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December 22, 2006

See Ya in '07

That's Max Jackson, son of Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. He's typically the hit of every party. Max, that is. Town Planner Leslie Creane is holding him at today's holiday shindig at Government Center. Photos/Sharon Bass

Yup, we're taking some time off over the holidays. It's been an interesting year and '07 promises to be even more interesting. Local elections are coming up. Another budget season is upon us. The Legislative Council will likely decide whether to go for Mayor Craig Henrici's idea to bond the pension fund for $85 million. The town will start planning a new firehouse for the Dadio Farm. The school department is still under fire to produce documents on how it spent last fiscal year's budget dough. There's that proposed hotel for West Woods, which neighbors are vigorously fighting. The town hiring and spending freeze officially kicks off Jan. 1. And lots more.

Have a wonderful holiday and happy New Year to all. We'll be back Jan. 2, ready to tackle another year of the goings-on in the town of Hamden, Conn.

We leave you with this video and photos of the town party today at Government Center.

At the Party
Click the arrow to join the celebration.

Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak (right) and neighborhood activist Joanne Iacobellis.

Former Mayors Johnny Carusone and Barbara DeNicola.

There's 8th District Councilman Mike Germano.

Mayor Henrici cozies up with Miss Hamden, Ashley Reid of Helen Street.

Lew Panzo, Hamden's agent of record, and Scott Jackson, father of cutie Max, and also the mayor's top aide.

Arts director Mimsie Coleman and longtime fire volunteer Duane Wetmore.

The Rev. Richard Morton with at-large Councilwoman Kath Schomaker (shoo-mayker).

The reverend again. This time with state Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven, Hamden).

Police Commissioner Elliott Kerzner and assistant town attorney Mike Kamp.

Council Prez Al Gorman.

December 21, 2006

Fugitive/Cocaine on Belden Road

From Capt. Ron Smith:

On Dec. 19, the police Street Interdiction Team received information that Michael Sullivan was hiding a wanted felon, Cynthia Nelson, at his residence at 289 Belden Road. Furthermore, officers were told that narcotics are delivered to his address on a daily basis.

Police subsequently made contact with Sullivan, who resisted arrest. Meanwhile, Nelson was inside a second-floor bedroom, where cocaine, crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia were found and seized.

Michael Sullivan, 46, of 289 Belden Road was arrested and charged with interfering with a police officer, hindering prosecution and possessing narcotics and drug paraphernalia. Sullivan was detained at police headquarters on a $10,000 bond and given a Jan. 4 court date.

Cynthia Nelson, 28, was charged with possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia, issued a promise to appear and given a Jan. 4 court date. Nelson was turned over to the Madison Police Department concerning two violation-of-probation arrest warrants.

December 20, 2006

Police Contract Ready For Vote

By Sharon Bass

A tentative agreement between the town and police union has recently been reached. A vote is planned for Jan. 3. The police contract expired June 30, 2006. In September, the cops had nixed a different proposed agreement.

“Of course we’re happy we’ve reached an agreement. Now the hard part is to pay for it,” said Mayor Craig Henrici.

According to Finance Director Mike Betz, if the contract is approved it will cost taxpayers $191,277. Retroactive pay would be $102,995; ongoing pay increases through June 30, 2007, $88,281.

Six town locals have ratified new labor agreements since the summer: fire, library, Town Hall, engineers, supervisors and Parks & Rec. Most had expired two to three years ago.

Turning The Corner: A One-Year Report To Residents

As we pass the first anniversary of my inauguration as Hamden’s Mayor, I have had the opportunity to look back to review the challenges we have all overcome over the last year as well as identify some of the opportunities that face us over the coming twelve months.

Financial Management

My pledge to voters during the last campaign season was to use fiscally responsible management as the bedrock of Hamden’s resurgence. Toward this end we have been remarkably successful, as evidenced by the Positive Outlook issued to the Town by rating agency Standard and Poor’s this past July. According to these analysts, Hamden has turned the corner based on the sound management team in place and the commitment to operating within the confines of an honest budget. Make no mistake, this Positive Outlook is good news for Hamden, and the support of the Legislative Council and the Town’s residents have made it possible.

However, the agencies did identify two areas of concern with the Town’s finances: the long period of inactivity on its labor contracts and the serious underfunding of the Town’s pension. We have ferociously attacked the first problem: settling several contracts that had been expired for a number of years and acting quickly to pass one recently-expired contract. These contracts were hanging over all of our heads, and we bargained in good faith for contracts fair to workers and taxpayers alike. The resulting contracts recognize the cost of health care is a problem growing exponentially in our community and we must work to insulate ourselves from these spiraling costs. Too many have focused on bottom-line wage increases as a measure of contract negotiation success when, in fact, the transformation of the Town’s generous health benefit system will have a more significant financial impact on taxpayers.

My administration is working hard to prepare more information for both Council members and the general public regarding the issuance of Pension Obligation Bonds as a solution to our pension issue. The decision to move forward in this process deserves the closest scrutiny, and I am glad that Council members are proceeding forward with the deliberate caution that such a significant issue deserves. The first step is identifying the problem. The next challenge for all of us is to set in place a solution that makes sense and protects future taxpayers from footing the bill when the pension underfunding crisis catches up to us. I ask all Town residents to dig into this issue and encourage your representatives on the Legislative Council to engage in decisionmaking that protects us not only during the next budget year, but into the future.

Fighting For Residents

The job of the Mayor and the Town Administration is more than just fiscal responsibility. It is our duty to stand beside our residents in their fights, to commit our resources to finishing the projects we begin, to find innovative ways of doing business, and to work together to take advantage of our unique community strengths. At a recent meeting of residents of Franklin Road, one attendee remarked to me that, in all of the years the neighborhood complained of flooding problems, this was the first time the Town had brought the right parties to the table to talk about solutions. Responsiveness to citizen needs has been, and remains, my number one priority as evidenced by the Help Desk, which centralizes accountability to citizen requests in the Mayor's Office.

I was proud to stand beside residents of northern Hamden in opposition to the proposed gravel pit just as I have stood beside residents of southern Hamden in the Newhall remediation project. Not only has the gravel pit application been withdrawn, but I have been working with our partners at the Regional Water Authority to put together a plan to purchase the property as open space to prevent any future development of the land. At the same time, the Legislative Council endorsed my proposal to initiate a fund to address homes showing signs of structural damage in the Newhall neighborhood. While there is still a long way to go with that project, I have been truly encouraged by the progress we have made when the Town works with residents instead of at cross purposes. The community has been engaged in reuse planning for the former Hamden Middle School, and I look forward to beginning early next year a neighborhood visioning project that will guide neighborhood redevelopment during and after the environmental remediation.

The Town's relationship with its active veterans has also undergone a profound transformation over the last year. Where conflict once reigned, we now move forward on important projects together. When asked by the Veterans Commission to expand its membership so they could seek members with an expanded base of skills, I worked with the Legislative Council to immediately achieve this goal. The Town recently designated the Veterans Memorial Area within the Town Center Park to preserve the sanctity of the Veterans Memorial. The Veterans Commission has embarked on an effort to bring the Moving Wall―a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial―to the Town Center Park, and Town departments including the Arts Commission, Public Works, and Engineering have all lent their assistance to this very valuable project. This commitment to cooperation will help Hamden heal old wounds and move forward into a new era of collaborative effort.

Finishing Projects

I am also pleased to report progress on a number of projects that had languished for years: the completion of the first phase of construction for the Whitneyville Streetscape; improvements to Borgnine Park; longstanding sidewalk repairs at locations across the town; technology improvements to all of Hamden's elementary schools; and all but the final phase of construction at the Astorino Ice Rink have moved ahead in my first year. We are also expected to close on the purchase of 466 Putnam Avenue in January of 2007, ending years of legal disputes and uncertainty surrounding that property. In addition to these high-profile projects, with the help of the School Building Committee, the Town opened the new Hamden Middle School on time and under budget.

New Ways of Doing Businesses

Of all of my administration's accomplishments over the last year, I am perhaps proudest of the Town's new commitment to doing business in new ways. Financially, we must begin doing more with less, and the Town's movement to open-source software including Linux and OpenOffice which will save tens of thousands of dollars in software licensing fees, is an example of this drive toward new solutions. The Police Department, under new Chief Tom Wydra, has established a Street Interdiction Team dedicated to proactive and targeted enforcement of quality of life issues across the Town. The Town cannot and should not continue “business as usual” operations, and it has been my highest priority to give Department heads the flexibility to improve operations.

As part of my commitment to fostering innovative solutions, I have also maintained an open-door policy with Town employees and residents for serious consideration of new ideas. Of course, one of the most difficult circumstances facing my administration, and in fact any elected official, is when there is disagreement with members of the public over policy direction. I faced this issue when presented with a request from some of Hamden's active citizens that we enact a phase-in of property values after last year's revaluation. While my administration ultimately rejected phase-in and remains unapologetic in its pursuit of fiscal policies that our finance and tax professionals attest will benefit the Town, my door remains open for dialogue regarding any and all creative solutions.

Working Together to Take Advantage of Community Assets

Our work with developing partnerships with groups like Quinnipiac University, where we have created a cooperative, rather than confrontational environment, has yielded positive results in which residents finally feel they have a constructive voice in improving the university's development projects. The new Quinnipiac Hotline also gives residents an immediate channel to the university for daily complaints, comments and suggestions and I am happy that my administration has been able to play the role of intermediary in better integrating the University into the Town's social fabric.

Partnerships have also worked for the Town for short-term projects, notably the use of the former Hamden Middle School for this year's Open Studios event. More than 10,000 people attended this art show, one of the largest of its kind in the country, and it allowed the Town to showcase itself for out-of-town visitors. One of Hamden's strengths is its geographic location and it is critical to our local economy that we market ourselves as a community with many easy-to-find resources.

Another of Hamden's strengths is the long-term residency of so many who call this Town home. And while we can all fondly reflect on the Hamden of our youth, it is also our responsibility to plan for development that suits our needs into the future. Just as the proposed gravel pit was not the right type of development for Hamden, we must proactively court and encourage the type of development that is right for Hamden as this development means lower taxes for residential property owners. My administration has been both creative and forthright in leading the charge for redevelopment of large long-vacant lots on Putnam Avenue, Skiff Street, and Dixwell Avenue. The redevelopment of these parcels will make a real difference to the Town's economy and I will continue to push for appropriate development of the Town's underperforming parcels.

Critical to each of these successes has been work with, and the support of, the civic associations and neighborhood groups that are so closely intertwined with local government not only here in Hamden, but across New England. We have worked to reduce the distance between residents and the citizens the machinery of government serves, and every victory for Hamden residents reflects their enhanced role in the setting of Town goals and priorities.

In a Town that draws its strength from its diversity—a diversified pool of residents, of businesses, of institutions and of interests—we have the tools available to transform Hamden into the Town we all want it to be. This has been a year of challenges, but I am pleased to report that the hardworking men and women who work for the Town have met those challenges and created opportunities for excellence in government. With your support, Hamden has turned the corner and stands ready to meet head-on the issues awaiting us in 2007.

December 19, 2006

Building Exchanges
RonGambardella          Carol Noble                John Flanagan

By Sharon Bass

’Tis the time of year when making a meeting quorum is harder than, say, finding an honest being in the Bush White House. This was the case Monday evening when the ad hoc Town Building Committee waited for a half-hour on the third floor of Government Center hoping for just one member.

But it didn’t happen. Just three of the seven showed up: Council members Carol Noble (at-large), Ron Gambardella (at-large) and John Flanagan (2nd District). Joining them was the mayor’s top aide Scott Jackson and clerk Evelyn Parise. But instead of disbanding, as the School Building Committee did last Thursday when it didn’t have a quorum, the small group chatted among itself, informally.

Jackson passed out a thick document of all town-owned properties, both undeveloped land and buildings. Flanagan said they ring in at $160 million to $170 million.

“We didn’t know everything we own,” he said, explaining the Jackson handout.

“You want to know what you’re dealing with,” said Noble. “We know the obvious ones.”

Those would be the libraries, schools, firehouses, police buildings, Government Center, Old Memorial Town Hall, various Public Works structures and 60 Putnam Ave. The town also owns Laurel View Country Club, which it leases out, various buildings at Brooksvale and Bassett parks, the ice rink, Whitney Water Center and some small, unused properties.

The immediate fate of the old middle school was discussed. Jackson said “area schools” and local service agencies have expressed interest in leasing space in the five-building Newhall Street school. So have town departments, like Public Works and Parks & Rec, but those uses wouldn’t bring in revenue.

Flanagan brought up the antiquated, faulty, pricey heating system at the former school. With just one system for all the buildings, it was burning 500 gallons of oil a day when school was in session, said Gambardella. Flanagan suggested installing individual heating units on the roofs so the entire facility doesn't have to be heated when just portions are being used.

“It’s a very solid building. During the tornado [of ’89], it didn’t move one inch,” said Noble.

Discussion moved to the old Town Hall. Jackson said there’s $30,000 left in its renovation account. That loot will go to restoring the cupola and painting the Council Chambers. Bids for both jobs are expected to go out early next year.

Asked why Public Works can’t do the painting, Jackson said, “You can’t use Public Works for every single job.” He cited quality and efficiency as reasons to go to the private sector.

The quorum-less meeting ended with a few words about the desire to move the school administration from its 60 Putnam Ave. home to Government Center. Then that property can be sold and put back on the tax rolls.

What Hamden's Worth

(Following are the appraised -- or market -- values. Not quite a complete list.)

Government Center, $6.8 million
Memorial Town Hall, $3.3 million
Police Building, 2914 Dixwell Ave., $965,200
Police Building, 2900 Dixwell Ave., $684,000
Keefe Center, $1.84 million
Old Middle School, $10.4 million
Newhall Community Center, $3.3 million
Whitney Water Center, $706,800
Legion Field Facility, $247,700
Bassett Park Facility, $928,300
Brooksvale Park buildings/land, $5.9 million
Laurel View Country Club, $3.4 million
Vo-Ed Building, $1.4 million
Public Works Office, $1.3 million
Circular Avenue Fire Station, $631,700
Hartford Turnpike Fire Station, $825,100
Fire Department, Johnson Road, $556,400

Miller Library, $6.9 million
Whitneyville Library, $456,800
Brundage Library, $595,500

BOE Central Office, $2.6 million
Hamden High, $48.6 million
New Middle School, $14.4 million
Alice Peck School, $3.6 million
Bear Path School, $7.9 million
Church Street School, $8.2 million
Dunbar Hill School, $5.5 million
Helen Street School, $6.4 million
Ridge Hill School, $8.7 million
Shepherd Glen School, $5.5 million
Spring Glen School, $10.9 million
West Woods School, $8.9 million
Wintergreen School, $8.4 million

December 15, 2006

Check’s in the Mail

One of the town’s three volunteer firehouses gets the financial thumb up from Henrici

By Sharon Bass

As first reported in the HDN on Dec. 8 by former Fire Chief Tim Sullivan, the mayor has been withholding the annual contributions to the town's three volunteer fire companies since July. Craig Henrici said he wants to see their budgets to determine how they spend the money they get from the town. 

The announcement has caused public outrage that the mayor would deprive volunteers, as well as agreement, that the town has the right to scrutinize entities it gives money to (the fire companies are private businesses).

Well, Finance Director Mike Betz just scrutinized the Mix District Fire Company’s financial records and everything looked kosher, so it will continue to get its budgeted $21,175 a year, paid out monthly.

“I gave all the paperwork to Mr. Betz and his assistant Jen, and they went over it with a fine-tooth comb and I have complete confidence in their expertise and professionalism,” said Henrici. “It appeared they [Mix District station] run a small deficit even with the town’s funds. But that’s their problem.”

Betz is currently reviewing the Mt. Carmel firehouse’s budget. And Henrici said he has yet to get that information from the Dunbar Hill fire volunteers.

“If the numbers don’t add up, we’re going to question it. It’s the way you do business,” the mayor said. “We were making sure the monies we gave them were spent appropriately.”

If Dunbar Hill gets the Betz stamp of approval, the town will give the fire company the budgeted $22,116; and Mt. Carmel would get just under $20,910.

December 13, 2006

Chiefs Respond to Hiring Freeze

Berardesca. File photo       Wydra. File photo

By Sharon Bass

The Town Council has been seeing beefier overtime requests from public safety and there doesn't seem to be much hope for relief in sight. The Police and Fire departments are down 11 souls apiece. And with the nearly certain hiring freeze the mayor plans to very soon enact, it’s unlikely enough cops and firefighters will be added to the forces.

“You’re depending more and more on people for overtime and it grinds on you,” said Fire Chief David Berardesca. “The paychecks are good, but in the long run you want your firefighters to be healthy.” This month, he got a Garcia (overtime at time and a half) transfer because of the vacancies, and said he expects to ask the Council in February for $100,000 for straight overtime.

“You have to look at it two ways,” the fire chief said. “You either hire and pay benefits or pay overtime.”

Both Berardesca and Police Chief Tom Wydra hope they may be allowed to add a few more members to their departments, despite the freeze. Finance Director Mike Betz said there could be some wiggle room, especially for public safety.

“I’m hoping for that,” said Berardesca. “It’s difficult for me because I know what the [firefighters] are going through. There’s no complaints at all. It is nice. They’re not complaining because they’re making a lot of money. It’s [because it's] their job and they know it. And they’re family. They work good together.”

According to the chief, the Fire Department is supposed to have 92 fulltime employees plus six staff members -- the chief, deputy chief, a captain, fire marshal and superintendent and assistant super of apparatus. It has 81. State law mandates at least 23 fighters on 24/7. Meanwhile, Berardesca said the demand for service is growing. In fiscal year ’05-’06, there were 8,889 calls. He predicted over 9,000 this year.

“We have vacancies in every shift,” he said. They’re filled by someone working overtime. Firefighters are paid straight time until they’ve worked 182 hours in 24 consecutive days, the chief said. Then it kicks into Garcia pay.

The police are budgeted for 107 but have 96 officers. Wydra said 10 of the 11 are for entry-level cops and the other for a detective.

“I’m working with the mayor and the finance director and I recognize their concerns with the overall budget for the town,” he said. “At the same time, I’m continuing to maintain dialog with them about filling the vacancies as soon as we can.” And didn’t want to elaborate until the freeze is officially announced and Wydra knows where his department stands.

 Both chiefs assured public safety is not a concern.

“We’ll do the best we can with what we have, and the public safety won’t be jeopardized,” said Berardesca.

December 12, 2006

Municipal Brakes

Craig Henrici. File photo

Mayor Henrici says hiring and spending freezes likely and imminent -- and maybe layoffs next year

By Sharon Bass

Both Mayor Craig Henrici and Finance Director Mike Betz say Hamden is not in financial trouble. However, the pension fund is woefully underfed and the administration is trying to convince a very unconvinced Council that borrowing $85 million to feed it is the way to go.

Now there’s “a distinct possibility” that “within a couple of weeks” the mayor will impose hiring and spending freezes on Town Hall and possibly lay off some workers next fiscal year. More than any one reason, he pointed to the recent ratification of six long-expired labor agreements as the catalyst.

“We finally settled union contracts that were two, three and four years unsettled,” said Henrici. “So the lion’s share of the money that is going to fund the retroactive payments and the going-forward payments will have to come from [existing] vacancies and attrition.” He said department heads have been filled in about the freeze, which doesn’t need Legislative Council approval.

The mayor said he doesn’t know how long it will last. Between the police and fire departments, there are about 20 vacancies. “There’s vacancies all over,” said Henrici. “People retire. People get promoted. We can’t rule out layoffs for the next budget season. But no one’s getting laid off now.”

Messages left yesterday afternoon with Fire Chief David Berardesca and Police Chief Tom Wydra were not returned.

The six settled contracts cost the town $1.7 million for combined retroactive pay and ongoing salary hikes through June 30, 2007, said Betz. Labor agreements for Parks & Rec, Town Hall, engineers, library, fire and supervisors were recently ratified. But police and Public Works still have expired contracts. The police’s ended on June 30, 2006; Public Works’ on June 30, 2005. The latter is currently in arbitration. While there won’t be a large sum of retro pay for police, Betz said if its contract mirrors the Fire Department’s, salaries will jump 2.5 percent for the ’06-’07 fiscal year and require a significant infusion. It’s unknown what the price tag will be for Public Works’ back wages and pay hikes.

And the under-funded pension and self-insurance plans and a not-too-healthy fund balance -- the town’s rainy day fund -- have also led Henrici to put on the brakes. “I knew this coming in [to office] and we’re turning the corner,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets [about the freeze]. It’s something you have to do. I’m not regretting doing the right thing. I regret not having more money.”

Reportedly, there was at least one hiring freeze during the Amento Administration.

Betz, who became Hamden's finance director last November for a second time around, said it’s unusual for a town to have so many expired labor agreements at one time.

“I can’t think of any other towns around that has had that experience,” he said. “That was something we walked into. So it was extraordinary that we had to deal with that. Now the operating budget has to find a way to meet those extraordinary obligations. I was surprised at the pension funding level. Also cash was a problem but that was taken care of with the sale of the WPCA [Water Pollution Control Authority].”

Betz was finance chief from 1987-1990, during the Carusone Administration.

“From a financial structural point of view, the town was in pretty good shape [then]. But lots of budget battles. Pension fund was in good shape. The fund balance was in good shape,” said Betz. The pension account was 80 percent funded.

When he returned to Hamden Town Hall in late 2005, he said found the retirement fund had dropped to 29 percent full and the fund balance “not awful, but not in as good shape [as it was in the late ’80s]. It is some indicator of your liquidity [cash].” This year, some of the rainy day cash was put into the current budget for tax relief, said Betz.
December 11, 2006

Green Scare

The Dunbar Hill Volunteer Fire Company could take a big money hit. Photo/Sharon Bass

Volunteer fire companies at brink of losing longtime town funding

By Sharon Bass

Since at least 1956, the town has never failed to make annual contributions to the volunteer fire companies, said Victor Mitchell, president of the one on Mix Avenue. The contributions are paid out monthly. But not a dime has gone out since July 1, 2006, the first day of the new fiscal year.

“I think it’s petty. I’m shocked. For what we give back to the town,” said Mitchell, president/captain of the Mix District Volunteer Fire Company #7. He said he’s been a fire volunteer for 33 years.

According to Scott Jackson from the mayor’s office, a decision was made to withhold the $64,500 that is budgeted for, but not equally among, the three volunteer houses on Mix Avenue, Mt. Carmel and Dunbar Hill. Paid firefighters also use the Mt. Carmel station.

“We scrutinize every line in the budget now,” said Jackson. “What do the taxpayers get out of it?” So the three fire companies were asked to submit budgets and other financial information to show how they are spending their yearly municipal allowance.

“Without the data, there’s no way of knowing how the money is being spent,” he said.

And that is making volunteers like Mitchell pretty peeved. Since they are private companies separate from the town, they say they don’t have to submit financial data but are willing to. They point to the services they provide to the town, to the fact they pay property taxes (Mix Avenue’s tax bill was over $7,000 last year) and spend 10s of thousands of dollars on trucks and building repairs.

They also have incomes. Mitchell said his company rents exclusively to a dance company, which pays about $10,000 a year. Dunbar Hill is rented for parties and meetings. George Hindinger, president of the Dunbar Hill volunteer fire company, could not be reached over the weekend. Neither could Mike Bessette, president of the Mt. Carmel entity.

Fire Chief David Berardesca said he was told in August, one month after he joined the Hamden force, that the payments are being withheld.

“It was the mayor’s decision,” he said. “He wants to do a needs assessment of the funding. I think he’s trying to save money. By no means is he slighting the volunteers. I don’t see any disrespect.”

Berardesca also talked about how hard it is to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. Many come on young and leave to marry, return to school or get a second job. He said the town has about 40 fire volunteers.

“It’s a petty way to pinch pennies, if that’s what the mayor is doing,” said Mitchell. “We’re there for everything. If the town needs us, we’re there.” In addition to assisting in fires, which has become pretty rare, volunteer firefighters organize the July 4 fireworks, do holiday food drives and help out as needed during snowstorms and floods.

“It’s a burden on us. We have bills to pay like everyone else,” said Mitchell. His company was getting $1,499.67 a month from town coffers, he said, until the payments abruptly and silently ended this past June.

On Aug. 22, 2006, Mayor Craig Henrici sent a letter to Mitchell, saying:

“Would you be kind enough to contact me regarding the lease agreements for the above-referenced stations.

The agreement regarding the Mt. Carmel station may be appropriate inasmuch as same is also used by our paid firefighters. The remaining two agreements may not be fiscally prudent for the Town. I look forward to speaking with each of you.

Very truly yours,

Craig B. Henrici

cc: D. Beraradesca, Fire Chief”

Mitchell said he met with Henrici a few days later. “I was the first one [to meet with the mayor about the issue]. It was an informational-type meeting. He wanted to know the history of the firehouse. What do you guys do and stuff like that. He asked where the money goes. I think he thinks we take cruises or something,” Mitchell said. 

On Nov. 5, he wrote a letter to the mayor explaining his company’s finances. In the letter he wrote that expenses exceed income “dramatically … It would be a tragic loss if this tradition [volunteer firefighting] have [sic] to come to an end.” According to Jackson, Mix Avenue is the only company so far to submit its budget to the mayor.

Victor said he’s not heard back from Henrici.

December 6, 2006

State Hears Retroactive Pay Dispute

By Sharon Bass

Retired town employees are entitled to back pay because they worked under expired contracts for years and didn’t get their raises.

Retired town employees are not entitled to back pay because the new labor agreements do not specifically say so. And unions cannot represent them because they no longer work for the town.

Last Friday, two unions, the town and the state spent three hours in Government Center hashing over this difference of opinion during an informal, investigative hearing.

Both the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the United Public Service Employees Union had filed prohibitive practice charges against Hamden in October, because the administration refuses to give 30-some-odd retirees retroactive cash and an increase in their pensions. New contracts were ratified this fall. The unions’ charges led to the Dec. 1 hearing. The state Board of Labor Relations expects to render a decision soon, which either side can appeal -- and from all reports, will appeal.

“I believe the state board agrees with the town, even though it was an informal hearing,” said Hamden’s labor attorney, Chris Hodgson.

It seems the state does.

Nancy Steffens, a labor department spokeswoman, said the purpose of the meeting was “to determine if there’s any merit to the union claming that retirees should receive the retroactive pay. And as a result of this informal conference, it appears that in this case unions can only represent employees,” not retirees.

She said she didn’t know when the labor board’s opinion would be issued. “It’s rather quick but I can’t give you a specific date. If the decision is appealed, it will go to a formal hearing,” Steffens said.

Kevin Murphy of AFSCME, which represents five local bargaining units in the matter, said he expects the state to side with the town and his union will fight it.

Labor contracts for the Town Hall, Parks & Rec, engineers, library and supervisors locals had expired two to four years ago. New ones were ratified this year with typical pay hikes of 2.5 percent to 3 percent for each year employees went without a contract. Former Public Works employees, who are organized under UPSEU, are also affected.

So far, legal fees for this battle have amounted to about $2,500, said Hodgson, who estimated at least $100,000 would be owed to retirees plus pension adjustments, which would amount to “a lot” of money over many years.

“The union doesn’t represent retired employees. The town does not have to bargain with retirees,” the lawyer said. The contracts do not specifically mention retirees being entitled to retroactive raises. However, they do stipulate they get health benefits and pensions.

“What they have to do is show a contract where the town agreed to pay [retirees]. We’re keeping an open mind about it,” Hodgson said. “They’re asking for pay for people who were terminated or resigned years ago. We have to pay the employees we do have, never mind the people who don’t work for us.”

Murphy said labor agreements in some towns specify that employees must be on the active payroll when new contracts are approved in order to qualify for back pay. But Hamden’s don’t.

“You went through the [2005 local] election campaigns. We’ve been through two administrations. Two sets of attorneys,” he said of the reasons it took the town so long to finish negotiating. “From our viewpoint, it’s all about money. That’s all it comes down to. Hamden has financial problems and they don’t want to pay their employees what they earned.”

Hodgson, whom the mayor brought on in March to replace George O’Brien, agreed it’s unusual to have so many expired contracts. He said he’s been doing this kind of legal counsel for 21 years and currently represents five towns. “I think what the bottom line is, if the unions show the town that the town has a pattern of paying [retirees back wages] that would be a factor, but I haven’t seen it,” he said.

Just one case of a Hamden retiree, a firefighter, getting retroactive pay is known. “And they shouldn’t have paid him,” said Hodgson. “He was paid in error.”

“We believe there are others,” said Murphy. He said he asked for personnel records on retirees and others who left town employment over the last 10 years to see who might have received back pay, but to date has only been given names and dates of employment -- no payroll info.

Messages left for Personnel Director Ken Kelley were not returned.

December 5, 2006

Two More Labor Agreements OK’d

By Sharon Bass

The new library and fire contracts easily sailed through the Legislative Council last night. There was only one opposing vote. Councilman Ron Gambardella said no to the fire.

“I think it’s a fair contract,” Councilman Michael Colaiacovo said of the fire agreement, which expired five months ago.

“I believe it’s an improvement on the current contract,” said his peer John Flanagan.

Firefighters were given a 2.5 percent pay hike. Some $94,000 will go to retroactive pay and $120,000 to cover the raises through June 30, 2007. That does not include overtime.

The library contract was a different story. After months of unsuccessful negotiations, the agreement, which ran out June 30, 2003, was held up for one year in binding arbitration. Of the 70 disputed issues, the state was asked to make decisions on 24, said Personnel Director Ken Kelley.

The day before Thanksgiving, a decision was handed down: the town won 16; Local 1303-115 of AFSCME, eight. The Council had 25 days to vote on the state award before it automatically went into effect. If rejected, it would have returned to binding arb and the town would have wracked up more legal and other fees.

“This has taken an excruciating amount of time,” Kelley said. “We won most of the monetary issues.” The most significant town win, he said, was stripping the health insurance benefit from part-time library employees hired after Feb. 1, 2004. They can still get coverage but now have to pay the full cost of the monthly premium.

There are 22 full-time and 14-16 part-time library workers, he said, and was unsure how many of the part-timers will be affected by the change.

The vacation provision for librarians hired after July 1, 2006, was also scaled down. Under the old labor agreement, they received two vacation days a month from the get-go. “Nobody gets a benefit like that. It was better than for any department head in town,” said Kelley. “And it was a scheduling nightmare.”

However, the concession to the union was to keep the nonprofessionals’ vacation benefit the same, which now exceeds what their professional counterparts get until they put in 20 years of service.

“I think it was good for the town,” Kelley said. “I’m not totally happy with it which means it was a fair award.”

“I find the results extremely interesting,” said Gambardella. “It would seem the union’s position was unreasonable being that we won 16 of the 24 points.”

Still, he voted with the rest of the legislative body to unanimously approve the deal.

The Hotel is Back

The map in the new application. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

After being shot down on March 1 to build a hotel in northern Hamden, the developer appealed the decision in court and is now back with another plan. The Inland Wetland & Watercourses Commission was to take up Westwoods Properties’ slightly revised application tomorrow, but that seems unlikely.

Thirty-three neighbors opposed to the hotel filed a petition asking for a public hearing. Therefore, Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops said he expects the commission will table the agenda item. It is a modestly scaled-down version of the original blueprint for a hotel/conference center at 55 West Woods Road.

Gail Traester is one of the 33. The Brooksvale Avenue woman said she is not surprised there’s a new application because of the appeal, which is still pending in New Haven Superior Court.

“I just don’t think a hotel in northern Hamden is appropriate because of the rural character,” she said. And then listed the reasons that were brought up at meeting after meeting before the IWW denied the project last March: too much traffic congestion, disturbance to the serene area and rainwater runoff from the hotel's blacktop, which could harm the roads and contaminate the tributary that runs through the property and feeds into the Mill River.

But Stephen Wright, an attorney for Stratford-based Westwoods Properties, said there was no good reason to deny the project in the first place. “[IWW] went way beyond the scope of their jurisdiction. And [its denial] wasn’t based on sufficient evidence,” he said. The appeal was filed April 11, 2006. The town responded roughly two weeks ago.

So while awaiting the court’s decision, Wright said the developer is covering its butt by submitting a new proposal. “We made an attempt to make the plan more appealing to the Inland Wetland even though we felt the first plan was adequate,” he said.

Westwoods’ second application calls for 90 hotel rooms, down from the original 101, a 1,500-square-foot conference center, a 500-square-foot restaurant, smaller parking areas and “more engineering on the water runoff,” said Wright.

Unlike last time around, the developer will have a new hurdle to clear if it gets past IWW. Last month, the Planning & Zoning Commission passed an amendment requiring a special permit for hotels and motels. The new stipulations include a minimum lot size of 80,000 square feet, no more than 20 bedrooms per acre and vehicular access to one of Hamden’s four main roads -- Whitney, Dixwell or Sherman avenues or State Street.

The revised plan meets the first two criteria -- the lot is 5.8 acres, which allows for more than 100 bedrooms -- but Kops said he’s unsure about the third. The wooded parcel, which the developer has partially clear-cutted, is on the north side of West Woods Road, abutting residential property on the west and the Farmington Canal Trail on the east. It’s unclear how access to Whitney Avenue could be made.

“I don’t fight everything. I pick and choose my battles,” said Traester, a lifelong Hamden resident. And a hotel in her quiet, rural neighborhood is a worthy battle.

Michelle Brand of Brooksvale Avenue also signed the petition. “Just like the first application, this hotel would be sited very close to the Mill River,” she said. “We really want to make sure the public drinking water and the purity of the Mill River are protected.”

In its revised proposal, submitted to the town on Oct. 13, the developer wrote: “The intent of this application is to provide the community with a hotel while reducing the visual impact, especially relative to the perspective from the [Farmington] trial and Whitney Avenue, and to ensure both short term and long term water quality.”

Critics have also questioned whether a hotel up north would be successful. Wright said the business generated by visiting professors, parents and others connected to Quinnipiac University would fill the rooms.

What Berardesca Wrote

Chief Berardesca. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Last Monday, the Council’s Public Safety Committee scrutinized a $20,000 donation from a developer who has fire code problems in his Mix Avenue apartment complex. The next day, Fire Chief David Berardesca sat down to write an ethics policy just for his department. (Click here to read it.)

Fairfield Residential, owner of the Broadmoor apartment complex, offered $20,000 to the Fire Department and $10,000 to police.

While the Council had thanked Berardesca on Nov. 27 for adhering to an ethics policy when considering the donation, he later said he had not written such a document and was just following the town’s.

Again last night at the full Council meeting, members expressed conflicting views on the 20 grand they were to vote on. Bob Westervelt, a retired fire marshal, said he was concerned about the perceived conflict of interest. Fairfield Residential had offered the donation while it still has fire-code upgrades to make on its newly acquired complex.

“You’re assuming that the help [fire employees] would be bribed, and I severely object to that,” said John Flanagan.

“I hold the men and women who serve in the fire and police department in the highest regard,” said Berita Rowe-Lewis.

“I can’t in good conscience vote for something that has the appearance of impropriety,” said Ron Gambardella. He suggested the money be put into the general fund instead.

“I just want to make sure there are no strings attached,” said Betty Wetmore. “I agree with Mr. Westervelt that you have to be diligent.”

Westervelt said he wanted to avoid “giving the impression to anyone in Hamden that donations are expected.” When he was the town’s fire marshal, he said he wouldn’t even discuss accepting gifts from the businesses he inspected.

“I’d walk away. It wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said.

Curt Leng said he was on the fence about approving the donation until he heard Westervelt’s objections.

“We need to make every donation transparent,” said Leng. “I think it’s the timing of the donation that’s a problem” because the apartments are still being inspected.

Mike Germano said it was a generous gift, which the town should appreciatively accept. The vote was 11-2. Gambardella and Leng voted no, and Carol Noble and Al Gorman were absent.

There was no discussion about the $10,000 gift to the police, and the vote was unanimous.

Berardesca's Policy

Hamden Fire Department
Administrative Regulation #06-02

Department Code of Ethics

(From the town code):

All personnel associated with the Hamden Fire Department, either in a paid or volunteer capacity [sic] shall follow the regulations set down in Chapter 30 of the Town of Hamden’s Personnel Policy Handbook entitled “Code of Ethics.”

This policy states that:

“No employee of the Town of Hamden shall either individually or as a member of a group, directly or indirectly, solicit or accept any gift or gratuity from any person or organization with whom the Town has, has had or may expect to have a business relationship which could cause or create the appearance of a conflict with or influence the performance of the employee’s duties with the Town. Any gift or gratuity must be refused or returned with a letter referring to the Town’s Code of Ethics Policy, which should have been previously sent to concerns doing business with the Town. The only exception recognized is for advertising matter which has negligible monetary value and which is widely distributed or generally available without charge.

(What Berardesca added):

Any member of the Hamden Fire Department who is approached with an offer of a gift, donation or gratuity shall obtain as much information as possible and convey this information to the Fire Chief for follow up [sic] investigation. The Fire Chief shall then reach a determination as to whether the offer is in the best interest of the Hamden Fire Department and the Town of Hamden and does not violate any section of the Code of Ethics.

Offers that are determined to be legitimate and in the Fire Departments [sic] and Town’s best interest shall be forwarded to the Administration and the Town Attorney for additional investigation and approval.

The offer shall then be presented to the Legislative Council in the form of a resolution along with the appropriate documentation. The gift donor or a designee should expect to be present at the Legislative Council meeting at which the resolution is presented.

It shall be the ultimate decision of the Legislative Council of the Town of Hamden as to whether to expect [sic] or reject any offer of funds, goods or services offered to the Hamden Fire Department.

(Back to the town code):

As per Section 30.03 of the Code of Ethics [sic] Violation of the Code or Section 19-3 of the Charter, [sic] may constitute a cause for suspension, removal from office or employment, or other disciplinary actions.

David A. Berardesca
Fire Chief


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