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Town Government

June 30, 2006

Just Talk?

Curt Leng takes notes during yesterday's committee meeting. Photo/Sharon Bass

The possibility of a revaluation phase-in is alive, but certainly not well

By Sharon Bass

Scott Jackson came to speak about why phasing in the new property taxes would not work. Not now. Not in Hamden.

The town's chief administrative officer was prepared at last night's Council Finance Committee meeting with pages of figures prepared by Town Assessor Jim Clynes. Jackson threw around dollar numbers and percentages to argue his case. They spelled out bad news for some property owners should a three-year phase-in occur.

"My goal here tonight was to put some data in your ears. You can do what you want with the numbers," he said.

Eight members of Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief sat in the audience, holding their signs pleading for a phase-in, listening to Jackson's mathematical explanations and conclusions. They were not allowed to speak, Finance Chair Curt Leng had announced, but they did react from their seats. They moaned. They shook their heads. They said "no, no, no" out loud many times.

"The winners and losers in a phase-in are just not the right people," Jackson said.

No, a few voices called out.

Whitneyville resident Mark Sanders was one of the eight. He's leading the HHTR's push for a phase-in. On June 12, he presented his phase-in scenario to the Legislative Council. It differed quite a bit from Jackson's.

Sander's version shows an average $335 savings for the first year. A phase-in, he's argued, would help residential property owners. Last fall's reval shifted 3 percent more of the tax burden on homeowners and off commercial property owners. And while the average assessed home value shot up 89 percent, commercial buildings rose about 15 percent.

The reason for the difference in Sanders' and Jackson's calculations, it turned out, is state law. There are two statutes for phase-ins: 12-62a, a simpler method which Sanders used; and 12-62c, a much more complicated formula Jackson chose.

But in the end, it didn't really matter whose fancy number work was better or more plausible. Jackson said a phase-in can't be done this year because the town's computer management system is way too outdated to make the needed changes. Case closed?

"It's up to the Council," he said. Leng said he would continue to discuss the idea with Jackson and the Council. No vote was taken last night.

Mayor Craig Henrici has been quoted many times speaking against spreading out tax payments. "We have to bite the bullet now," he's said.

"I was disappointed that we were hearing for the first time the computer system can't handle it," said Sanders, adding the administration has given him varied reasons a phase-in can't be done.

"I'm suspicious," he said. "I heard one thing two months ago [from the administration]. There was a different excuse one month ago and now we're hearing this is a system [problem]. Phase-ins hurt the election year strategy for 2007." A phase-in would assure higher taxes next year, since more of a property's value would be taxed. Because taxes jumped 25 percent this year, without a phase-in it's possible there would either be a small or zero tax hike next year, giving Henrici something to boast about if he runs for re-election.

"It doesn't matter what was proposed because the fallback is our equipment can't do a phase-in," said HHTR member Sandy Friday. "The bottom line is it didn't make any difference how much sense [Sander's] proposal made, how much relief it gave the homeowners."

Said Jackson: "I thought putting the tax assessor's numbers out there would clarify things, but …"

The computer system in question is about 20 years old and is COBOL, which was designed in the 1950s. Jackson said it should take about five months to upgrade it. The work is expected to start in August and end in January.

Council members Leng, Ron Gambardella, Betty Wetmore and Jim Pascarella spoke in favor of considering a phase-in.

"The rich are not getting as hurt as people in other neighborhoods," said Wetmore. "The rich in the big fancy houses are not only getting a tax break on their Mercedes and BMWs. That's not fair all around. And that's what bothers me and why I want a phase-in."

High-end homes did not get the same sticker shock from the reval as their more modest counterparts. Jackson said values could be upped just so much because the Hamden market can't handle really hefty price tags. He didn't say what the financial thresholds are.

Gambardella told Jackson that his presentation "doesn't really explain to me why the process proposed by Mr. Sanders will not result in a residential savings."

"I think there is a savings for a number of homes," said Leng. "But the question is how much?"

Council President Al Gorman and members Carol Noble and Mike Germano spoke against a phase-in.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," said Gorman. "But with a phase-in everyone winds up with a higher tax bill."

"No," said a woman in the audience. "No."

Germano said if he saved $600 it would have to be absorbed by others. "I'd be passing it on to my constituents," he said.

"Yes," Jackson said.

Sanders said he's not done. "We're not going to give up on this."

Time to Feed the Coffers

By Sharon Bass

On Wednesday, Hamden mailed out 19,276 property and car tax bills.

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday, the calls starting coming in.

"We expect them to increase dramatically [on Friday] because people will come home from work and get their bills tonight," said town Tax Collector Barbara Tito.

And on Saturday, the first day of fiscal year '06-'07, payment is due.

People are particularly edgy this year about their new bills. That's because taxes jumped a record high due to the 2005 revaluation -- where assessed home values rose an average 89 percent -- and the $10.6 million budget hike. Some homeowners are being hit hard, while the wealthiest are getting off easiest along with commercial landlords.

Only one bill is sent out, but folks can choose to pay in two installments (the second due by Jan.1, 2007). However, if the tab is under $250, it has to be paid in full now. While payments are due by July 1, there is a one-month grace period. If not taken care of by Aug. 1, monthly interest of 1.5 percent is tacked on dating back to July 1.

"People are calling and saying, 'I just got the bill. How can I pay by July 1?' The answer is you have 30 days," Tito said.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, she said 35-40 people had called about their tax bills while another 25-30 came to the office to pay them off. "There are a lot of people who are anxious to get their bills paid," she said.

Tito said most of the calls so far have been from people who got taxed for cars they no longer own. Those calls are misdirected. They should go to the tax assessor at 287.7128. Same thing for questions about exemptions for veterans and the elderly.

Some telephoned to say their property tax bills should have instead gone to their escrow company because they recently refinanced their home. Tito said they should forward those bills to their financial institution.

One woman called to complain that the taxes doubled on her 1690 Dixwell Ave. condo, from $900 to $1,800 a year, the collector said. Tito gave her a sympathetic ear.

If back taxes are due, the bill will so note but not stipulate the amount. Before paying the new taxes, she said to call her office at 287.7140 to find out how much is owed in old taxes.

With this being a particularly hectic time for Tito and her staff of seven, she asked that people mail in their payments rather than do so in person. Although, that's fine, too.

"It's an all-consuming effort. That's all we'll be able to do [for the next week] is collect money at the counter and answer questions," she said.

June 29, 2006

On-Demand Pickups Scrapped

It's a long wait till October. Throwaways sit on Garden and Church streets yesterday. Photos/Sharon Bass

It was anything but a clear consensus to return to the twice-yearly bulk-waste schedule

By Sharon Bass

The old way of doing bulk-trash pickup is coming back to a curb near you. The town decided Hamden would look prettier if the service reverted to just April and October, instead of continuing the as-needed basis it adopted a few years ago.

The Solid Waste & Recycling Commission was deeply divided over the issue, with some members arguing the town would look trashier by reinstituting the old system. The chair said he was also upset that commissioners' opinions were not taken into account when the decision was made.

On May 1, the Legislative Council voted to give Trash Master of East Haven a two-year, no-bid contract to continue doing the town's bulk trash, but just in April and October. Depending on whom you ask, the new-old way began May 1 or will on July 1.

"It was really a good deal," said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. He said he didn't know the dollar amount of the contract and the person who does, Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak, is in vacation until next week.

"The town was looking junky all year. This is a quality of life issue," he said. Not a financial one. Going back to the April/October method will not be cheaper. Scott said for the first year of the contract, which starts July 1, there is no increase. In year two, there's a 5 percent hike.

He conceded "there was not consensus anywhere in our internal discussions" about the switch, which he said goes into effect July 1.

"We didn't have an official decision and we weren't united in any of our meetings," said Bob Mark, chair of the seven-member waste and recycling commission. He said he opposed changing the bulk-garbage pickup to twice a year because it encourages more abuse that way.

"The town looks like a dump two-plus months of the year," he said. "Folks put stuff out one to two weeks ahead of time in anticipation of the April and October pickups." Mark said the new system went into place May 1, when it was Council approved.

Campaigning door-to-door last year, Mayor Craig Henrici said lots of people complained about bulk waste left on curbs year round. He said less junk is typically hauled away on a twice-annual system, because people know when it's being put out and will rifle through it.

"One man's trash is another's treasure," he said.

Mark, also a volunteer firefighter, said he preferred the just-scrapped appointment system -- where households got to schedule up to three pickups any time of the year -- because doing it only in April and October encourages abuse. He said landlords put their vacated tenants' leftovers on the curb, which would linger for months. Also, out-of-towners would sneak over here to make use of the free service.

But his bigger complaint is that none of the commissioners' thoughts were heard on the topic. "We were not consulted whatsoever before the decision was made to reward the contract to Trash Master," said Mark.

Since the commission couldn't reach an agreement, he said members were instructed to send their opinions to recycling coordinator Pam Roach. And that made him pause.

"That was unsettling. She is a part-time employee of Public Works. The Council didn't follow proper protocol," said Mark. According to the town Code of Ordinances, the commission serves as an advisor to the Council, not to Public Works.

So on May 25, Mark sent a letter to Mayor Henrici on behalf of the commission, expressing how it feels about being left out of the decision -- and to date Mark said he has not received a response.

Still, he agreed with giving Trash Master the biz again -- no bid and all.

Echoing Jackson, he said, "I think we got a good deal. We felt we were getting good service from Trash Master, and originally their price was very competitive. If we put it out to bid, we probably would have had the same people bid, we would have narrowed it down and we would have chosen the same one. The [problem] was that the commission was not consulted with."

Jackson said returning to biannual pickups will not solve all the trash dilemmas. "Move-outs will continue to be a problem," he said, advising folks to report offenders to Town Hall.

The Henrici Letter

Solid Waste & Recycling Commission
Hamden Government Center
2750 Dixwell Avenue
Hamden, Connecticut 06518-3320

May 25,2006

The Honorable Craig Henrici
Mayor, Town of Hamden
Hamden Government Center
2750 Dixwell Avenue
Hamden, Connecticut 06518-3320

Dear Mayor Henrici:

The Solid Waste and Recycling Commission recently learned to its dismay that the town's contract with Trash Master had been renewed without our knowledge or involvement. Section 33.100 (1) of the Hamden Code of Ordinances creating the Commission states "The Commission shall participate in the evaluation of the town's solid waste removal contract and report recommendations to the Legislative Council for selection."

Obviously, this was not done. The Legislative Council has just approved a contentious annual budget increasing the town's outlays by $10.6 million and resulting in a significant property tax increase for homeowners. In this environment, the Commission believes that strategies for reducing the town's expenses and for increasing its revenues should be welcomed. It is prepared to work closely with the Department of Public Works to negotiate and enforce an optimal contract with the town's trash and recycling hauler.

Nevertheless, in disregard of its own policies, the town did not avail itself of the Commission's services. For this year there is little that can be done. We hope that next year you will recall that the Commissioners have volunteered in good faith to serve the public and to enhance our community. Only by working openly with concerned citizens will the town truly optimize its potential.


[Solid Waste & Recycling Commission]

Cc: Al Gorman
Berita Rowe
John Busca


P&Z Rules For the Dentist, QU

WQUN's new Whitney Avenue home. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

The pre-Civil War home at 2556 Dixwell Ave. -- a property some would like to see preserved -- is now entirely in owner Doug Rollins' hands.

The dentist won approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday night to put up a professional office building on that site. And his plans call for the historic house to be demolished.

Before voting, the commission was reminded of Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops' opinion that "it would be difficult for the commission to deny the application solely due to [the house's] historical significance, especially given its deteriorated state."

The measure narrowly squeaked by with four voting in favor, two against and one abstention.

The commission also approved two Quinnipiac University proposals at the Tuesday meeting, both times unanimously.

WQUN, the school's radio station, has the go-ahead to move from its current home on New Road to 3085 Whitney Ave, a university-owned building.

Attorney Bernie Pellegrino, representing QU, said while the building used to be a residence, a radio station is permitted under town zoning regs.

"The station has become a valuable asset to the town," he said, "The house will retain its residential look. The rooms within the home will be converted to offices and studios. There will be no transmitters or antennas." Instead, a fiber optic cable, a satellite feed from the main campus and an antenna on Denslow Hill Road would be used for transmission.

During normal business hours, Pellegrino said there would be a couple of employees on site, and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- when the station goes solely to satellite feed -- there would be one technician.

"The site has become the official Boston Red Sox home for this area," he added.

Pellegrino then presented the 2006-2007 parking lot plan. The commission gave the plan a solid green light.

"Designating lots 'commuter' or 'residential' has gone a long way [into] solving some issues," Pellegrino said. "It allows us to monitor internally much better."

He said freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, the school shuttle will continue to operate and student carpoolers are awarded with better parking spaces.

June 28, 2006

Alphabet Gets P&Z OK

The Benham Street preschool. File photo

By Betsy Driebeek

On June 13, Tracy Stone of Santa Fe Avenue was giving her testimony in support of Alphabet Academy's expansion plans, when Planning & Zoning Chair Joe McDonagh abruptly cut her off. Time had run out.

So last night, during the continuation of the P&Z public hearing, McDonagh asked, "Is the woman who was giving her testimony, that I so rudely interrupted, here? She can continue now." Upon hearing she was not, he said, "Please convey my apologies to her."

Stone was not present, but plenty of people for and against the proposal took their sides in the Legislative Council Chambers. The final vote on the daycare expansion would be taken.

"Parents are always saying [Alphabet Academy] is like a home away from home," said Alphabet teacher April Geyer. "We deserve the opportunity to improve our services. Alphabet Academy serves a vital need to this town."

The preschool's plans call for a one-story addition behind its 605 Benham St. building, a 16-car parking lot and a quick drop-off/pick-up area.

Susan Mendick of Glen Parkway said neighbors of the school who have signed a petition against the expansion must recognize the hard work and effort that Academy director Amy Small has made to resolve the parking and drop-off/pick-up situation. Currently all that activity takes place on Megin Drive, the road on the west side of the property.

Speaking against the expansion and the addition of 15 more children to the day care, Greg Sims of Megin Drive said, "Forty-seven kids is already too high. And now 74 people [including teachers] on a daily basis. How many houses on your street have 74 people in them on a daily basis? Where is my little piece of tranquility?"

Ella Davis of Richard Drive lives about 80 yards away from the school. "Megin Drive is a short residential street that does not allow for a heavy flow of traffic or parking. I am in favor of redesigning the parking lot, but not in favor of expansion or an addition," she said.

"The parking lot is too close to my pool and patio. The Dumpster is even with the center of my pool area," said Bob Santore, who lives next door on Benham Street. "I will not only be smelling the exhaust from the cars but also the Dumpster."

Wayne Wallberg of Richard Drive offered a personal analysis of the traffic in the parking lot, based on his observations from 7:45 to 9:35 one early June morning.

"The peak usage of the lot was 14-15 autos. Sixteen spaces is barely adequate for the current enrollment. With the expansion it's too few," he said.

Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops, reading from his recommendation, said, "Two months ago the commission denied a proposal, indicating that a smaller expansion might be acceptable. Although the neighbors continue to raise concerns, notable improvements appear in the new application: elimination of the second floor and the lessening of children and staff."

P&Z unanimously approved the application, with stipulations that the buffer between the school's property and a neighboring home's is increased, and the Dumpster is relocated.

Upon leaving Council Chambers Mike Luzzi of Richard Drive said, "Every commissioner up there did a disgrace to all Hamden taxpayers that live in this neighborhood. This is a residential area. This is a commercial business. No one is going to monitor them. It does not conform to our neighborhood."

While Luzzi was speaking, a loud cheer from Alphabet supporters could be heard coming from the rotunda. After her victory school director Small said, "I think in the long run the neighbors will feel like it was the right thing to do."

June 27, 2006

Flanagan's $2M Idea Shot Down

The Hamden Legislative Council (sorry about the poor quality). File photo

By Sharon Bass

Even Councilman John Flanagan didn't think his proposal to slash the $70.7 million school budget by $2 million would fly. And it didn't. At a special Council meeting last night, only the man himself voted in the positive, while Council members Carol Noble and Mike Germano abstained. The rest said no.

Still, the Board of Education took no chances. School administrators, teachers, parents, PTA members and board members stocked the audience. They were joined by the Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief brigade, most of whom wanted to see a school budget cut. All told, about 70 people parked their rears on folding chairs in the stuffy, air-deprived Council Chambers, hoping their elected officials would do right by them.

This was Flanagan's second time at bat. The '06-'07 budget was approved May 11. In mid-June, the councilman first proposed lopping off two mill from the school side. His measure failed. So he tweaked the dollar amount from $2 million to $1.9 million, since a motion that was voted down can't be reconsidered without a change. Flanagan said his cut would reduce the mil rate by a half-point.

He pushed the motion forward because he said the BOE always gets hikes, and the Council's school budget deliberations this spring were truncated and needed more discussion.

And that it got.

First Spoke the Public

"I'm in favor of a reduction of the Board of Education budget," said Don Werner of Mix Avenue and a Council regular. "I learned that the board found enough money to purchase textbooks for next year. The Board of Education people [at a recent Republican town meeting] said they turn over unused money to the town."

Werner said it is general practice for the police, Elderly Services (where he works) and other town departments to hand over their surpluses at the end of the fiscal year. "I do not recall the Board of Education ever giving money back to you folks," he said to the Council. "So I believe there's an opportunity there to give some tax relief."

There are too many school administrators, he said. "There's something we should look at."

PTA Council President Tim Nottoli followed.

"I think you're going to damage the educational program for children" with a $2 million cut, he said.


A West Woods teacher said, "You want to take another big hunk [out of the budget] and I think that's unreasonable."


Sharon Adrian of HHTR said it's not a cut. It's a reduction of the 5 percent or so increase the BOE got for 2006-2007. "I'm very concerned about this town," she said. "I think it's obvious if you don't have the money you can't spend it. The Board of Education is not willing to sacrifice as the rest of us do. How in the world are we going to support this" budget?

Applause. One woman dragged out her clapping. Council Prez Al Gorman pounded his gavel and told everyone to cut the clap.

"I looked at the [school] salaries and benefits and it's amazing," said Carol Podgwaite. "I don't particularly want to lose my home."

HHTR member Kelly McCarthy said while she is gunning for tax relief in the form of a revaluation phase-in, she did not support cutting the school budget.

"I understand we need tax relief, but that comes from wiser spending," she said, her voice growing louder and more emotional. "But when has it worked to take a big chunk from the Board of Education? When has it ever worked? Who is going to pay that price? The children are! I just don't see why this is a good idea.

"The white elephant no one talks about is the huge companies that get large tax breaks. Meanwhile [homeowners] are being hurt," said McCarthy.


Hamden teacher aide Ruth Resnick Johnson said cutting the budget is an insult to the school staff. "I know how hard our teachers and administrators work. By not cutting the school budget you are validating [their] very hard work," she said.


"I think this cut is a sham," said Aaron Gustafson, a HHTR member. He said it would save homeowners just $100 while a phase-in would save them $500.


But Is It Legal?

Councilwoman Kath Schomaker was the first to bring up the legality of changing the budget and mil rate, after they'd been approved. She asked Assistant Town Attorney Mike Kamp, also Council parliamentarian, for his opinion.

Flanagan immediately objected to the lawyer's testimony, saying it would have to be in writing.

So Schomaker spoke of an "informal" conversation she'd recently had with Kamp. "My information is that you can't legally change the budget," she said. The exception being an infusion of outside money to the town or schools. Then that same amount can be taken out of a budget.

Furthermore, the councilwoman said, if $2 million was cut it would have to go into the town's emergency and contingency fund (E&C), not to reduce the budget in order to lower the mil rate. "I don't see any legal way to reduce the Board of Education budget," she said.

Councilman Ron Gambardella said he agreed with both sides. But then rattled off some numbers in support of leaving the budget alone. He said Superintendent Alida Begina's original budget request was cut by about $5 million after the board, the mayor and the Council tinkered with it.

"I'm not a bleeding heart liberal," said Gambardella. "But I am a proponent of education."

Flanagan's Turn

"Finally, we get to talk about the Board of Education budget," he started. He described how the education budget was quickly pushed through last month. He said during the Democratic caucus before the budget vote was taken, Majority Leader Matt Fitch left the caucus room to ask the two Republicans on the Council if they'd agree to $70.7 million.

"He came back in and said he now had the votes," said Flanagan.

"I want to give people who have lived here a long time a tax break. The superintendent brings in a wish list. This is the 20th increase," he said. "People on the town side get laid off and take pay freezes. We owe our children the best education we can afford. Not the best money can buy."

He disagreed with Schomaker's legal opinion. "Is it legal? Absolutely," said Flanagan, who picked up the Town Charter and read from Section 3-5: "The Council shall have the power to increase or decrease the budget or any item thereof." Period. No further elaboration.

"I would urge my fellow Council people to vote in favor of the taxpayers. I'm asking for a half a mil for the residents of Hamden," he said.

Jim Pascarella, the BOE's most ardent supporter and defender on the Council, shook his head. "It's too late to be discussing this. It's against state law. I've talked with high-level officials," he said.

He told his colleagues if they ever hope to get along with the BOE "we ought to leave this budget alone."

Councilwoman Gretchen Callahan said she too questioned the legality of changing the budget after it was passed. Betty Wetmore repeated what she's said before. She wouldn't vote to cut the school budget but "I won't give them an extra penny next year. I feel we gave them a large increase this year."

Both Carol Noble and Mike Germano asked for a written legal opinion. "I think it's naïve to think the budget won't be increased next year," Councilman Germano responded to Wetmore's pledge. (Council members Curt Leng, Matt Fitch and Berita Rowe-Lewis were absent.)

Gorman apparently had the legal riddle solved all along. Flanagan was partly right and so was Schomaker. The prez said the town attorney told him the budget can be legally altered but not the mil rate.

"Certainly the Board of Education has been put on notice to curtail spending," said Gorman.

In the end, Flanagan stood alone.

Afterwards, Republican BOE members Ed Sullivan and Austin Cesare said they would research the possibility of cutting central office administrators. "It's definitely worth looking into," said Sullivan.

"We have to justify every position," said Cesare.

"Every administrative position is on the table," said Sullivan. "Austin and I ran on not cutting teachers, books or supplies or sports. Cut from the top."

June 23, 2006

Kinks of the Road

Kelly McCarthy on the future Lake Road pedestrian trail.

Lots of bumps to smooth for a proposed walking path in Whitneyville

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

When the Davis Street Bridge was under repair about 15 years ago, little Lake Road in Whitneyville was closed off to traffic. The one-fifth-mile-long back street, which runs along Lake Whitney, was never reopened.

Now the town is planning to turn it into a walking trail with an expected $100,000 state grant, and extend it northwards by a mile or so. The Legislative Council voted unanimously June 13 to accept the money.

"Hamden can always use another walking trail. Hamden is becoming a destination point for the physically fit," said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson.

Meanwhile, tenants at the abutting Lakewood Apartments wanted to reopen the road and create parallel parking spaces, said Scott. But that idea was scrapped.

Kelly McCarthy of the Whitneyville Civic Association said her group was against reopening Lake Road to traffic. "We have all these lakes and there's no way to enjoy them or get to them," she said Thursday afternoon, while walking along the heavily wooded, vehicle-free road.

"It's all about parking," she said of Lakewood wanting to reopen the street to traffic. "They said it was a hardship for the residents. There was not enough parking." According to a March 7, 2006, letter she wrote to the town, Lakewood has 140 units and "more than 108 spaces … Some are unoccupied and many of the residents are elderly and no longer drive. On any given day, at any time, their lots are not full."

Lakewood LLC, owner of the apartment building, could not be reached for comment.

McCarthy claimed that the apartment building, which has four parking lots with one undergound, was illegally subdivided when it was renovated, creating more units and more need for parking. "They have too many people living there," she said. A message left for Town Planner Leslie Creane yesterday afternoon was not returned.

End of the road. Where Lake meets Davis.

Lake Road is off Putnam Avenue, behind Whitney Avenue's Books & Company. It ends at Davis Street. A jersey barrier at Davis and Lake keeps traffic from turning in, and on the other end of Lake Road a large gate keeps out cars. The closed-off portion is paved. A rusty guardrail and fence run the length, which separate the street from a sharp grassy incline that leads to the lake.

Jackson said as soon as the grant money is in the town's hands -- in about a month -- a bid will go out for an architect or engineer, who will be paid in the neighborhood of $10,000. Then a panel of Spring Glen and Whitneyville residents will be formed to confer with the consultant on the design.

It's unclear how the walking path would be constructed. Much of Lake Road is quite narrow -- at one point just 17 feet across -- and widening it could mean chopping down trees, building a bridge or somehow leveling off the sharp drop to the lake. The extension would run behind the Whitneyville United Church of Christ, which is private property, and go toward Spring Glen. The town might have to purchase a strip of the church land, but Jackson said he still thinks the project wouldn't run over $100,000.

"[$100,000] goes a long way with a walking trail like this," he said. "The stretch of land is going to be pretty narrow. If you're thinking Farmington Canal, you're thinking too wide. This one is more pastoral. More conducive to the senior citizens. We're talking about stone dust here. Fine, gray gravel as opposed to the paved surface of the Farmington Canal." With the exception of the already paved Lake Road portion.

While she's in favor of the walking path, McCarthy said she was irked that public opinion wasn't solicited and is worried about trees coming down.

"The part of our concern now is that we think it's a good idea, but a small group of people [who live in condos that face Lake Road] brought it to the mayor and he went ahead with it, without holding public hearings. In other towns, if you're going to make major changes on roads they put up signs and hold a meeting," she said. "That isn't the way we do things here. What happens is people have major changes in their roads and communities and have no idea."

Jackson countered that the walking project will "definitely be community-driven. We're going to do something that adds to the neighborhood.

"There will be several public meetings to help generate consensus about what the folks want. If there is widespread opposition to taking down even one tree, that would impact the project," he said. However, he said, the trail might have to be widened to allow for wheelchairs.

Unsure if Regional Water Authority land will be used, Jackson said nevertheless "RWA endorses our plan. They'll be at the table to tell us what we need to do." For instance, ATVs and other motorized vehicles would not be allowed on the trail or near the water.

"It's going to be a beautiful walking trail," said Mayor Craig Henrici. "We'll have to do something creative."

June 21, 2006

He Says & He Says

Town Hall and a community activist bump heads on whether a reval phase-in is the way for Hamden to go

By Sharon Bass

Bottom line, said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, a property tax phase-in would hurt those most needing relief and help those needing it the least.

Bottom line, said Mark Sanders who's spearheading a grassroots phase-in effort, is actually the reverse.

"I will state unequivocally that the precise opposite is true. The vast majority of phase-in winners will be from the large middle range of home values," said Sanders, a member of Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief, a group that formed in response to the hefty tax increases many residential property owners are facing, partly due to last fall's revaluation. Last week, he explained his three-year phase-in proposal to the Legislative Council, contending the average homeowner will save $335 in the first year -- the only year that can be accurately calculated as no one knows what future revenues and expenses will be.

Yesterday, Jackson released a statement basically saying a phase-in is a bad idea. He said the administration studied and nixed it a couple of months before the budget was approved. In order to realize the $335 in savings, he said a home would have to be appraised at $333,850. And if a homeowner's motor vehicles are worth at least 10 percent of their house value, there is no savings. At the June 26 Council meeting, Jackson said he expects to voice his viewpoint to the Finance Committee.

"Phase-in is a classic case of adding insult to injury" for many homeowners, particularly those on fixed incomes and young families, he said. Asked how many fall into these categories, Jackson said, "It's impossible to know."

Mayor Craig Henrici has also been down on phasing in the tax increase to meet the '06-
'07 $163.6 million budget. It would mean increasing the mil rate from 27.95, set last month by the Council, to 38.65 (the administration's figure) or 38.88 (the HHTR number) on both real property and motor vehicles for the new fiscal year. This is to compensate for spreading out over three years, the assessed property value spikes from the revaluation (a house value that jumped from $100,000 to $175,00 would pay taxes on just $125,000 the first year, and so on).

"It's not a good idea for many, many reasons," Henrici said. "It's not going to look good to our credit agencies. It doesn't help the people who need it the most."

Jackson said using aggregate numbers, as Sanders did in his analysis, is misleading. "To me aggregates and averages yield social science mistakes," he said. "I can tell you that the average salary in the world is $5,000. But that doesn't mean a thing. You have to put it into context." For instance, the average salary in India would be irrelevant to that in the United States.

With home values shooting up an average 89 percent since the revaluation, tax-relief ideas have been tossed around. In addition to a phase-in, Councilman John Flanagan has proposed slashing over $2 million from the school budget.

"I think they're looking for creative solutions to real-world problems," Jackson said of the HHTR's proposal. "I commend them for their efforts, but it's not the way to go."

He said the higher the home value, the higher the savings under a phase-in. The reason for that, he said, is high-end houses got off easiest with revals because they can be upped just so much. "The Hamden market can't support $2 million houses," said Jackson.

At the same time, he said, "it is absolutely possible for a young family to pay more with a phase-in at every income level."


"I'm dumbstruck that the administration is attempting to paint phase-in as a proposal which will benefit the wealthy disproportionately," said Sanders. "What they are trying to do is put a spin on who will benefit most.

"I fear that the administration is dealing with the phase-in proposal as a political football. The focus appears to be on next year -- an election year," he said. "If, as they suggest, we 'bite the bullet' this year by absorbing the full impact of revaluation, then it will be easier for the incumbents to create an impression that they are holding the line on taxes. In reality, though, that game of political perceptions will have been financed by a loss of $10 million in homeowner phase-in savings and enormous 2006 individual tax increases."

Sanders said his group researched the properties owned by 14 of the 15 Council members. (Matt Fitch is not a homeowner.) The assessed value of their homes range from $136,430 to $298,830, he said..

"The average phase-in savings for this representative mid-range group is $770, compared to the $615 town-wide average we cited in our numerical presentation," Sanders said. "The home of the councilperson with the greatest phase-in savings is actually situated within the Newhall remediation consent order boundaries."

To be continued June 26, Council Chambers, 7 p.m.

Betz on Debt

The finance director. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

How much is Hamden in the red these days?

About $110 million and climbing, said Finance Director Mike Betz. But that ain't bad.

"According to rating agencies like Moody's, it's considered moderate for a town our size," he said.

Like most communities, Hamden takes out short- and long-term loans, so to speak, primarily for major building projects. Notes are issued for one year, and bonds for many years. The town is just now paying off bonded debt from 1998, while new loans were approved this year by the Legislative Council -- $9.5 million in bonds, $6 million in notes, all to be sold to national investors on July 12. The town repays the investors, with interest.

"Only wealthy communities like Greenwich pay with cash," said Betz.

Hamden has a debt service fund. In the current budget, $9.5 million was dumped into it. The '06-'07 budget calls for an $11 million contribution.

The recently approved notes and bonds are primarily for the new middle school, high school renovations, the Farmington Canal trail, the purchase of the Dadio Farm ($4.5 million), sidewalk repairs and "outstanding little projects from '03-'04," said Betz.

Per state orders, the town had to authorize bonding for the middle school's entire $54 million tab, even though Hamden is only responsible for 37 percent of it. The state kicks in the rest. But only bonds for the town's portion have been issued, said Betz.

The reason for notes, he said, is that "you need cash flow from day one of a project. And you don't know the real cost of the project. You only want to bond what you've actually spent."

Bonds are used to pay for anything that has a life span of five or more years, like land acquisitions, the finance head said. "The community pays it off over time and we get use of it over time," he said.

More indebtedness is likely on its way. "It depends on what the mayor and Council want," said Betz.

June 20, 2006

Moving Budget

Flanagan. File photo

By Sharon Bass

One might have assumed that the new town and school budgets were put to rest May 11, when the Legislative Council approved $163.6 million to keep the town running and the schools humming.

And one would have assumed incorrectly.

An emerging activist group Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief is pushing the Council to act on its proposal to phase in this year's sharp tax hike that stung nearly every homeowner. A phase-in would require a mil rate and other changes. And at last week's special Council meeting, member John Flanagan presented a rather controversial budget-altering idea.

He made a motion to slash $2 million from the $70.7 million school budget. Councilman Jim Pascarella decried the motion and successfully moved to end debate on it, and take the vote. Only Flanagan and Councilman Mike Germano voted in favor. But Flanagan's not going away. He's doing a little revamping and hopes to get his tweaked proposal on the June 26 Council agenda.

"I'm going to be rewriting my motion for the $2 million cut. I have to adjust the number. I'll go up a little," he said, noting the BOE had a half-million-dollar surplus this year, which is reportedly going to Latin textbooks. "I can take it up to $2.5 million now that I know they don't need it.

"They already spent $500,000 on next year's budget from this year's budget. So basically they're building in a surplus for next year, and the taxpayers are getting hammered," said Flanagan. The BOE is supposed to return year-end surpluses to the town, he said.

"I want to show the other members of the Council that they're spending surpluses while they're crying poorhouse," said Flanagan.

It's up to Council Prez Al Gorman whether Flanagan's item gets on the June 26 line-up.

"He hasn't spoken to me about it so I don't know anything," Gorman said late yesterday afternoon. "I don't know how that would impact the Board of Education budget. But you can see from the preliminary vote that happened last week ..."

He said he would look at the proposal although he thinks it's too late to do budget surgery. "For reasonable people it's too late. Can it be done? Of course," Gorman said.

Regarding the half-million-dollar surplus, he said the BOE typically holds money until the end of the year in case there's an emergency need. "It's not unusual," he said.

Councilman Curt Leng, who chairs the Finance Committee, said taking $2.5 million out of the school's '06-'07 purse would have a dramatic impact.

"That would mean that the district would need to close a school or end an important program, such as all-day kindergarten. I could never support such a proposal that would be such a step backwards," he said.

Messages left for BOE Finance Director Tom Pesce were not returned.

Flanagan attributed the defeat of his motion last week to a misconception among Council members, especially the greener ones.

"We have a lot of relatively inexperienced people on the Council who assume that the parents' vote is determined by the Board of Education's actions and budgets. And they're assuming that's what got them elected. But it's not. Never has been an education bloc," said Flanagan. "There weren't many parents at the [budget] hearings this year because they also don't like what's going on. There's usually 100 at least. There were two including [Tim] Nottoli," president of the PTA Council.

Germano said he voted for Flanagan's cut because "the Board of Education had a 7 percent increase, that's way too much. No [town] departments get anywhere near a 7 percent raise."

He also agrees with Flanagan that not enough time was spent deliberating over the school budget. "I was also upset that the debate was limited [at last Tuesday's Council meeting], especially with something as important as this," Germano said. "You should allow your colleagues to speak. The taxpayers are asking for relief. I hope something does come up" at the June 26 meeting.

Flanagan, a former schoolteacher, said he didn't arbitrarily come up with the $2 million figure. He said he went over the school budget with "people who have experience with education budgets. They said $67 to $68 million would allow [the BOE] to have what they have, covers cost increases but no new programs." He wouldn't say who the people with experience are.

Hamden Dems Get Their Marching Orders

Penny Bellamy charges the DTC with a partisan mission.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

This election year Connecticut is considered a battleground state for Congress, and the Hilltop Brigade told the Hamden Democratic Party last night how it should fight.

"We have three of the 15 seats needed nationally to flip," said Penny Bellamy of the brigade, referring to Connecticut's three Republicans in Congress. The volunteer brigade -- vigorously supported by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-3) -- formed last year "to recruit volunteers in 'safe' Democratic congressional districts and to put them to work in 'battleground' congressional districts," so says its Web site.

The flip Bellamy speaks of is the changing of the party guard in Washington. Turning the battlegrounds into safe turf. There are 28 more congressional Republicans than Democrats. If 15 more Ds are elected this November, party power flips. And the fate of Connecticut's three GOP seats is being closely watched by the media and political types nationwide.

Bellamy, a guest at the Democratic Town Committee meeting, asked for campaign volunteers for the Dems who are challenging Connecticut's three: Joe Courtney versus Congressman Rob Simmons for the 2nd District; Diane Farrell versus Congressman Chris Shays for the 4th; and Chris Murphy versus Congresswoman Nancy Johnson for the 5th.

The 2nd and 4th congressional districts are the ripest for a Democratic victory, Bellamy said. But emphasized that Johnson's seat is not set in cement.

Bellamy outlined a typical campaign of phone banking and going door to door. She asked for volunteers to work on three autumn Saturdays. "This is the kind of field effort that can turn this around," she said.

"I'd like to see Hamden volunteer 50 bodies to the campaign," said DTC Chair Joe McDonagh. "I come from a state [Massachusetts], in its infinite wisdom, has 11 congressmen and they're all Democrats."

A Doctor in the House?

ER doc Phil Brewer, Adinolfi's Democratic challenger.

Hamden has just one Republican state representative, Al Adinolfi in the 103rd District. He's going for his third term this year and will face Democratic newcomer Phil Brewer, an emergency room doctor.

With his campaign manager by his side, Brewer, 54, introduced himself to the DTC last night. He said there are currently no physicians in either the state House or Senate.

"I see things that happen in the ER and at least part of the solution is legislation," he said. "I want to become the only doctor in the state Legislature. I'm not just interested in health care. I'm a news junkie. I've been involved with the Legislature from the outside, trying to effect legislation."

If elected, the doctor said he'd introduce bills that would help revamp the emergency room process. Increasing numbers of people use the ER for primary care because they lack insurance and money to visit a doctor. Other patients, he said, are sometimes left in ER beds for hours waiting to be admitted to a hospital room, because of unnecessary delays. The resources -- nurses, doctors, examining rooms - can't keep up with the growing demand.

This is Brewer's first run for political office.

"It's going to be an important race," said McDonagh. And doable. In 2002, Adinolfi won by 196 votes out of 8,000, the DTC chair said. "And he outspent his competitor three to one." In 2004, Adinolfi fared better, winning 6,301-5,005. The turnout was higher because it was a presidential election year. The year President Bush won a second term.


For Immediate Release: Contact: Scott Jackson
June 19, 2006 Phone: (203) 287-7107

A Report To The Residents

Hamden, C.T.--Last November, the residents of Hamden sounded the call for a new government: one that is focused on achieving results and working in collaboration with its residents. I am pleased to report the residents of Hamden some of the progress we have made in the first six months of our new administration.

The guiding principle of my administration has been responsiveness to citizen needs, both immediate and long-term. During the campaign season, many of the residents I visited door to door expressed their concerns about the community: that our Town Hall failed to listen to their priorities; that service requests went unanswered for weeks, months, and sometimes years; and that the Town's fiscal problems would lead to a Hamden that was either unaffordable for our children or failed to provide the programs and services that we have enjoyed. From north to south, east to west, these concerns echoed across the entire Town.

I have made an effort to change the philosophy of local government, putting residents first and committing to addressing their needs in a structured way. My first act was to move the designated smoking area from the front of Government Center to the back. This was a fair and simple response to a fair and simple request from the residents who use the building on a daily basis. I then established the Help Desk using software already owned by the Town to manage citizen requests the same way businesses that rely on customer satisfaction manage their customer contact. Citizens have a right to know that their requests do not disappear when a scrap of paper goes missing off of a desk. Be it helping to coordinate neighborhood efforts against a poorly-planned cell phone tower, erecting security netting at a local ballpark, or responding to a long-standing request for removal of dangerous trees, I am proud of the commitment to immediate response that Town departments have embraced. We are now digging into other major issues based directly on citizen requests made to my office: the negotiation for purchase of the Dadio Farm on Putnam Avenue to prevent a development that would change the character of the entire Town; and working with our neighbors in North Haven to preserve the scenic quality of Hogan Road and Brewster Lane.

Since it was not a hallmark of my campaign, I believe that a number of Hamden's more conservation and ecology-minded residents have been pleasantly surprised at my administration's commitment to environmentally sound policies and programs. While the purchase of Johnson's Pond is the most high-profile effort, my office has also aggressively pursued finalization of the Farmington Canal project that is such an asset to the Town as well as the purchase of the Rosedale property as open space. We are hard at work now in evaluating energy-efficiency plans, including the use of solar panel arrays, for Town buildings as well as discussing the initial stages of developing a walking path that takes advantage of the natural beauty of Lake Whitney. We must encourage active, healthy lifestyles for all of our residents, and the geography of Hamden is ideally suited for the creation of destination points for those who wish to take advantage of the great outdoors.

The cornerstone of my campaign was my attention to the fiscal issues that have threatened the long-term health of our Town. The Mayor's Office needs to set the tone for spending. My office has vigorously pursued ending lucrative legal and architectural contracts, where the Town has paid more in fees than for the final product. Streamlining these processes has had a positive impact on projects including renovations to the Louis Astorino Ice Rink, resolution to long-standing problems at the Hamden High Athletic Fields, and even contract negotiations with Town unions.

I am proud of the work that this office performed with the Legislative Council during the budget process. Working together, we eliminated unnecessary spending, engaged in real long-term planning, and addressed critical issues in the Town's pension fund and medical insurance accounts. The budget we presented, as well as the budget passed by Council, saw increases only in utilities and the areas identified by our auditors as real threats to the Town's bond rating. This budget has seen the consolidation of departments. It has also seen responsible management of a revaluation that has hit homeowners so hard. The budget recognizes that Hamden's bills have come due, and we cannot push the responsibility off to future taxpayers without dire consequences.

Part of maintaining financial discipline is having the appropriate staff to adeptly control finances. I am proud to report that the Finance Office has recently filled two long-vacant positions that will help us better manage the effective use of taxpayer dollars. We have also fully staffed the Planning and Zoning Department with Zoning Enforcement personnel to monitor the quality of life issues so frequently mentioned as areas of concern by residents.

Of course, many of the complaints received have dealt in one way or another with Quinnipiac University. I feel that my greatest success thus far has been in improving the relationship between the Town, its residents, and Quinnipiac University. We have had frank discussions that have yielded real progress in moving students back onto campus and helping residents reclaim their neighborhoods. I give credit to Quinnipiac University President John Lahey for truly listening to resident concerns, as well as the residents for framing the debate in a responsible, civil, and cooperative fashion.

This spirit of consensus and cooperation has manifested itself in other areas, too, including better relations with citizens groups, particularly residents of the Newhall neighborhood who have seen their community besieged by uncertainty and misinformation for six years now. The Town now stands alongside the residents, not only in calling for a remediation plan from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, but in developing well-crafted reuse plans for the existing Middle School building and maintaining the neighborhood's status as a place that people are proud to call home.

Internal cooperation is also improving. We have prioritized filling vacancies on Boards and Commissions so that the Town can benefit from the expertise of its residents. I have also had the opportunity to have candid conversations with a number of our Public Works employees, who have long felt that they have been unfairly targeted for their commitment to the taxpayers and the value of their skills. Under my direction, the highly qualified employees of both Public Works and Parks and Recreation have been brought into Town projects to work alongside contractors, thereby lowering costs. When the Town needed to negotiate with the Public Works union to address the issue of seriously deteriorating sidewalks, the trust we have developed allowed us to quickly shake hands on an agreement that would not cost the taxpayers of Hamden any additional money, and sidewalk work will commence this summer after years of neglect. I have received several letters of commendation from residents for the hard work and increased visibility of Town employees, and I look forward to continuing this new era of mutual respect.

My administration has focused its efforts on producing tangible results in areas where residents have felt ignored. We have worked hard to be responsive to concerns, to be protective of our resources, to be fiscally responsible, and to build consensus among community stakeholders. While there is more work to be done, we have successfully addressed a number of issues that impact the day-to-day lives of the people who make this Town so strong. Even with other major initiatives such as townwide WiFi, an ambulance service, and a remediation plan for the Newhall neighborhood just over the horizon, my administration will continue to focus on providing immediate responses to the immediate issues brought to our attention by residents.

Controversy sells newspapers, good government conducted by earnest elected representatives and dedicated staff does not. Some want to believe that there are political teams that control the direction of policy outside of public knowledge. The reality is that all of the personal and political labels that people affix to themselves disappear when it comes time to do the Town's business. I am proud to stand alongside the hundreds of people who give their all to serve the taxpayers every day as we try to build a better Hamden

June 16, 2006

Political Free for All

Council members Gambardella (left) and Wetmore talk to the crowd last night. Photo/Sharon Bass

Town Republicans hold their first public forum

By Sharon Bass

A small angry and curious crowd filed into the Keefe Center at 7 p.m. yesterday to chat with five of the town's six elected Republicans. The people came to sound off on the new budget, to understand why so many of their tax dollars are being spent and why nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

The Republicans were there to show them there is another way. Their way. As they would say more than once, there are just two Rs on the 15-member otherwise Democratic Legislative Council. And they ain't got much clout

"We didn't get elected by popular vote," said at-large Councilman Ron Gambardella, explaining the town charter mandates two Council seats for the minority party regardless of vote tallies.

"The Council is very unbalanced," said at-large Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, who's serving her fourth term.

The audience couldn't wait to get started.

"I told the mayor to his face this is not an austerity budget," one woman said of the Board of Education's $70.7 million price tag for '06-'07 -- a 7 percent hike from last year. She said neighboring school systems only got 2 percent to 3 percent increases.

Another woman said BOE employees should shoulder 40 percent of their health-insurance costs. "As a property owner in Hamden, I've having a hard time," she said.

"Why should my elderly mother pay $5,000 a year in taxes?" someone else yelled out.

They challenged Wetmore to push the Council to consider a tax phase-in, as has been proposed by the newly formed Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief. A few of the group's members came to the forum last night, including Mark Sanders who is speerheading the effort.

OK, said Wetmore. But, she explained, it would probably go over better if one of the 13 Dems introduced the phase-in.

The crowd insisted she do it. "If you folks want me to [suggest] a phase-in, I need you to come to that meeting," she said of the July 3 Council meeting. "You won't be able to talk, but I need you to be there."

Wetmore and Gambardella led the two-hour session, with Republican Board of Education members Lynn Campo, Ed Sullivan and Austin Cesare stepping in halfway through. (The sixth elected R in Hamden is Registrar of Voters Tony Esposito.) The quintet gave the audience of about 40 Republicans, Democrats and Greens their opinions on the budget and other things political.

"I thought it was the worst budget process I ever sat through," said Wetmore. "It was flawed from the start. I voted against it but I think most of the Council tried to do their best. Most of the Council."

She agreed the school budget is too hefty and said she would have supported a $1 million reduction before the budget was voted in.

"I've already told the Board of Education they will not get a cent of increase [next year]. They got a 7 percent increase. They'd better live with it for two years," said Wetmore.

She talked about other stuff that has irked her since the Henrici Administration came on: the Council approving an SUV for the mayor after he made a campaign pledge not to drive a town car. The no-bid contracts. The way the Council thoughtlessly wiped out library Director Bob Gualtieri's salary.

"We don't like the library director so let's remove his salary," said Gambardella. "There was not a single word of apology or justification" from the Council when it reversed that vote Tuesday evening.

Gambardella said the way the budget is put together "is an exercise in futility." Instead of the Council making line-item dollar decisions the departments should, to keep them from having to come back to the Council for transfers.

"We had one person on the Council who basically crafted the budget, and I thought he was doing this for his party but then he voted against it and …" said Wetmore, who was interrupted.

"Who is it?" voices called out.

Hesitantly, the councilwoman said, "Curt. I wanted to call it 'Curt Leng's Budget,' and those who were at the budget deliberations would agree with me." Leng is chair of the Council's Finance Committee.

Gambardella brought up an idea he's floated around to bond the pension fund. "It's an unpopular idea," he said, but it would help reduce taxes.

"Ron and I disagree on this," said Wetmore. "But something has to be done with the pension fund."

At about this time, the three BOE Republicans came to the front of the room.

"Our administrators are considered among the lowest paid in New Haven County," said Campo. "But the teachers here are the second-highest paid in the country. It's hard for us to hire principals because it's almost no extra pay." She said Hamden school principals are overworked and have a tough job.

"Who has to handle the bullying?" said Campo. "People always complain about the administrators. We've been trying to buy back our rights as managers for the first time."

Sullivan said no programs were cut in the new budget. In fact, there was a surplus of $500,000 from the current fiscal year, which was used to buy textbooks, he said.

He said $40 million of the school budget is paid through local taxes and the remainder by state taxes.

"Oh, come on!" a man shouted out. "It doesn't matter [how it's paid] if we can't afford it."

Cesare, a schoolteacher, said he was against the recently unveiled proposal to have two same-sex classrooms at Ridge Hill Elementary School. The measure was tabled at Tuesday's BOE meeting.

"We don't know the benefits. There's no proof it would lead to higher test scores," he said. The plan is being revamped to possibly include a third classroom for children who don't want to be in single-gender classes, he said.

"I'm against it. I don't believe in social experiments," said Cesare. "I don't want our kids to be guinea pigs."

Gambardella said pouring more money into the school system doesn't guarantee better student outcomes. "If you look at our scores, they're mediocre at best. I challenge the BOE to do something different," he said.

Democrat Don Werner, a Council regular, stepped up to the audience mic with a list of topics he jotted down during the first part of the rap session.

"The SUV. I think it has been explained satisfactorily," he said. "It's like bringing up same-sex marriage instead of Iraq," as Congress did yesterday, driving even a few Republicans to play hooky to demonstrate their opposition.

Republican Town Committee co-chair Sarah Morrill rattled off the administration's track record so far. "The SUV. The no-bid contract for the ice rink. Where's the Wi-Fi? Where's the ambulance service?" Two-thirds of Craig Henrici's campaign platform called for low-cost wireless Internet for Hamden residents, and a municipal ambulance operation. He said both would be revenue-makers.

"The only promise this administration has kept is the help desk, which costs us $50,000 a year in salary," said Morrill.

His suntanned face turning red, Gambardella said, "There's tremendous waste in this administration! We need change in the town of Hamden!"

A woman asked him a question.

"I understand you weren't present for the budget vote. You could have been another [no vote]," she said.

The at-large councilman said the budget was originally scheduled for a vote on May 15 but was moved back to May 18. He said he couldn't attend because of a commitment in New York City.

"Some people aren't going to be able to afford food or oil next winter," a woman shouted out angrily.

"If you're not happy with the people who are [in office] and have given us the biggest tax increase in history, vote them out," said Wetmore. "There are a lot of great Republicans."

Werner spoke again, defending once more the SUV purchase and also the no-bid ice rink deal. "The mayor has done a brave thing," he said of the budget.

The discussion turned to charter revision. Folks said they would love to add a referendum clause to give residents the final say on the budgets, a practice in some communities.

"I would just like to say we've been talking about charter revision for eight years," said Wetmore. "It's very hard."

"I thank you for this meeting," a woman said.

"At least we can talk here," said another.

Mike Crocco and John DeRosa, who both sit on the Hamden Democratic Town Committee, said they came not as Democrats but as citizens.

"I thought it was a good idea," said DeRosa. "You should always have public input, whether you're a Democrat or Republican."

Morrill, who helped organize the rap, said there are more to come.

The Busca Bill

Public Works Director Busca. File photo

By Sharon Bass

On May 25, a reader sent the HDN pictures of a Public Works team tending to private property. PW Director John Busca said he and the property owner, Harry Kruger, had worked out a kosher deal.

The 92-year-old man said he was unable to clean up his land, where the Duchess restaurant used to be. Busca said he wanted it to look nice for the upcoming Memorial Day parade that swings by there, and said Kruger agreed to pay for the labor -- apparently on the same day as the work was being done and the reader snapped the photos.

Kruger, however, said Busca never mentioned a bill and if he gets one, he won't pay.

In any event, an invoice was sent to Kruger on May 31 for $114.84. The HDN got a copy of it through a Freedom of Information Act request. Proof of payment was also requested but not supplied, indicating Kruger hadn't yet paid.

The invoice dated May 31, 2006, reads:

"Mr. Harry Kruger
74 Dunn Road
Hamden, CT 06518

Dear Mr. Kruger, As per our conversation in your home on 5/25/06, enclosed is the following bill for the work performed at the above address: Truck Driver 1 ½ hours @ $20.09 = $30.13. 1 Laborer 1 ½ hours @ $16.74 = 25.11. 40% Benefits $22.10 = 22.10. Subtotal $77.34. 1 Truck and Mower 1 ½ hours @ $25.00 [=] 37.50. Grand Total $114.84. It was very nice to see you and I hope I will be seeing more of you in the near future. If you have any questions, you may contact me at (203) 287-2600. Sincerely, John R. Busca, Director of Public Works."

Worth Saving?

The house at 2556-2566 Dixwell. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

P&Z takes up an old home

By Betsy Driebeek

A Dixwell Avenue home built in 1858 is slated for demolition. The historical society wants to stop that from happening, and the town says it has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Hamden dentist Doug Rollins purchased the property at 2556-2566 Dixwell Ave., across the street from the new middle school. He wants to build a 20,000-square-foot building to house his office and other medical/dental practices.

A special permit application for the site came before the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday night. Rollins' attorney, Bernie Pellegrino, began his presentation noting the residential-type feel and appointments of the proposed building, the path that would connect the property to the Farmington Canal Trail and the 99 parking spaces with little need for nighttime lighting.

The lawyer also said he got a letter from the Hamden Historical Society expressing opposition to the demolition because the old house is on the list of town historic sites.

But Pellegrino said consultants investigated the situation and told him the house has very little current historic merit. "It has not been maintained for probably 30 years. It is structurally unsafe and unsalvageable. There are termites and holes in the roof and floors," he said. Pictures were distributed showing the varying degrees of deterioration.

Whitneyville resident Peter Haller spoke against it.

"Lots of 19th century houses in Hamden have been torn down. Our children will have no sense of 19th century Hamden," he said. "We can have economic development and preservation, too. Hamden's Plan of Conservation and Development says, 'recognize, preserve and promote history.' History vanishes in small misjudgments." Haller said he is in the business of saving and restoring historic buildings.

Rollins responded. "I have given it [the building] a lot of thought since my purchase. We didn't start with, 'How can we wreck this place and build a big building?'" he said.

Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops said it would be difficult to deny the application solely based on historic reasons.

Commissioner Ann Altman asked, "Can we tell him to save something he purchased that no one else wanted to purchase?"

"P&Z does not have jurisdiction to tell him what to do with the house," said Town Planner Leslie Creane.

The application was continued until June 27. Demolition is scheduled for early August.

June 15, 2006

Cahill's Back -- and Aiming for the Top

Stephen Cahill with buddy Lt. Bo Kicak. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Just retired Deputy Police Chief Stephen Cahill went to see Mayor Craig Henrici late Wednesday afternoon. He brought along his resume.

Cahill wants to bid adios to retirement and become chief. Chief Jack Kennelly is leaving June 30.

"I think the department needs good strong leadership now," said Cahill, a 22-year veteran of the Hamden police force. He was supposed to be on a plane two days ago to begin training for a one-year stint in Afghanistan, but said he was told last Friday the mission was postponed.

"I didn't know that Jack [Kennelly] was leaving until he made it public, and with this falling through [Afghanistan] I'm going to start my second career," said Cahill. "It's something that every cop wants to get to. I don't know if I'm in the running but I'd like to think I am. I'm hoping to get a shot at it."

At least five others, including Deputy Chiefs Tom Wydra and Bill Onofrio, are vying for the top cop post. Cahill said he believes the decision will be made fairly.

"I think the mayor stands on his own. I know there are people who don't want to see me get it. But that will be determined by the mayor," he said. "I've had a good working relationship with the department heads -- Purchasing, Finance, Town Attorney's Office. I'm hoping that [the mayor] will seek input from them."

Last week, Henrici told the HDN he would name a new police chief -- who would need Legislative Council approval -- by July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. Yesterday, he said that might not happen.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to appoint someone by July 1," he said. "I'm looking for someone who can run the department in a way that gets the job done. Someone who keeps costs in mind, has the respect of the rank and file and is a good administrator and leader. Someone who can put forth a good face for the police department."

And, the mayor said, "experience doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with years of service."

Asked if he will solicit advice from Kennelly, Henrici said he would. So far he's gotten six resumes, all from Hamden cops, he said.

Exodus of the Blue & Red

Chief Jack Kennelly and Chief Jim Leddy both retire June 30. File photos

By Sharon Bass

The last chance for cops and firefighters to retire before their new labor contracts go into effect was yesterday. Those new contracts, while not yet finalized, are all but guaranteed to have fewer retirement benefits. One bene that got the guillotine is the four-year, unused sick-time buyout. That's the one that's driven some to an early retirement.

Twelve from the police department and nine from fire have recently retired. Yesterday, the Retirement Board OK'd the last of them during its monthly meeting in Government Center's third-floor conference room.

Mayor Craig Henrici chairs the 11-member board, and Finance Director Mike Betz and Economic Development Director Dale Kroop are members along with fire, police and Town Hall employees.

Here is a chronological list of the public safety officers the board has approved for retirement so far this year (the board approves all town retirements):

Firefighter Scott Chasney, for a service-related disability
Battalion Fire Chief Paul Wetmore Jr., 25 years of service
Deputy Police Chief Stephen Cahill, 22 years
Police Sgt. Joseph Murray, 27 years
Police Sgt. Keith Benway, 18 years plus four years of sick time
Firefighter James Dunlop
Police Sgt. Pam Kennelly, 25 years
Fire Marshal Mark Barletta, 26 years
Police Officer Brian Anderson, service-related disability
Firefighter Brian Forsyth, service-related disability
Police Sgt. Anthony Mase Jr., service-related disability
Firefighter Carl Backus
Police Capt. Robert Clark
Firefighter Edward Emerson
Police Chief Jack Kennelly, 35 years
Police Sgt. Ed Krott, 35 years
Fire Chief Jim Leddy, 33 years
Police Capt. Robert Maturo, 27 years
Firefighter Tim O'Flynn, 25 years
Police Officer William Robinson, 27 years
Police Officer Warren Shanks, 25 years

Celebrating Honor

Mayor Craig Henrici (left) and Abner Oakes by Hamden's Wall of Honor. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

The new Wall of Honor inside Government Center had its official unveiling yesterday in coordination with Flag Day.

The wall is lined with plaques representing Hamden police and fire and the five branches of the military. Abner Oakes, chairman of the Hamden Veterans Commission, was instrumental in the project.

Mayor Craig Henrici read a Flag Day proclamation. Town Clerk Vera Morrison read "I Am The Flag." And Democratic Registrar of Voters Peggy Rae led the national anthem to a tightly packed crowd inside the lobby.

Diana Mayo, whose son is serving in Iraq, placed a blue star flag on the wall. When hung in a home, Oaks said, the flag represents a son or daughter who's in the service. But hung on the Wall of Honor, the flag represents all Hamden residents currently in the military.

Five Ridge Hill School students led the pledge of allegiance. They also demonstrated the proper way to fold a flag. Their teacher, Doreen Stohler, said when she arrived at the school eight years ago the school flag and surrounding area were in deplorable condition. Ever since, her class has taken care of the flag and area.

June 14, 2006

More Money Business

Gualtieri's salary gets restored, and other last-minute budget maneuvers

By Sharon Bass

The special Legislative Council meeting last night was part cleanup, part fess-up and part mess-up. The purpose was to make the final changes to the '06-'07 budget and seal it. But by the end of the day it seemed fairly certain the work is not over.

The first fix was Planning Department clerk Holly Masi's salary hike. Unlike other union employees, Masi was scheduled to get a raise -- and a hefty one, too. Her department requested her salary go from $39,345 to $50,213. Mayor Craig Henrici lowered it to $43,379, which the Council approved.

Council members said nothing about why this boo-boo was not earlier detected; evidently, they just realized they can't give raises to union employees. Raises are negotiated. President Al Gorman said Masi's job description is being revamped, which will justify the $4,034 salary hike. Meanwhile, the Council voted to hold the money in the E&C account.

Without a single word of discussion, Library Director Bob Gualtieri's salary was restored by a unanimous vote. Last month, the Council nixed his pay when it was told, at the last minute, there was another revenue error. $600,000 had to be carved out of the budget. However, common thought is the move to ax Gualtieri's salary was motivated by some Council members' personal dislike of him.

The 10 grand that was chopped from the vacant deputy police chief's $83,545 salary line was also put back. The money had been taken out because the job was to start two months into the new fiscal year. Henrici had eliminated the position, but Police Chief Jack Kennelly successfully convinced the Council to reinstate it.

Councilman Ron Gambardella questioned the logic of adding the $10,000, especially now since Kennelly is retiring at the end of the month and it's unknown if the new chief would be amenable to cutting the position. (Hamden is budgeted for three deputy police chiefs. There are currently two; Stephen Cahill retired last month.)

"I would hope the new chief would revisit the chain of command," said Councilman Matt Fitch, although he voted in favor of the item. Only Gambardella voted against it.

"I think based on what Kennelly said, we need three chiefs," said Gorman.

Gambardella asked what had changed since the budget was passed. "No one is hiring anyone immediately. We decided to [yank the $10,000] during budget deliberations because of that," he said.

Gorman said the reason is so the new deputy's salary "would look the same as the others'. Let's not recreate the wheel on this one, and see what the new chief wants."

Gambardella also took issue with moving a different 10 grand around for Town Engineer Al Savarese. Henrici combined the traffic and engineering departments, making Savarese in charge of both. So he got a $10,000 raise.

However, the money was put in a stipend fund instead of directly into Savarese's pay. He asked for it to be transferred to his salary so it will beef up his pension payments.

"That's not fair to the town or the taxpayers," said Gambardella, questioning whether it's premature to increase his salary since it's not known if it will work out with him doing, in essence, two jobs.

"It's not a good practice for the town," he said.

"There is not an expectation that this is a temporary position," said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. He said Savarese has been successfully handling both jobs since November.

Councilwoman Kath Schomaker said she would like the town to formally evaluate how the department merger is working. "I'm concerned traffic is going to get short-shrift. Can Savarese do both jobs?" she said.

The Council tabled the item.

The Bomb

Everyone was pretty even-tempered until Flanagan's tax-relief idea was brought to the floor. He proposed slashing $2 million from the $70 million-plus school budget, which would knock the mil rate down a half-point.

"Instead of giving the Board of Education a 7 percent raise, they'll get a 5 percent raise," he said. "We need to provide the taxpayers with some relief." He said area school departments got 2 percent and 3 percent raises.

Flanagan had handed his written proposal to his peers just before the meeting. Most said they had no previous knowledge of it and were peeved to be asked to vote on it on such short notice. But Flanagan blamed the town attorneys for the delay, saying he asked them for a legal review and they dragged their feet.

Assistant Town Attorney Michael Kamp begged to differ. He said Flanagan just gave it to him yesterday. The councilman conceded.

"Tonight, five minutes before the meeting, I get the information to cut the Board of Education budget," said Gambardella. "That doesn't make any sense to anyone." He said Flanagan had complained not enough time was spent deliberating the school budget and "now he's trying to push this through. I don't think we can haphazardly do this.

"In my opinion and estimation, we have to ignore this," Gambardella continued. "This would create more chaos than you can imagine."

The BOE also met last night to finalize its budget.

Councilman Jim Pascarella, an ardent supporter of the BOE, was irate. He said he knew nothing of Flanagan's proposal except for a rumor he heard from PTA Council president Tim Nottoli an hour before the meeting.

"I assured [the BOE] there would be no cuts," he said. "This is not how you do business. Every member of the Board of Education should have been notified. They have no idea we're sitting here discussing cutting their budget."

Pascarella asked to move the question and have no further discussion about it. Flanagan's tax-relief measure failed 8-2. He and Councilman Mike Germano were the two. Gorman abstained.

"I will be resubmitting another resolution tomorrow for the June 26 meeting," Flanagan promised.

Gorman said he would likely put it on the June 26 committee meetings agenda, but is not in favor of the idea.

"I think at this point the cuts would probably affect the [school] programs and personnel," he said. "They're not going to be able to sacrifice sports whole hog. It will affect the classrooms."

P&Z Considers School Expansions

Story and photos by Betsy Driebeek

Alphabet Academy, a preschool, and Quinnipiac University were back on the Planning & Zoning's agenda last night as they convened at Hamden High.

Quinnipiac was up first with three applications: conversion of Whitney Village apartments to dorms; addition of new dorm buildings on campus; and relocation of its radio station, WQUN, which was continued to a June 27 special meeting.

Representing Quinnipiac, attorney Bernie Pellegrino said that 3071 Whitney Ave., site of Whitney Village, is multi-family housing that the university wants to convert into dorms for 145 students this fall. "This is phase one of the plan to bring the students back into university-operated housing," he told the commission. "Hopefully you will approve it and then we will work like heck to have it ready by September."

Zoning regs call for one parking space per student. The plan submitted indicated there would be 147 spaces. Parking would be for non-school use only. Students would have to take the shuttle to campus.

P&Z Commissioner Craig Cesare asked if the school had a contingency plan should the dorms not be ready by September. Pellegrino said work began six weeks ago.

Speaking in favor of the application, Ira Kleinfeld of Melrose Drive said it was imperative to give Quinnipiac the opportunity to bring students back to its supervision and care.

Speaking against the application, Sophie Gassina of Lucien Drive said the complex is in her back yard. The fence surrounding it is 38 years old and has been patched here and there. "If there is one parking space per each student then where are their friends going to park when they come to visit?" she asked. She said she's worried that there will be a lot of cars parked on her road, and kids would climb over and around the fence.

Chair Joe McDonagh and Commissioner Rick Iovanne expressed concern about security. Pellegrino said the dorms would have the usual resident hall directors and security cars would visit on a regular basis.

The application was approved -- with a long list of conditions.

The university's phase two is to build a dormitory on campus by fall 2007 to house 336 students. The proposal received Inland Wetlands & Watercourses approval last week.

The two neighbors most impacted by the new complex spoke in favor of it.

"At first my inclination was to ask for the elimination of the building closest to me," said Richard Ballinger of Hogan Road. "I have decided to ask for conditions of approval instead." He asked for noise-limiting windows (which are already in the plan), additional sound barriers and to increase the height of the current one, and closure of the associated parking between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Pellegrino said the university would extend the sound barrier sideways, but adding height to the existing wall is dangerous.

"These two families are bearing the brunt right now of the town's desire to get students back on campus and sound is a big issue," said McDonagh.

The application was approved, again with a long list of conditions.

Parking at Alphabet Academy on Megin Drive.

As the folks who came for the Quinnipiac piece left the room, about 50 people wearing Alphabet Academy T-shirts came in, after waiting in the hall for over three hours.

Last month, P&Z denied Alphabet's application for expansion. The 605 Benham St. preschool returned last night with a scaled-down version. It wants to expand its student population to 62 from the current 47, down eight children from the previous proposal, director Amy Small said.

The addition to the back of the school would now be one-story instead of two. The proposed parking lot -- which would keep parked cars off adjacent Megin Drive -- would have 14 spots plus two additional ones for quick drop-offs and pickups.

A petition with 225 signatures in favor of the addition was submitted. McDonagh pointed out the commission had received another petition with 83 names against the project.

Michele Bullock of West Helen Street said she submitted 50 letters that had been overlooked during the previous application process. She said they were all in support of the preschool expansion.

Tracy Stone of Santa Fe Avenue was in the middle of speaking in favor of the application, when McDonagh cut her off due to lack of time and continued Alphabet Academy's application until June 27.

Stone's husband said, "Can my wife just finish her presentation?" "No," replied the chair.

June 13, 2006

We're Back

Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief hold up signs for the Council. Photo/Sharon Bass

The tax-relief brigade revisits the Council -- this time to talk

By Sharon Bass

The nonpartisan Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief returned as scheduled. At the last Legislative Council meeting May 30, 15 group members held up signs in silent protest over the 25 percent tax hike for '06-'07. They were not allowed to speak.

President Al Gorman promised they'd get their 15 minutes last night. And they grabbed 'em.

Actually, member Mark Sanders, a lawyer who lives on Carleton Street, did the grabbing. He came armed with pages of proof that a three-year phase-in of property taxes would save most folks hundreds of dollars.

"Our group believes the budgetary process itself is flawed and needs reform," he started. "There were several ways to have given tax relief." But the town chose not to explore any of them, such as placing a surcharge on commercial/industrial property or doing a phase-in.

Mayor Craig Henrici has said many times it's better to bite the bullet now instead of stringing it out. And he maintains it's too late for such a measure, which would have property owners pay taxes on one-third of their assessed increases this year, two-thirds in the second year and 100 percent in the third. Assessed home values jumped an average of 89 percent due to last fall's revaluation.

But Sanders said it's not too late. "I've contacted the tax assessor and contrary to the mayor's statements, the tax bills have not gone out," he said.

According to his written analysis of a three-year phase-in, the average homeowner would save $335 in the first year, $195 in the second, $85 in the third and nothing in the fourth or fifth years.

Without a phase-in, the "total homeowner tax burden" is $86.9 million this year, with a mil rate of 27.95. With a phase-in, the tax burden would be $81.4 million with a 38.88 mil rate for year one; $83.7 million with a 34.41 mil rate for year two; and $85.5 million with a 30.86 mil rate for the third year. Years four and five would be the same as without a phase-in.

Sanders said that would mean an aggregate savings of $10.1 million over the three years. However, he conceded that his numbers, with the exception of the first year's, are speculative. There's no way to accurately guess what the town's revenues and expenditures will be from year to year.

"Some have commented that we shouldn't do the phase-in and we should bite the bullet," he said. "Well, if $10 million is biting the bullet … The savings are very real and meaningful to homeowners."

"It's shocking that now the elderly are going to pay for the young people to get a pension when they're still in their 40s," Sherron Adria said outside of Chambers.

"They must take action," said Helen Blitzer of Haverford Street, who was holding up a sign that read: "We Voted You In We'll Vote You Out."

Betsy Whiting was disturbed by some councilmembers' behavior during Sander's talk.

"One woman answered her phone. One guy got up in the middle of it. Another guy got up to get a drink of water," said the Shepard Avenue woman, a member of Hamden Homeowners. "I thought half of them were going to fall asleep. For a 10-minute presentation?"

Councilman John Flanagan begged to disagree with Sanders' arithmetic. "I wouldn't vote in a phase-in on a bet," he said, noting that Sander's math couldn't be accurate because there's no way to know what the budget will be over the next five years.

But Councilman Curt Leng, who's been behind the tax-relief effort, spoke enthusiastically about it. "The presentation made it more clear the value of a phase-in," he said. "If we can save residents an average of $300 the first year … You know the first year, that's all."

After Sanders concluded, Leng asked Gorman if the administration would review Sanders' phase-in documents.

"Certainly we can ask for an evaluation," said Gorman, who is opposed to the tax-relief idea. Asked if it would be on the June 26 agenda for committee discussion, he said probably not. "It depends on the will of the Council."

Down at Dadio's

The Council happily votes to buy the farm, but parties clash over sidewalk work

By Sharon Bass

The fiscal centerpiece of last evening's Council meeting was the purchase of the Dadio Farm on Putnam Avenue. Plans for the land include building a new Station #2 to replace the ailing, 100-year-old firehouse on Circular Avenue. Possibly putting up a new fire headquarters. And definitely selling off five or six lots, where the property abuts the Hamden Business Park, to feed the local tax trough.

There was not a negative word from anyone about approving a $4.5 million bond for the 11.9 overgrown acres. Five years ago they almost became 256 apartments, which would have meant more children in the school system and many more cars on the already-congested roads. The town nixed the development.

"$4.5 million might seem like a lot," said Councilman Jim Pascarella, "but that's not a lot of money" compared to the public costs related to an apartment complex.

But most of the remarks were not about money, but the need to replace the Circular Avenue station. "The squirrel population is triple the firefighter population," said Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt. "The safety of the citizens in the southern end is [jeopardized] if Station #2 falls apart."

He said five of Hamden's seven firehouses were built before 1930.

"I was going to question this $4 million," said Council regular Don Werner. "But I certainly think a headquarters down there is long overdue."

Councilman John Flanagan called it an "excellent idea." He represents the 2nd District, home of the Circular Avenue station.

The farm belongs to six Dadio siblings, Mayor Craig Henrici said earlier in the day. They were going to sell it to JPI Texas Development, located outside of Dallas, to build the apartment complex. Even though it was turned down, the firm held onto the development rights.

According to Economic Development Director Dale Kroop, $4.3 million of the $4.5 mill would be split between the Dadios and JPI, with JPI getting the bigger share. The town will use the remaining $200,000 for environmental testing and clean up of the land.

But Kroop, who's helping to negotiate the deal, said JPI has not signed off on the agreement with the town. He said it was waiting for the Council to approve the bond, which it did unanimously last night.

A message left with JPI yesterday was not returned.

Councilman Ron Gambardella asked Kroop how much tax would be generated from the lots sold by the business park. Kroop said they should add about $12 million to the town's Grand List.

If all goes as planned, he said, the deal would be finalized by the end of this summer "and we would immediately move forward from there."

"In the long run it's going to benefit the town and put a real institutional presence in southern Hamden," said Council President Al Gorman.

Not So Agreeable

The tone of the Council changed when it discussed issuing a $1.4 million bond for sidewalk and road repair. The original amount was half that, but there is reportedly a long list of jobs that are years and years overdue.

"This money will go quicker than anybody thinks," said Flanagan.

"It's something our town has been neglecting for years," said Gorman. About 19 years, said Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson.

The two Republicans on the Council said they didn't object to having sidewalks repaired, but they did object to the way the town is handling the work. Last month, the Council approved hiring two outside contractors for the job, instead of having Public Works employees do it as they were supposed to.

"This is just a classic example of misuse of town money," said Gambardella.

"I just want to say my colleague and I are not against having the sidewalks done, as our colleagues would think," said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore. "We had a sidewalk crew and now it's an emergency. Now we're going to reward the [Public Works sidewalk crew] for not doing their job by hiring two extra workers. It's another classic example of the taxpayers being ripped off."

"Privatizing sidewalk work means the work will get done," said Councilman Curt Leng.

Councilman Matt Fitch criticized both Republicans.

"I'm going to try to be as civil as possible," he said, addressing his remark at Wetmore. "You and your colleague had the worst attendance during budget hearings [and therefore missed the opportunity to debate hiring the two private contractors]. Doing sidewalks in house doesn't work."

Wetmore shot back. "I opposed this with Matt Fitch in the mayor's office," she said, adding, "It was ridiculous the work wasn't done [by Public Works]. I just don't think we have to add two new positions."

"I'm going to be unable to be as civil as my colleague," said Leng. "We have not had sidewalks done in bulk since 1997. And now we have money to do sidewalks. And the Republicans' position on this is ridiculous. No one was thanked for not doing the work. That [Public Works] crew is busy."

Councilman Mike Germano praised the mayor. "I think our mayor saw a problem and came up with creative new ways. I applaud the administration," he said.

The measure passed 11-2. Wetmore and Gambardella voted against it, and Councilwomen Carol Noble and Berita Rowe-Lewis were absent.

Makes No Sense for Lieberman to Go Independent

Joe McDonagh. File photo

By Sharon Bass

A press release from the Ned Lamont campaign hit the HDN cyber desk yesterday morn. It led off with: "U.S. Senate Challenger Ned Lamont begins airing a radio spot today that challenges Senator Joseph I. Lieberman to level with voters about his intentions should he lose the Democratic primary."

Lots of people want to know.

Lieberman has been dodging reporters' questions about whether he'll drop the D and flip to the independent side if he loses the Aug. 8 primary. At first he announced he'd consider it. Now his responses are murkier.

Since he won his party's endorsement at last month's convention, Lieberman's popularity has waned. According to a June 8 Quinnipiac University poll, Lamont is posing an increasing threat to the three-term incumbent.

But Hamden Democratic Town Committee Chair Joe McDonagh is willing to vouch for the junior senator from Connecticut that he won't abandon his party. (Lieberman could not be reached yesterday for comment.)

"Joe Lieberman is not running as an independent. He's going to be the Democratic candidate. Period," said McDonagh.

Asked how he can be so sure when Lieberman seems to be straddling the fence, McDonagh said, "I don't know why he wouldn't rule out [running as an I], because practically speaking it is ruled out."

Here's McDonagh's reasoning.

In order for Lieberman to run as an I, he'd have to start collecting signatures now, the DTC chair said, because he would need about 14,000 of them, according to state law. (That represents 1 percent of the 1.4 million voters who turned out for the last U.S. Senate election between Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and Republican Jack Orchulli.)

The deadline for submitting the signatures is Aug. 9, the day after the primary. While Lieberman could pick up petition papers from the Secretary of the State as late as Aug. 9, he'd have to return them the say day -- avec the 14,000 John Hancocks.

And McDonagh said he knows Lieberman hasn't taken out any papers.

"You can't do that quietly. We would all know well before the primary. So it's not going to happen," said McDonagh. "I don't know why he hasn't said [he won't run as an I]. And I just wish he would just say he wouldn't do it.

"If he did it, he'd lose a tremendous amount of support from the party," he said. "I'm a Democrat. I'm supporting Joe Lieberman. I'd have to rethink my attitude about Joe Lieberman if he would try to run as an independent."

As committee chair, McDonagh said he automatically supports the party-endorsed candidate. For instance, he vowed allegiance to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano in his gubernatorial primary bid, in exchange for helping Hamden get a seat on state Central Committee. But McDonagh is now supporting DeStefano's opponent -- Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy -- because Malloy got the Democratic Party's approval.

Besides, McDonagh said, he'd rather put his energy into ousting the three Republican Connecticut congressmen than into the Lieberman/Lamont race.

"I disagree with Joe regarding the Iraq War, but I look at it this way," he said. "We have five congressmen for the state of Connecticut and only two are Democrats. We have a chance to beat all three of them. We lost the governor's seat in 1990. We have a chance to win the governorship back. So I don't think it makes sense for Democrats to devote their time and energy to replacing one Democratic U.S. senator with another.

"That's not going to change who's going to control the agenda in Washington. We have no subpoena powers because only the majority party has subpoena powers. When Halliburton steals money from the American people, there's no congressional committee holding hearings about that because the majority party sets the meeting agendas. The American people are un-represented by having the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House."

And Lamont is waiting for Lieberman to take a stand.

'It's Unbelievable'

Assistant Town Clerk Jill Robinson swears in Battalion Chief Don LaBanca. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

After 28 years on the Hamden fire force. After climbing the ranks rung by rung, Capt. Don LaBanca edged one step closer to the top yesterday as he was sworn in as Battalion Chief LaBanca, in the third floor conference room in Government Center.

"He's the most dedicated to the traditions of the fire service," said Deputy Chief Clark Hurlburt. He also called LaBanca the most articulate in the department.
"Don's been around a long time and the confidence everyone has in Donny, I can't tell you," said Chief Jim Leddy.

After a quick swearing-in by Assistant Town Clerk Jill Robinson, the roomful of uniformed and plain-clothed fighters heartily congratulated their colleague and then scurried outside. (The conference room was uncomfortably warm.)

"It's unbelievable to get to this point from walking in the door as a rookie fireman," said LaBanca. "It's unbelievable."

He said working for the Hamden Fire Department is "the most fulfilling job in the world. It's almost mystical. People call it a calling -- and it is."

June 10, 2006

Still No Word From the Chief

Mayor Henrici said he hasn't made up his mind. File photo.

Time is running out to fill fire, police top spots

By Sharon Bass

With Hamden's police and fire chiefs retiring at the end of the month, there was still no word late Friday afternoon from the mayor about who's going to take over. Both positions are mayoral appointments needing Council approval.

"I haven't made any decision yet about the fire chief or the police chief," said Craig Henrici. But he said someone would be at the head of the departments by July 1.

Next Monday, June 12, is the last full Council meeting before the chiefs retire. Henrici said he will not ask the Council to vote on his choice for fire chief at that meeting. He said he might submit names for fire and police chief for the June 26 agenda of the Council committee meetings. But he's not sure.

"I might send something down any time. But there's going to be nothing secretive about anything I do," Henrici said. "I haven't made up my mind. People think there's something secretive going on. But there's not. It's all out in the open."

Police Chief Jack Kennelly and Fire Chief Jim Leddy have filed their retirement papers effective June 30. Kennelly has been at the helm for fewer than six months but said he didn't want to lose out on thousands of dollars if he hangs around. The new labor contracts are expected to have skimpier pension and other benefits.

So far Henrici said he's gotten four resumes for police chief. Deputy Chiefs Tom Wydra and Bill Onofrio said they're going for it, and there are three others.

En route to a Yankee game Friday afternoon, Onofrio said he has not yet sent his resume to the mayor but would do so by the June 16 deadline. Henrici wouldn't name the other applicants. However, he did say one came from a female Town Hall employee.

In her letter to the mayor, she noted her one qualification was that she watched Angie Dickinson's '70s TV show "Police Woman" as a kid. It was written in the same humorous/mocking vein as one earlier penned by Ives Street rezzie Franz Douskey, who was pretending to apply for fire chief.

The letters reflect the common sentiment surrounding Henrici's choice for fire chief, Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo. The appointment has led to an avalanche of criticism from Hamden and beyond because of Badamo's striking lack of qualifications, his inability to make lieutenant in February and his involvement with the abduction of a fellow firefighter. The mayor held a press conference in April announcing Badamo as the new top fireman, but has still not asked the Legislative Council for approval. It is fairly certain that support is lacking on the Council for his nomination.

Despite other reports, the mayor said only 12 cops and nine firefighters are expected to retire by June 30, including Kennelly, Leddy and Deputy Police Chief Stephen Cahill, who officially retired last week. "So there is not a mass exodus," said Henrici. "Things are fine, Hamden is safe and the sun is coming out."

However, Leddy said 12 men from his department alone are retiring at the end of the month. "A quarter of our department will have retired within the last two years. Some reached retirement age, others because of contract [changes]," he said.

So far, Henrici said no resumes have come in for Cahill's position -- the only one of the three deputy police chief slots that's not unionized. The mayor had eliminated Cahill's position in his proposed '06-'07 budget, but upon Kennelly's influence the Council restored it. One of the main reasons to keep the job, some Council members and Kennelly argued, was to have another top cop, besides the chief, who's not in the union. Asked if he would try to eliminate either Wydra's or Onofrio's union posts if one is made chief, Henrici said no.

On Thursday evening, Fire Capt. Don LaBanca was made battalion chief, a position vacated by Paul Wetmore Jr. who retired in April. Many more promotions to come.

June 9, 2006

In the Name of Sallie's Son

Sallie Lowry at work. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

On Nov. 23, 2005, Sallie Lowry was hit by the bomb every parent fears: her son was killed in a car accident. "Part of me actually died," said the Parks & Rec secretary, as she showed off pictures of Charles Lowry from his babyhood to around the time he died at age 24.

"I came to work that morning and I had this psychic feeling," she said of the morning after the fatal accident. She would soon get the news that Charles and the young man driving the car on Foxon Road in East Haven perished.

One way parents cope after such devastation is by keeping the child's memory alive. Sally Lowry, an ordained minister, is doing just that. Dressed in a large, black T-shirt that sports Charles' picture, name and dates of birth and death, she talked about the educational fund she's just started in his name. At the time of his death, he was a student at the Connecticut School of Electronics in Branford.

On June 17, Lowry is hosting a fund-raiser for the Charles F. Lowry Educational Fund, at Brooksvale Park from noon to 4 p.m. Rain or shine, she said. "We have the whole park." The band Rearview will provide live tunes. People will need to bring their own food.

"He was like my soul mate," said Lowry, who has two other grown sons. "He would walk through [the house] and no matter how dirty he was he would come over and kiss me. Every time he called me up, he'd say, 'I love you.'" The mourning mother's eyes lost control of their tears.

Charles was a part-time field caretaker for Parks & Rec for six or seven years, she said. "And he was a daredevil."

It's faith, Lowry said, that gets her through each day. "Faith is all I got. It gives me strength and the power to continue on. Scripturally, Charles is in a better place, and one day I will see him again," she said.

Two weeks before her son's tragic accident, she said he told her, "I'm going to take care of you. You are the best mother."

Those interested in donating to the Charles F. Lowry Educational Fund can send checks, made out to the fund, to Hamden Municipal Employees Federal Credit Union, 2321 Whitney Ave., Hamden, Conn. 06518. Scholarship applications for post-secondary students will be available at the credit union or through Sallie Lowry after July 15.

June 8, 2006

Stink at the Rink

A Zamboni sits on "dry ice" at the Louis Astorino rink.

Story and photos by Sharon Bass

Town Purchasing Agent Judi Kozak shot off a letter to the mayor imploring him to skip the bid process in order to get a contractor to complete the Louis Astorino Ice Arena renovation -- ASAP.

"We do not have time to do a Request for Proposal, and when we bid this out two times recently, we received -0- bids. I am afraid that if we go through the process we will reap the same -0- benefits and lost even more valuable time …" Kozak to Craig Henrici, March 31, 2006.

A contractor for the rink job was hired just days later. Steve Cavanaugh of Biltmore Construction had renovated Henrici's Ives Street home last year and seemed to fit the bill, the mayor said.

"It was an emergency," said Kozak, when asked why the job didn't go out to bid. "We were spinning our wheels and going nowhere. This has been going on since 2000." She said she found the 475 West Todd St. construction company in the phonebook. "Without him it's not going to happen. He came in to save the day for us." The rink is expected to be completed by September.

Cavanaugh has thus far been paid $30,000 to oversee the job, said Henrici, adding that the payment didn't need Council approval. Cavanaugh will ultimately be paid 10 percent of the entire renovation cost, the amount of which was unavailable yesterday.

"He asked for a 20 percent markup," said Kozak, "but the mayor knocked him to 10 percent." Cavanaugh is overseeing private contractors as well as Public Works and Parks & Rec employees. The state will pay for the private contractors, equipment and materials, Kozak said.

This is phase two of the rink overhaul. Phase one was to make the rink more energy efficient. Part of the second-phase work is to satisfy the ADA requirements for handicap accessibility, such as a ramp to the entrance of the 595 Mix Ave. rink, wheelchair space in the bleachers and bathroom adjustments. In addition, two rooms will be constructed -- one to house a Zamboni (motorized contraption that smoothes out the ice); the other for a girls' locker room -- and upgrades on wiring, lighting and so forth.

"It was such a diverse contractor that was needed," said Kozak. "It's like building a house, everything from plumbing to window dressings." Cavanaugh is soon expected to submit a contract to her, which would then go to the Legislative Council for a stamp of approval.

"The sad thing about this rink job is that the town has spent over $600,000 on architectural fees and there has been no change to the footprint of the rink," said Henrici, a former all-star Hamden High hockey player. "They've done nothing. I'm tired of architects.

"When I came in [to office], the roof was leaking [at the rink], there was mold in the locker room. So I asked Judi where it was going and she said nowhere."

Down At the Rink

Arena manager Rick Gentile.

"It's been difficult," said Rick Gentile, operations manager for the Astorino Ice Arena the last 19 years. "A lot of things we have here are the originals. It's tired."

The rink was built in 1967. It was the first one on the East Coast constructed with state and federal bucks, Gentile said. A member of the Hamden High class of '73, he said he began working at the rink during his high school days. He was also a player.

About 80 HH hockey games are played there every season. Hamden Youth Hockey and Team Esprit, a local figure-skating group, also use the ice, which is open for public skating. Gentile, a Parks & Rec employee, said 3,500-4,000 bodies enter the arena every week from September to April.

In Kozak's letter to Henrici she wrote: "IT IS TIME TO END THIS PROJECT! We have been plagued by architectural, contractual, no bid result problems … Please understand the urgency of this project because it can actually, once again, without a contract manager, designer, architect, and licensed laborers cause this rink not to open in the fall."

June 7, 2006

West Woods Hotel Still Up In the Air

The proposed hotel site. File photo.

The hotel developers are taking the town to court for denying the project

By Sharon Bass

Barbara Mulligan moved to her home on quiet Hillfield Road 30 years ago. "When I first came here there was a horse farm across from Alice Peck," she said.

Today, she and many of her neighbors are fighting something Mulligan said she never thought she'd see in her 'hood: a 101-room hotel on nearby West Woods Road. Many thought the fight was over when the town's Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission denied the hotel developer's plan on March 1.

But it's still alive. The developer is now suing the commission in New Haven Superior Court to get the vote overturned.

The lawsuit alleges that IWW denied the proposal without a good enough reason. It also maintains that commissioners illegally consulted with their environmental consultant outside of public meetings, sharing information the developer was not privy to.

Late last month, Milford attorney Stephen Wright -- who filed the suit on behalf of the hotel developer, Westwoods Properties -- said he wants to get IWW Chair Steven Sosensky's deposition "to find out more about the nature and content and the context of the communication between the commissioners and the Inland Wetlands expert. We want to examine the witness."

But Sosensky said nothing new was revealed at those meetings, and they weren't illegal because the environmental expert, Russ Dirienzo of Roxbury, was considered to be on staff.

"Mr. Dirienzo's communication with the commission introduced no new evidence or conclusions beyond what was already in the record during the course of the public hearings," said Sosensky. "Everything was all out in the open.

"Mr. Dirienzo was a paid consultant to the commission who was identified all along as being a staff person for the Planning Department. That was deliberate," he continued. "Our town attorney and the rest of the commission referred to Mr. Dirienzo as a staff person for purposes of this application process. And as a staff person, you can get information from him after the close of public meetings."

Wright said the commission referred to Dirienzo as a consultant. Nothing more.

IWW turned down the hotel plan saying the developer failed to establish the environmental impact on the Mill River, which flows into Lake Whitney and used as drinking water.

"And there was no engineering detail for the massive and high retaining walls to hold back water -- and hold up the hotel structure itself," said Sosenksy, a land-use attorney. "The applicant could not establish that the project did not pose a risk of environmental damage to the inlands and watercourses."

The hotel was slated for 55 West Woods Road, a 5.53-acre parcel owned by Westwoods Properties LLC, which was established expressly for the hotel project by ABAR Development LLC in Stratford. Messages left for Mark Romano of ABAR were not returned. Westwoods LLC bought the property from Quinnipiac Ridge Developers LLC on June 26, 2001, for $325,000, according to Vision Appraisal records.

The fierce opposition to the hotel showed up at every IWW meeting when it was discussed, even though there was rarely a chance to speak. As Mulligan said, "We wanted to make a presence. That's all."

"The matter is done," said Sosensky. "The application has been denied."

If the court reverses the IWW decision and awards the hotel developers a permit, they proceed to the next step: the Planning & Zoning Commission to get permission to build the hotel.

Velma Zilm of Todd Street was one of the many who sat through hours-long meetings, hoping the hotel idea would bite the dust. "If it shows up again, I'll show up again at the meetings," she said.

Mulligan said she's not surprised the developer is suing.

"Developers are taking over this town. They just won't stop. A hotel doesn't belong there. They're destroying the neighborhood. We don't need a hotel. They don't care about the neighborhoods. We have enough with Quinnipiac," she said.

"The hotel isn't necessary. I wish they'd just go away," said Mulligan. "It makes people want to move. You'll see a lot of 'for sale' signs going up."

June 6, 2006

Talkin' About The Phase-in

Mike Betz, John Flanagan, Kelly McCarthy, Mayor Henrici and Curt Leng

By Sharon Bass

"You can't do it," said Councilman John Flanagan.

"It's not a big savings, but it's worth it," said Councilman Curt Leng.

"Is it worth it? I don't want to say," said Finance Director Mike Betz.

"I think there's definitely still time if they seriously wanted to pursue this," said Kelly McCarthy, a neighborhood activist.

"I think it may be too late," said Councilman Bob Westervelt.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction," said Council Prez Al Gorman.

"The mil rate has been set. The tax bills have been printed. They're going out in two weeks," said Mayor Craig Henrici.

What's all the hubbub about? Whether to phase in the town's 25 percent tax hike over three years. So a home assessed $90,000 higher as a result of last fall's revaluation would be taxed $60,000 less the first year, $30,000 less the second year and zippo less the final year.

But natch there's a catch. The new mil rate of 27.95 would have to jump to 38.65 if there was a three-year phase-in, in order to fund the '06-'07 budget of $163.6 million. (About $50 million of the budget comes from state grants and town fees.) And there's no telling how much taxes will rise in the second and third years, which could actually increase the taxpayer's burden more so than if there wasn't a phase-in.

"You can't predict anything meaningful in the second or third year because you don't know your grants from Hartford, the operating budget, the amount on the grand list," said Betz. "It's mighty late for a phase-in."

Typically, these payment plans are put in place before a budget is finalized. At the end of 1979, Hamden instituted a five-year phase-in, after a painful revaluation. "They knew they were going to do that after the reval and before the budget," said Flanagan.

Those for and against it agree that the savings to homeowners in the first year -- the only year that can be predicted -- would be modest, $100-$200 a year.

"It's a lot of effort and cost for very little return. I'm not dismissing the people who are talking about it. I like them," said Henrici. "I'm happy they're becoming part of the process, but it's unworkable this year."

"It's not as much savings as I hoped we would have realized," said Leng. "But $100 is a lot of money, and no one has given me a reason that it's not a good idea."

Our Northern Neighbor's About To Do It

On May 16, North Haven had its annual budget referendum with a three-year phase-in proposal attached. Both measures passed. That town also had a property revaluation last fall; residential property went up about 70 percent, and commercial/industrial 10 percent to 15 percent.

A North Haven town official, who asked not to be identified, said he's not too fond of the phase-in.

"The reason it's not a good idea -- people will always tell you this off the record -- is because people have a misconception" about how a phase-in works, he said. "People think the process would generate this huge savings."

Apparently, it doesn't.

"Every year there's typically an increase in operating costs and the mil rate has to come up to make up for it," he said.

North Haven's new mil rate is 28.70, down from the current 32.17. If there was no phase-in, the town official said the tax rate would have been 22.4. It's all according to the grand list, which naturally shrinks when there's a phase-in and thus more tax dollars are needed to feed the budget.

At last week's Legislative Council meeting, Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief -- a diverse group that formed in response to the tax hike -- quietly demonstrated, holding up signs pleading for a tax phase-in. McCarthy, a member of HH, said the group has been given 15 minutes to explain its stance at the June 12 meeting.

Henrici has repeatedly said he's not in favor of it. But it's up to the Council whether to entertain the idea.


Councilman Leng said he'd like to see a two-year phase-in. He said the taxes on a house that went from $160,000 to $300,000 due to the revaluation are going up $1,100. With a two-year deal the mil rate would be 35.14, saving the property owner $130 this year, he said.

He said he got some rough numbers from the Finance Department and plans to talk with Gorman about it. Gorman said he would probably put the idea on the agenda if Leng wants.

"Some people may save money but they'll pay more next year," the Council president said.

"We feel it's possible and it's in the best interest of the town," said McCarthy. But, she said, "I don't believe there is the will because this idea has been floated to councilmembers and administration for two or three months. We basically were told, 'We'd look into it.' I don't know what the explanation is that they don't want to do it."

Jackson's Truth

"A three-year phase-in would actually cost me money and I'll tell you how that is," said Hamden's Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. "I have a fairly modest house and two cars [from 2000]. So with the mil rate of 38.65 the increased taxes on my cars obliterate the decreased taxes on my real estate. One of the things that's really wrong with a phase-in is you can't predict that far. We don't want to speculate about what the future will bring."

He suggested people multiply their real estate and motor vehicle assessments -- subtracted by two-thirds of their assessed value increase -- by 38.65 to determine if they'd save or lose money under a three-year installment plan.

While Morrill, co-chair of the Hamden Republican Town Committee, is advocating for a phase-in, she doesn't think it's any kind of panacea.

"I have some problems with it. It gives the taxpayers a false sense of security," she said. "It is an option with only very short-term solutions.

"I feel the Council has not listened to the concerns of the taxpayers and has arbitrarily approved a significant tax increase without carefully considering the ramifications," Morrill continued. "It is time for a major change within our government. It is very scary to me, the financial situation the town of Hamden is facing and our Council is just sitting by letting it happen saying there is nothing they can do about it."

Rotten Road

The little crater in Dunbar Hill Road.

Story and pictures by Sharon Bass

Joe Cantito looked down on Dunbar Hill Road yesterday, just a stone's throw from his home, and shook his head. "This is brutal. Especially at night if you're coming up the hill you can't see if a car's coming," he said staring at a crater-like hole in the two-lane road.

That hole was created in February when the road collapsed. Public Works did a temporary patch job on it but according to Cantito, whose roommate reported the problem to the town, it did no good.

"Cars drive around it. They don't want to go over the bump," he said. Instead, they cross over into the opposite lane to avoid driving into the 10-foot-long hole.

Public Works Director John Busca said when the road collapsed, his team dug 8 feet down and found rotting tree stumps. He figured a house builder buried them there about 40 to 50 years ago.

But he said he's not sure if the stumps were the cause of the collapse. "We don't know what the cause was really," he said. "We've gotten calls [about the road]. Even the mayor said, 'When are you going to fix it?'"

In two weeks, said Busca, in two weeks.

The damage is more extensive than just the hole. He estimated 80 feet of Dunbar Hill in the 1200 block will have to be repaved. There are also cracks the width of the road.

Cantito pointed out something else that appeared odd: the large orange "Slow" signs leading to the hole. The signs can only be seen going up Dunbar Hill; the other side of them is blank.

"It's pretty scary," said Cantito. Especially since cars swerve into the wrong lane to bypass the hole and it's hard to see oncoming cars and vice versa. Yesterday afternoon, three cars drove by Cantito and all jumped lanes.

Busca said it's unnecessary to have the "Slow" warning painted on both sides of the signs. "People coming the other way don't use that lane [with the hole]," he said. When told they do, he said they shouldn't.

June 3, 2006

More Public Safety Searches

There wasn't time to change the name on the sign. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

A new batch of resumes will soon hit Mayor Craig Henrici's desk. Actually two new batches.

After just six months on the job, Hamden's seventh police chief, Jack Kennelly, is retiring on June 30. Deputy Chief Stephen Cahill officially retired Thursday. Both positions are mayoral appointments that require Legislative Council approval.

"I'm going to look at every resume that comes in," from inside and outside the department, Henrici said. "You want someone who's good for the department, good for the town and a good fit with me."

He said he'd solicit Kennelly's opinion, "the same thing I did for the fire [chief] recommendation." Henrici is also in the midst of trying to push through his choice for a new fire chief, Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo. The mayor is facing resistance from both the Legislative Council and the public about Badamo. Fire Chief Jim Leddy will retire June 30.

Kennelly said he's calling it quits in order to salvage the retirement benefits he was promised when he signed on. Some benefits are reportedly being scaled back or eliminated in the new police contract that goes into effect July 1. (Though Kennelly and Cahill are not in the union, they get the same contracted benefits.)

"I'm going to miss him and we're losing a wealth of experience. He's a friend of mine and I wish him all the luck," the mayor said.

Henrici said no resumes have come in so far for either post, but Deputy Chiefs Bill Onofrio and Tom Wydra said they intend to send theirs in.

"You come on this job as patrolman hoping to excel to chief. The opportunity is in front of me and I'm going to do my best to secure that position," said Onofrio. He said there are three or four other officers in the department who are qualified to lead.

Both he and Wydra said they were surprised Kennelly decided to retire.

"But I certainly understand his decision, and I'm comfortable with the fact that he was here for six months and did a very admirable job," said Onofrio.

If the mayor doesn't appoint a new chief by July 1, he would name an acting one. "Someone has to run the department," he said. Same thing for the Fire Department head. Although resumes have come in for that position, Henrici hasn't indicated he would consider anyone but Badamo.

Not the Shortest-Lived

Kennelly doesn't hold the record for the least time in office. Hamden's second chief, Frank Cattaneo, served for slightly over five months, from Oct. 11, 1957, to March 13, 1958. His predecessor, Harry Barrows, served for decades. Wydra said it's unclear if Barrows was chief during his entire tenure.

In 1924, when the Hamden Police Department formed, Barrows was first man in. It is noted under his picture hanging in headquarters that he left office on Oct. 10, 1957. After Cattaneo, Robert Thatcher held the job from March 14, 1958, to Dec. 15, 1967. Then it was Hugh Mulhern from Dec. 27, 1967, to Feb. 3, 1975; John Ambrogio from Feb. 2, 1975, to Aug. 31, 1998 (with two suspensions); Bob Nolan from Sept. 1, 1998, to November 2005. And then Kennelly.

Two Chiefs, Two Chiefs For One Job

"I think it's safe to say in old Hamden police chiefs and superintendents of schools tended to last lifetimes. They were the two most powerful people in town," said former Mayor John Carusone, a local political history buff and HDN columnist. He shared an interesting chief tale from the past.

"Hamden for a short time had two police chiefs and Hamden became the laughing stock of the state," said Carusone.

It happened during the last two months of the Bill Adams Administration (1967-1973), after he lost to Lucien DiMeo by 7,000 votes, said Carusone. Adams appointed Malcolm McHenry police chief. Meanwhile, the police commission named Clarence Drumm. The two men shared the role for a short time, but apparently it didn't work out too well. Back then, Council approval on mayoral appointments wasn't needed.

"Both were lame duck appointments," said Carusone, because both Adams and the police commissioners were on their way out. When DiMeo took over, he got rid of both chiefs and appointed Ambrogio, who would be suspended twice during his tenure.

DiMeo suspended his own appointment in the mid 1970s for various infractions, said Carusone, and Don Hasbrouck became acting chief for about a year.

Mayor Carusone also suspended Ambrogio in 1989 "for 22 charges including insubordination" and appointed David Dixon acting chief for two years. Ambrogio then sued Carusone, won his case and returned to the helm of the Hamden Police Department, again.

June 2, 2006

The Last Appeal

30 Hamden property owners take the town to court

By Sharon Bass

Folks not happy with their new property revaluation had asked the Board of Assessment Appeals for a downward adjustment. Those not crazy with the board's decision had one more place to go.


"Every time we have a reval, some file suit no matter what," said Town Assessor Jim Clynes.

Earlier this year, 585 property owners went before the board. Thirty of them have taken the next and final step of filing a lawsuit against the town, claiming their new assessments are still too high. Each suit says the price tag is "not the percentage of its true and actual value on the assessment date, but was grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful." According to state law, properties are supposed to be assessed at 70 percent of their fair market value.

Clynes said he expected more complaints this year. Last reval five years ago, 50 people sued the town.

"Some don't feel the impact until they see their [tax] bill," said Clynes. He said the town and plaintiff try to work things out in court before taking it to trial.

"In this town, the majority of them get settled before they go to trial," he said. "Mostly commercial property owners [go to trial] because they have attorneys and it's their job to try to save them money. It's going to cost the taxpayer and town more money because the town attorney has to be involved. I have to be involved."

Clynes said it's not always worth it to go to court. People need to figure out how much could potentially get sliced off their real estate holding versus how much they'll dish out in legal fees. He said he didn't know how often residents prevail in court.

It also doesn't happen fast. The assessor said it can take two to four years to get a court date. "We just finished a couple of cases from the 2000 reval," said Clynes.

Who's Suing

Hamden Associates,1299 Dixwell Ave.
MC Corp, 2300 Dixwell Ave.
Hamden Plaza Associates
Kent Harvey, 20 Partridge Crossing
Sandip Patel, 3400 Whitney Ave.
Superior Spring and Manufacturing, 2290 State St.
Harriett Miller and Sid Miller, 1220 Whitney Ave.
Mastro Investments, 3190 Whitney Ave.
MidCon Partners, NYC, 2420 Whitney Ave.
Ricardo LLC, 2458 Whitney Ave.
Kingtree LLC, 1700 Dixwell Ave., buildings B & D
Whitney Center, 200 Leeder Hill Drive
Whitneyville Preperty [sic] LLC, 645,647, 649, 651, 655, 657, 659, 661, 663 and 665 Newhall St., and 302, 304 and 330 Augur St.
Concordia Realty, 2100 Dixwell Ave.
Porto Enterprises, 2488 State St.
Porce-Len, 129 Leeder Hill Drive
David Shaefer and Janet Hall, 30 Broadfield Road
Mark Porto, 20 Ridgewood Court
Theresa Porto, 73 Autumn Road
Twenty-Seven Blake Enterprises, 86 and 102 Circular Ave.
Stuart Bush, 64 Hartford Turnpike
Peter Inzero, 118 Fans Rock Road
Frederick Culler, 37 Myra Road
Theresa Vingiano and Carl Porto, 12, 18 and 28 Wayne St.
Raymond Vavacore, 113 Jennifer Road
Anthony Del Grego, 460 Wintergreen Ave.
James Fantarella, 208 Waite St.
David Thompson, 202 Hogan Ave.
Kenneth Cotrone, 39 Ives St.

June 1, 2006

Police Chief Kennelly Retires

Kennelly and his sister, Maryellen, during his swearing in as police chief late last year. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Late last November, Jack Kennelly reached the pinnacle of his career. He replaced Bob Nolan as Hamden's police chief.

"It's an experience of a lifetime. It's a goal every police officer wants," he said.

This morning, not quite six months later, he handed in his retirement papers. June 30 will be his last day.

"You don't want to leave. You don't. I anticipated putting a few years in," he said.

Kennelly, 58, said the reason he's packing it in so soon is the anticipated changes in the labor contracts, currently being negotiated. He said about a dozen other officers have also given their retirement notices, effective June 30. The new contracts will go into effect July 1.

"I had no choice with the loss of pension benefits after June 30. They will be substantial, and the uncertainty of where contract talks are going in the future. I felt it was better to retire under the present contract," the chief said.

Asked if the lawsuit filed Feb. 14 by Lt. Bo Kicak had anything to do with his decision, he said, "My decision to retire was based on the loss of pension benefits. I didn't comment on the lawsuit back then and I'm not commenting on it now." The suit names Kennelly and Nolan, alleging Kicak was turned down for promotions because he refused to cover up for Kennelly, then a deputy chief, during a drug bust.

Fire Chief Jim Leddy is also retiring June 30.

Mayor Craig Henrici will appoint the new police chief. Asked whom Kennelly would recommend, he said, "I would rather wait until I see who puts in for it. When I told [Henrici] I was retiring, I don't know that he expected me to do that. But I told him I had to look at what was best for my family.

The mayor was in Hartford early this afternoon and unavailable for comment.

"I'm feeling, it's hard to describe. It's like I lost my best friend. It's not only one; it's 106 of them. Not that everyone is my best friend," said Kennelly. "It's hard to let go. I really have no option."

He said he struggled with making the decision to leave. He had hoped contract talks would have taken a different course, for instance, had included a grandfather clause so the new terms would not affect the current manpower. "The town is taking a hard-line position," he said.

Of the baker's dozen who are retiring this month from the police department, Kennelly said six or seven are sergeants, two are captains, one is a deputy chief and a few are patrol officers.

He said it's hard to predict how long it will take to staff up the department, as promotions will be made and new officers will be hired. A lot will depend on whether the new hires have already gone through the 26-week police academy training.

"It's going to be tough. It's going to be a difficult time no doubt, but we'll do what we have to do to get through it. We just need everybody to cooperate with each other," he said about filling the vacancies.

"And some of those are incredibly valuable to the department, like [Deputy Chief] Steve Cahill and Robert Maturo," he said.

His wife, Hamden's first female sergeant Pam Kennelly, is also leaving the force June 30. She's been on the job for 24 years.

The chief, a lifelong Hamdenite, joined the police force in 1970. After graduating Hamden High in 1965, he worked for SNET. He then joined the Army, spending a few years in Fairbanks, Alaska. "It's beautiful in the summertime," he recalled.

"I'm dealing with a heart-wrenching decision. This decision is the hardest one I've ever had to make in my life. I will miss the camaraderie and the brotherhood that only someone who has shared these experiences can appreciate," said Kennelly, the first in his family to become a cop. His brother is a retired real estate agent living in Florida.

The chief also has a sister, Maryellen Kennelly, who has Down's Syndrome and splits her time between her two brothers.

"The one good thing about retirement is I'll be able to spend more time with her. She's the love of my life," said Kennelly. Every Wednesday night, he said they go to the antique car show at the Glenwood Drive-in.

While Kennelly said he's unsure of his next move, he plans to put more time into his home-based construction company, Pine Rock Builders. "I've been looking at some other options, but right now they're in a tentative stage. This decision was relatively quick so I haven't explored a lot of options," he said.

Fuzzy Math

Next Monday's Council meeting postponed for unclear reason

By Sharon Bass

For the first time in Evelyn Parise's 29 years as Legislative Council clerk, a meeting has been postponed because of a perceived lack of a quorum. At least eight of the 15 members must show up. So Council President Al Gorman rescheduled the June 5 meeting to June 12.

"This is rare that so many are going to be away at the same time," said Parise.

However, nine of 10 councilpeople contacted by the HDN said they could make the regularly scheduled June 5 Council meeting, but most said they were not asked.

With two hot-button issues that must be resolved before July 1, when the new fiscal year begins -- the mayor's appointment of Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Badamo to fire chief; and the fate of the library director's salary, which the Council stripped last month -- some question whether there was another motive to cancel the meeting.

"Absolutely I could be there on June 5. Nobody asked me if I was going to be there or not," said Councilman Ron Gambardella. "I did not get a reason for the cancellation but I did not ask either. Although the thought did cross my mind that the Democrats were strategizing behind yes and no votes [regarding Badamo's confirmation], and once they determined who was going to be there and who wasn't, that's when they cancelled the meeting."

The appointment has drawn a huge amount of opposition and Mayor Craig Henrici has stalled sending it to the Council. Badamo lacks the qualifications and maturity for the job, say many including councilmembers who plan to vote against him, like Gambardella. According to inside sources, the "no votes" are reportedly growing while last-minute efforts to turn them into "yeses" are failing. With up to four "yes votes" unable to attend the meeting next Monday, the measure would be certain to die. (Henrici can opt to pull the vote for now, appoint Badamo interim chief for up to 90 days and then ask for Council approval. He can also withdraw his nomination.)

Gorman said he rescheduled next Monday's meeting because he believed there wouldn't be a quorum, and because the Council officers indicated they would not be able to attend. President Pro Tem Carol Noble will be away for a couple of weeks, and will also miss the June 12 meeting. She has publicly stated her support for Badamo. Majority Leader Matt Fitch will reportedly be out of state on business June 5. He has emphatically stood behind the mayor's choice. And Minority Leader Betty Wetmore said she's not sure if she can make it June 5. Wetmore is a no vote.

Also expected to be away next Monday is Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis, who has not disclosed how she will vote.

"It's highly unusual. I don't know how they did the [quorum] count," said John Flanagan, a solid "no vote." He said he could make it June 5 and wasn't asked. "It's the first time I've ever come across this. I honestly don't know why they postponed it."

"I was called this morning and told the meeting was postponed for a week," said Councilman Bob Westervelt, a former Hamden fire marshal who wrote a letter to the mayor protesting the Badamo appointment and asking for a meeting. He said Fitch told him he'd set one up for the three of them, but never followed through or returned Westervelt's phone calls.

"Nobody told me why [the June 5 meeting was postponed]," said Westervelt. "There could be several reasons. I know there are a couple of major items coming up. I don't want to speculate on it. I assume the president knows what he's doing."

Councilmembers Kath Schomaker, a "no vote," and Curt Leng, an undecided, both said they would have been able to attend next week's meeting, but weren't asked. "I didn't read anything into it. I took it as a convergence of events that the leadership was out," said Schomaker.

Mike Germano, a self-declared "yes vote," said June 5 worked for him, and he wasn't asked either. "However, it's convenient for me because I had something else to do Monday night. I don't see it being a big deal at all, changing the date of the meeting," he said.

Same situation with Councilmembers Jim Pascarella, a "no vote," Gretchen Callahan, who has not declared either way, and Willie Mewborn, who also hasn't stated his position. The three said they could have made the June 5 meeting.

"It was a surprise [Tuesday] night that it was canceled," said Callahan. "It's a busy time of year."

Mewborn said he was relieved the meeting was postponed. "I need all the nights I can get off right now. I'm just recuperating from a touch of pneumonia. That budget was so draining," he said.

A message left for Councilman Michael Colaiacovo was not returned.

Gualtieri's Fate

Soon after the Council shocked the town by unexpectedly axing library Director Bob Gualtieri's $69K salary, there was talk of bringing the motion back to the legislative table.

"I'm hoping the Council will address the issue and do the right thing," said Gorman, who along with Flanagan, Westervelt and Wetmore, voted against it.

Gorman said he doesn't know if Gualtieri's salary will be discussed at the June 12 or June 26 meeting. If not, come July 1 "he's a volunteer," he said.

Callahan said she and a few other councilpeople have been talking with the Library Board. "That's all I can say right now," she said. "I really don't think it would be professional for me to say why" she voted to strip the director's salary.

Germano said he did so to restore Sunday hours at Miller Library. This spring, the Council slashed $22,000 from the library's overtime account, virtually killing Sunday hours.

"I personally thought it was more important to get Sunday hours [than salvage Gualtieri's job]. That's what my constituents called me about," said Germano. "It's not like we don't have a library director."

"I did reluctantly vote in favor of shifting the funding of the library director's line because I was disappointed in the manner in which he mishandled the information concerning the Sunday hours," said Pascarella. He said per Gualtieri's request, the Council shifted the overtime money from the library budget to the Council's.

"Then he went forward and slammed the Council for closing the library on Sunday," said Pascarella. "My intention was to really just send a message, and I'll vote to reinstate it."

Mewborn said he too didn't want to see the library closed on Sundays.

"Being frank, I guess it was an emotional thing. Somebody was spreading news to the library people. Somebody put out a sign and gave it to all the library people that we had closed Sunday's hours," the 5th District councilman said.

"I got so many calls, nasty, very angry calls. They said, 'I'm sorry I voted for you' and all that stuff. We worked along with [Gualtieri] to give him what he wanted. I look forward to Sunday hours, to tell you the truth. I'm getting to be a senior myself. There's not much left for seniors."

However, Mewborn said he doesn't go to the library on Sundays, and wouldn't say if he ever goes. "You know, you have access to computers, so you don't really have to go," he said.


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