare. He pointed to sections 15-1 and 18-8. (Click here to read the provisions.) “I don’t know if it gets simpler than that.”
“The only comment I have is when I asked for the mayor’s W2 forms, I didn’t make this request to insult the mayor,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella. He wanted to see if Henrici claimed his travel allowance in his 2007 taxes.
The mayor took offense to Pascarella’s request in his April 7 letter: “I consider this request an insulting invasion of my privacy. But I will comply and you will see that, as required by federal law, the Car Allowance payments were treated as taxable income. I am releasing this information because I have nothing to hide.”
Pascarella argued it is not an invasion of privacy to ask for a public official’s W2 forms. He said late School Superintendent Alida Begina was asked more than once for her W2s and payment stubs because she was accused of using public dough to pay for her dry cleaning.
“Having had previous experience, I know that is public information,” said Pascarella.
“They’re not in there,” said Jackson.
“My opinion is, this is a first good step,” said Leng. “The administration is bringing it to the state. The Council should look at the town attorney’s answer. I still have questions about the charter myself.”
“I want to go on the record asking why some of the council members’ questions are missing” from the packet, said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker.
Leng made a motion to table the item for “potential action” until April 28, the next time the Council meets.
President Al Gorman asked what kind of actions.
“It could be a number of actions,” said Leng.
Last week, Leng told Jackson he wanted all documents date stamped. Few are.
Page 1: (Not date stamped) Chronology of Car Allowance. Starts with Henrici’s 2005 campaign pledge not to drive a town car, but instead to use a “less-expensive car allowance.” Shortly after taking office, Henrici gets an Explorer, which he gives to the Fire Department later that year and starts taking an allowance in August 2006. In March 2007, he asks Council for a travel allowance and is denied. Mayor is put on the mileage reimbursement plan instead.
Page 2: (Date stamped) A Dec. 20, 2005, request to the council to transfer $30,000 from the Capital Improvement Program to vehicle replacement in the Purchasing Department.
Pages 3 & 4: (Not date stamped) An Aug. 29, 2006, document called, “Calculation of Value of Personal Use of Employer-Provided Vehicles.” It outlines different methods of vehicle reimbursement.
Pages 5-8: (Not date stamped) The Finance Department’s budgets from FY 2006 to the proposed FY 2009.
Page 9: (Not date stamped) A Jan. 8, 2007, memo to Henrici from Arthur Giulietti, risk manager, saying the “vehicle allowance for the Town of Hamden for calendar year 2007 for a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria should be $587.50 per month.”
Page 10: (Not date stamped) A Jan. 8, 2007, memo to Henrici from Arthur Giulietti, risk manager saying the “vehicle allowance for the Town of Hamden for calendar year 2007, for a 2000 Chevrolet Malibu should be $279.83 per month.”
Pages 11 & 12: (Not date stamped) Descriptions of budgeted line items, including “gasoline” and “vehicle maintenance” -- two of the three accounts used to pay Henrici his travel allowance.
The gasoline account is so described: “All town departments except for the Police Dept. gas up at Public Works. The Fire Dept. now gets gas at PW. Fiscal year 2004-05 96,038.00 was expended. The price per gallon has increased .61/gal. over last year to 2.11/gallon.”
Vehicle maintenance is so described: “The fleet is a year older, anticipate about a 4% increase in costs. This account covers repairs to all Dept. vehicles except Fire, BOE, & PW.”
Page 13: (Not date stamped) A May 2, 2007, memo from Scott Jackson to the Legislative Council about reducing the town fleet and car allowances. Jackson writes: “Those not requiring specific daily access to vehicles based on job description (Mayor and Chief Assessor) were targeted for car allowances based on the vehicle being turned in. In the Mayor’s case, he chose to base his allowance on a ‘typical’ vehicle for a Hamden Mayor (Crown Victoria) as opposed to the Ford Explorer he transferred to the Fire Department in September 2006 … The mayor looks forward to continuing to work with the Legislative Council on these issues and will accept any Council determination of the fairest, most cost-effective way to implement this policy.” (The council voted against the “typical” vehicle allowance and put the mayor on the IRS’ cents-per-mile plan.)
Pages 14 & 15: A Nov. 1, 2007, New Haven Register article headlined, “Gambardella, Henrici trade jabs over taxes, spending.” The article says Henrici got $565 a month for travel when first elected, then got his SUV and the allowance stopped. (The article does not say that Henrici took a $587 monthly allowance when he gave the SUV to the fire chief in August 2006. It just says he drove his own car again without mention of any allowance.)
Page 16: (Not date stamped) A Jan. 7, 2008, memo from Scott Jackson to Councilman Matt Fitch claiming the mayor’s mileage reimbursement is $5,713.57 (for 12 months) compared to $10,638.84 to lease a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria. Jackson writes, “Upon taking office, Mayor Henrici proposed a car allowance instead of this take-home vehicle. During the budget process, the Legislative Council elected to fund a mileage reimbursement line instead of the proposed car allowance line. (Jackson does not state the mayor was taking $587 a month before and after the council nixed such an allowance. Nor does Jackson mention that it was in 2007 when the council nixed the allowance, leaving out the period from September 2006 to June 2007 when Henrici was getting the $587.)
Page 17: The New Haven Register’s Jan. 16, 2008, editorial telling critics to leave Henrici alone about his mileage issues. “The Legislative Council sets the rules for the mileage reimbursement,” the editor writes, correctly citing the Town Charter. “Critics of the practice say there should be more detailed information about the mayor’s travels. The Legislative Council could require that- but as long as Henrici does not bill the town for any cross-country vacations, he is saving the town money by driving his own car.”
Page 18: (Date stamped April 7, 2008) Copy of Henrici’s 2007 W2. He claimed $92,530.74 in earnings and paid $12,824.52 in federal taxes. (Henrici’s budgeted salary last year was $87,550.)
Section 5-1: “At each general Town election a Mayor shall be chosen by the voters of the Town. Such Mayor shall be the chief executive officer of the Town and shall receive such compensation and benefits as shall be set by the Council. The Mayor shall devote full time to the duties of the office.”
Section 18-8: “When any department, commission, board or officer (except the Board of Education) shall desire to secure a transfer of funds set apart for one specific purpose to funds set apart for another, before incurring any expenditure therefore, such department, commission, board or officer shall make application to the Council, through the Director of Finance whose duty it shall be to examine the matter, and upon approval of the Council, such transfer shall be made.”
April 7, 2008
Matt Fitch admitted two years ago the administration is not allowed to write its own travel-stipend policy; now he’s changed his tune
By Sharon Bass
At 6:30 tonight, the Henrici Administration is scheduled to explain at a special Finance Committee meeting why the mayor took thousands of unbudgeted dollars for a business travel allowance from three line items without getting council approval -- as mandated by the Town Charter -- and without most councilmembers’ knowledge.
In response to the HDN breaking the story on March 31 that the mayor was clandestinely getting such payments, Mayor Craig Henrici and Councilman Matt Fitch have publicly stated that council approval is not needed. That such an allowance can be done administratively.
While that runs counter to the charter, it also runs counter to statements made by Fitch at the Jan. 3, 2006, council meeting when discussing Henrici’s desire for a SUV, breaking his ’05 campaign promise not to use a town car.
“And it is the case that the Mayor has said and continues to be his goal as Mr. Jackson has stated to move to a car allowance system not just for himself, but for others,” Fitch was recorded saying in the Jan. 3, 2006, meeting minutes. “That’s not an administrative, that’s not something the administration can implement. That’s something that we as the Legislative Council have to legislate and I certainly hope we do that in the next budget season.”
Fitch was right in ’06.
In Section 18-8 (E), the charter says: “When any department, commission, board or officer (except the Board of Education) shall desire to secure a transfer of funds set apart for one specific purpose to funds set apart for another, before incurring any expenditure therefore, such department, commission, board or officer shall make application to the Council, through the Director of Finance whose duty it shall be to examine the matter, and upon approval of the Council, such transfer shall be made.”
Fitch does not return messages from the HDN.
The council did take it up the next budget season, as Fitch said he’d hoped would happen. During those deliberations in spring ’07, the mayor’s top aide Scott Jackson and Finance Director Mike Betz asked the council to approve a $570/monthly travel stipend for Henrici, to begin July 1, 2007. The council said no, it seemed like too high a figure and instead put the mayor on the IRS' accountable 48-cents-a-mile plan. (The accountable plan requires mileage logs to prove business trips. Henrici doesn't report most of the required information on the logs, but Betz authorizes payments anyway.)
Neither Jackson nor Betz ever told the Council that Henrici was already being paid more than what he asked for since September 2006.
In August ’06, the mayor gave his town-issued SUV to the fire chief and started taking $587 a month with the help of Betz, who skimmed the loot from three line items. Henrici got his last $587 payment two months after the council turned him down for $570. He received $5,874 during the 10-month period (September ’06-June ’07).
The administration is also claiming the mayor’s business travel stipend was drawn from appropriate line items. Two accounts Betz dipped into are in Public Works. One is called “gasoline” and is exclusively used to buy gas for town vehicles, according to a PW source who asked not to be named. Same with the “vehicle maintenance” line, which is solely used to maintain town cars. Neither account is or ever has been used for travel reimbursement, said the source. The third account, “insurance liability,” is in the Finance Department.
Former Councilman Ron Gambardella voted against the mayor’s SUV at the Jan. 3, 2006, meeting. He remarked:
“ … I think Mr. Henrici said himself, that in his campaign promises that he wasn’t going to add to the [town vehicle] fleet. And the very first actions that he takes is to add a $30,000.00 gas-guzzling vehicle to the fleet … It gives me some concern that if he’s breaking initial promises what more can we expect from the administration?”
April 3, 2008
By Sharon Bass
Wednesday was Night 2 of department heads coming before the Legislative Council to make their case for their budgets. Night 1 saw the biggies, like police and fire.
Though the cries of needing more to get through the next fiscal year were heard from nearly all, some sobs were for stuff they have no control over (contractual line items) which department heads said the mayor underfunded in his proposed ’08-’09 budget.
Only Finance Chair Curt Leng was a no-show on the Council last night. He later told the HDN that he had to work late at his comic book store in Branford.
Here are some highlights from the long evening.
Let There Be Art
Arts Coordinator Mimsie Coleman was up first on Night 2. She said upfront she rejected Henrici’s budget for her department. She asked for $142,464; the mayor’s proposing $126,150.
Coleman asked for $8,714 in “temporary wages” so she can hire someone part time. The mayor cut it to $2,500. Coleman said last night that she could do with $4,460, as she did this year.
“The office cannot function without another part-time assistant,” Coleman told the Council. She said after she told Henrici about her need “he cut [the line item] even more. I’m hoping you’ll reconsider.”
Her “special projects” account was reduced from her request of $65,000 to $60,000 by the mayor. This line includes the summer concert series. Coleman said with the proposed budget cut and rising performers’ fees there will be four instead of the usual five concerts this summer.
“We really have eliminated every cost that we can,” she said.
Councilman Craig Cesare said “a lot” of concertgoers are from out of town. “I don’t feel we need to pay for the citizens of North Haven and Wallingford,” he said. He asked Coleman about charging nonresidents.
“Our absolute primary goal is to enrich the town of Hamden,” she said. But said most of those who attend the concert series are from Hamden; that it would be difficult to enforce charging only out-of-towners; and that Hamden residents go to free concerts in other communities.
President Al Gorman said Coleman didn’t mention that she collects donations at the concerts. She said last year $5,500 was collected.
Roads, Snowflakes & Leaves
“I know we’re not going to meet these prices,” said newly appointed and reoccurring Public Works Director Joe Velardi. He was referring to his department’s fuel and energy lines in the mayor’s budget. Velardi asked for $200,000 for natural gas; Henrici slashed 40 grand. So far this fiscal year, the department has expended over $170,000 on gas. Heating fuel was reduced from $125,000 to $90,000 for 2008-09. Over $100,000 has been spoken for so far this year, Velardi said.
“What are the thermostats [in town buildings] kept at?” asked Councilwoman Kath Schomaker.
Sixty-eight degrees, said Velardi.
“Can we lower that please?” said Schomaker.
“We have them as low as we can,” said Velardi.
Schomaker said the town attorney told her school buildings can be legally kept at 65 degrees. “Can we enforce that for all town buildings?” she said.
“Sure,” said Velardi.
“And lower at the old middle school,” the 5th District councilwoman said.
Velardi said the amounts proposed by the mayor in many of Public Works’ accounts -- leaf removal, waste removal -- were not realistic.
“What’s in this budget, we’re not going to make it,” he told the Council. Velardi quipped that new Purchasing Agent Rich Cumpstone better be “as good as [former agent] Judi Kozak” at negotiating fuel and energy prices.
“The mayor chopped a lot out of my proposal and we maintain all the town buildings,” said Velardi.
Books & Quiet
Library Director Bob Gualtieri said the mayor’s tab for his department was “doable, as long as you allow an occasional transfer in the spring.”
He said Miller Library saw 350,000 patrons last year.
“That seems like a tremendous number,” said Gorman. “How many are Hamden residents?”
Gualtieri said 80 percent of Sunday traffic is local and it’s “probably the same” for Monday through Saturday.
“Have you looked at closing one branch?” asked Gorman. “I would like to see the savings of cutting one branch.”
“I’ll probably be the only department head to recommend a cut,” Gualtieri said.
He said that the public library system is eligible for a $3,000 state grant if its current budget exceeds each of the last three.
“It’s basically an incentive grant to make sure the towns are supporting their libraries,” said Gorman.
Gualtieri said a total of 425,000 books were borrowed from the three town libraries in 2007.
Local education was up last. Shortly before its 8:30 p.m. scheduled time, a river of elected and appointed school officials flowed into the Council Chambers -- the superintendent and her two assistants, directors, principals, teachers and most Board of Ed members.
The council cannot tinker with school budget line items. It can only set the bottom line. So school officials make a case for their budget without talking about specific accounts.
“We have pockets of excellence and want to make sure that excellence is in all the schools,” said Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz. “Resources are not everything. The budget I bring before you, however, brings the resources necessary for the premier school system we have now.”
Board of Ed Chair Michael D’Agostino and school Finance Chair Ed Sullivan flanked Rabinowitz as she addressed the Council.
“I hope I can convince you that I seriously take the health of the town into account,” Rabinowitz said. “I’m aware of what tax increases do. So I tried to be extremely balanced in my approach [to the budget]. Some of you might not think so.”
She asked her board for $79.2 million for 2008-09, a 6.95 percent hike. The board brought it down to $77.7 million, a 4.86 percent increase. The mayor didn’t touch a penny.
The discussion was dominated by concerns of the astronomical costs for children, classified as special ed, who cannot be taught in town.
“We are getting more needy kids,” said Rabinowitz. She said it costs $84,000 a year to school one student with autism outside of the system. “We do not control these costs. We are mandated. We don’t have any control over special ed.”
There will be a public hearing on the town budget on April 8 and one on the education tab on April 9. Both hearings will begin at 7 p.m. inside Council Chambers at Memorial Town Hall.
From Capt. Ron Smith:
On March 31 at roughly 9:45 a.m., Hamden police responded to 432 Shelton Ave. on the report of a residential burglary. Numerous items were stolen, including jewelery and cash.
Police developed information that led officers to 112 Cherry Ann St. Several items that were stolen from 432 Shelton Ave., as well as a quantity of cocaine, were recovered.
Benjamin Carpenter, 18, of 434 Shelton Ave., Hamden, was arrested and charged with burglary in the 2nd degree, larceny in the 3rd degree, possession of narcotics, possession of narcotics with the intent to sell and interfering with a police officer. Carpenter was detained at police headquarters on a $25,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Meriden Superior Court on April 14.
Also arrested were a man and a male juvenile from New Haven. Additional arrests are expected.
April 1, 2008
The administration needs a week to explain the mayor’s little-known travel stipend
By Sharon Bass
Having just learned that Mayor Craig Henrici was paid nearly $6,000 last fiscal year for business travel -- after the Council turned him down for such an allowance during the same time -- the legislative Finance Committee asked the administration for answers last night.
As reported in the HDN Monday, the mayor was paid $587.49 a month from September 2006 through June 2007 without Legislative Council approval (required by Town Charter) and without most of the Council’s knowledge. The money was taken from three line-item accounts outside of the mayor’s department. Another charter violation.
“My question is, when the accountants reviewed the books [during the annual audit] was this looked at?” asked Councilman Jim Pascarella. He asked for Henrici’s ’06-’07 tax return to see if the mayor claimed the income, and if he pumped town gas into his private car.
Councilwoman Betty Wetmore asked who authorized the $587.49 monthly payments. “Why was it kept under wraps for so long?” she asked. “How did this come to be?”
When the Council rejected last spring Henrici’s pitch for $570 a month for business travel, calling it unrealistically high, neither Jackson nor Finance Director Mike Betz mentioned that the mayor was already getting paid such an allowance. And more than what he asked the Council for.
Jackson offered no explanation last night.
Finance Chair Curt Leng asked Jackson for copies of written polices and expenditures, bearing the official date stamp, pertaining to the travel stipend. Leng also asked for the rationale of using three accounts from which to draw the money and how the amount was determined.
“I think it’s fair to the administration to give them a week” to produce the documentation at the April 7 full Council meeting, said Leng.
Wetmore asked if she could get the info before next Monday.
“What’s been asked for here is voluminous,” said Jackson.
“Could you try for Wednesday?” asked Leng.
“We will try,” said Jackson.
Councilman Craig Cesare said it would be a “good time to revisit the mileage issue that we never got to.” Late last year, Henrici was criticized for submitting mileage logs (the Council put him on the IRS plan of 48 cents a mile after rejecting his desire for a flat $570/month) that were barely filled out, offering no indication where he traveled on business. Also, the number of miles he claimed was highly questionable. According to the latest batch of mile logs obtained by the HDN last Friday, the mayor is still not filling out the logs as is required. (Click here and here to view his recent logs.)
“You can’t call these allegations,” said Cesare of the $5,874.90 Henrici received behind the Council’s back, which was authorized by Betz. “You can see them in black and white.” He was referring to the check-history document obtained last Friday by the HDN through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Councilman Gabe Lupo said he was “curious to know if the Town Council can set a policy” to make the mayor use a town car -- as all Hamden mayors, except Henrici, had driven -- instead of reimbursing him to drive his personal car.
Leng is also seeking a legal opinion from the town attorney. He wants to know if the three accounts used by Betz to cut the mayor’s monthly checks (two from Public Works, one from Finance) were "appropriate accounts for such an expense, per the charter and general financial practices." And if the administration can establish a “new spending program” without the authorization of the Legislative Council. Gruen is on vacation and is expected back next Monday.
The item was tabled until April 7, when Jackson is expected to produce “voluminous” documents to prove the legitimacy of the travel stipend.
Before the meeting Betz was asked if he uses a private car for town travel, in order to learn how he gets reimbursed.
“I’m not saying,” he said to this reporter.
Council has mucho questions, concerns about the town running a cemetery business
By Sharon Bass
It’s because of people like Jackie Grant that the town is seriously considering taking temporary receivership of the Hamden Plains Cemetery. A cemetery that has seen better days.
“I couldn’t find my aunt last year,” said Grant, whose aunt and maybe 10 other family members are buried at Hamden Plains. A headstone was purchased for her aunt when she died last May 4. But when Grant went to visit her last October, she said the headstone could not be found.
Missing and toppled gravestones, vandalism, drug dealing and graffiti mark the Sherman Avenue burial grounds, said Councilman Gabe Lupo during Monday’s Finance Committee meeting.
Throughout the discussion about whether the town should get involved with Hamden Plains, councilpeople raised concerns about the town’s liability and the town’s ability to run a cemetery. Even temporarily.
Mayor Henrici put together a cemetery committee of five that would operate the Hamden Plains fund, find a new groundskeeper and organize a new cemetery association board (currently there is just one elderly woman on the board) and the town would then bow out.
Finance Chair Curt Leng asked how long the transition from town-organized committee to permanent cemetery board would take.
“I’m not sure how long it will take to dig into the problems,” said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson.
“I think I’d feel more comfortable if we had some timeframe,” said Leng. “I don’t want to see us locked into this for a decade.”
The Hamden Plains committee includes Lupo, also a Hamden police sergeant who lives in the 2nd District where the cemetery is; former 2nd D Councilman John Flanagan; former Mayor Barbara DeNicola, a 2nd D rezzie; John Nolan of Nolan’s Hamden Monuments; and Rev. E.J. Moss.
“I do not want to be committed to this for years and years,” said Lupo, adding, “it’s not only going to help the cemetery but the district. The place is in horrendous shape. I don’t want anyone from my family buried there.”
“It’s an emotional thing going to the cemetery and it’s sad, the conditions,” said Council Prez Al Gorman. “Our liability as a town would be limited, so that’s a good thing.”
“I’m appalled at the condition of this cemetery,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella. Because of the condition, state law reportedly allows the town to take over the maintenance of the fund. This was recently confirmed by Attorney General Dick Blumenthal.
The town would not be taking over the cemetery, just the finances. Hamden Plains is owned by those who buy lots there. Kind of like a cooperative.
Still, Pascarella wasn’t satisfied that the town could get receivership. “I want to make sure we have the authority to do this. Blumenthal can be wrong,” he said.
Having reviewed the cemetery’s financial statements, Pascarella said, “This is some of the most creative accounting I’ve ever seen. Looking at this, it’s a little terrifying. I don’t know if the [town] administration has had a chance to look at his.”
He asked if the town knows where the bodies are supposed to be buried since, as in Grant’s case, some gravestones are missing. Jackson said the town does not know.
Councilman Mike Colaiacovo suggested getting a contractor in lieu of the town becoming involved.
“But the bookkeeping is sub par. The board is dysfunctional. The association needs to be replaced,” said Jackson.
“Some of us have reservations,” countered Colaiacovo. “We’re not the best managers” or property maintainers.
“Why can’t the town hire a maintenance person?” said Councilman Jim Leddy. “There’s only one person on this committee with expertise [Nolan]. That would relieve the town of the responsibility, wouldn’t it?”
“Just to clarify Mr. Leddy’s point, the charge of this committee is to hire a contractor,” said Councilman Matt Fitch. “That is what they’re going to do?”
Yes, said Jackson.
“What happens when the money [from cemetery fund] runs out? We don’t know how much they have,” said Councilman John DeRosa.
“That’s something I need to look into a little bit more,” said Jackson. “The fund is solvent but I can look into what would happen if the fund runs out.”
DeRosa continued. “If the current association doesn’t know where these people are buried and there are no maps,” how can the town find out?
“It’s work,” said Jackson. “It absolutely is.”
“I’d like to see this happen fast,” said Councilwoman Carol Noble.
No vote was taken. The measure was tabled until next Monday.
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