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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FROM WALLINGFORD - Proposed pet projects

This "FROM WALLINGFORD" column was written by Mike Brodinsky, former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.” It is re-posted here as published in the Record Journal Sunday November 18, 2012

On July 1, 2005, General Motors announced that it had its best month in 19 years. What was good news for General Motors back then maybe was good news for America. Also on July 1, 2005, when money was more plentiful in Connecticut, the General Assembly approved Special Act 05-01. That should have been good news for Wallingford, too because it was a first step in getting a grant.

Special Act 05-01 approved up to $228,614,110 in bonding for various nonprofits, state agencies, and towns in Connecticut. The act lists all the potential recipients of possible grants funded by bonding and it’s a very long list. Included in this lengthy legislation was an “earmark” entitled “Grant-in-aid to the town of Wallingford, for renovations to the baseball field at Sheehan High School, not exceeding $525,000.”

This amount, however, remains unspent to this day and still appears to be available, even though the work at Mark T. Sheehan High School was never done and will not be done. Even more curious, however, is the fact that the authorization has gone unnoticed in Wallingford for more than 7 years. What happened and why?

Although a clarification would be welcome, the story is not as strange as it seemed when I first read about it. Let’s start with the basics. The legislation in 2005 is better understood as a wish list, rather than real money in the bank. Special Act 05-01 is after all merely a compilation of projects submitted by legislators from all around the state. The legislators approve each other’s pet projects — every one of which is important to somebody in their jurisdiction. The legislation authorizes the state bond commission to fundthe projects but it cannot require it. Wallingford’s wish, $525,000 for work at Sheehan High School, was included in the list, which did pass an important procedural hurdle when the General Assembly approved Special Act 05-01. But the legislation was still just a wish with a price tag attached. It was not real money available to be spent.

An obvious question is why the state still designates the baseball field at Sheehan as an approved project. The answer is that the Sheehan project will not be on the wish list forever as the state does have eyes looking for old projects to take down. It’s just a matter of time, and that is why Councilor John Sullivan said that the money would be lost if it wasn’t used soon.

Before a project is funded, it must go through additional procedures which cull the low priority projects from the wish list. A full description of that process is beyond the scope of this column. In thatprocess, however, top government leaders and their staff pare down the broad wish list based upon what the state can afford now and the importance of the project. Proposed projects, like high school tracks, that might have been funded in 2005 might not be funded in a year like 2012. The biggest hurdle for a local project, therefore, is to clear administrative and political review so that it gets on the bonding commission agenda. In these tough times, that will be a trick, and beyond the power of any single legislator or group of them.

The final spigot that determines how much of the wish list gets funded, therefore, is the state bonding commission. It is under no obligation to fund everything that the general assembly wants. Given the state of the budget and the economy, many if not most of the projects on the wish list will never make it on the bonding commission’s agenda. In view of the fiscal stresses the state is experiencing today, no one should be encouraged to believe that the state will fund a new track for Lyman Hall High School.

Nevertheless, our representatives will try their hardest to save the $525,000, but we can’t expect miracles.

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