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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wallingford Town Council to host budget hearings

Posted on the Record Journal Website: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 1:06 pm | Updated: 1:12 pm, Wed Apr 11, 2012.

Wallingford Town Council to host budget hearings

Mary Ellen Godin

@Record_Journal  #Wallingford @CConnBiz

WALLINGFORD -- The Town Council will host a public hearing tonight on Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.'s $145.1 million budget proposal.

The proposed spending plan is a 3.2 percent increase over last year's total spending and if approved, will come with a 3 percent tax hike.

Wallingford Housing Authority’s biggest critic is ready to focus on its future

As published in the Record Journal on Friday March 16, 2012

By Dan Ivers
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2275

WALLINGFORD – Despite another audit finding significant issues with the Wallingford Housing Authority’s management and accounting practices, the agency’s most vocal critic is finally ready to focus on its future rather than its questionable past.

On Wednesday night, Michael Guyder, of Quincy, Mass.-based auditing firm Hurley, O’Neill & Company, P.C., presented his findings to the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners. An annual audit of the agency’s finances and procedures is required because it receives more than $500,000 annually from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Guyder found that the Housing Authority’s records exposed it to significant risk, but he attributed most of the errors to a lack of understanding of state laws and accounting principles, rather than any calculated attempts to mislead or cover up wrongdoing.

“There was no reason to believe there was any misappropriation of funds, or theft,” he said. “This is an accounting issue and a control issue, and not necessarily something that where there’s malicious intent.”

Among the issues pointed out by Guyder was a pair of bank accounts maintained “off the books.” Records were found indicating balances for the accounts — one for administrative expenses related to the federal Section 8 program and another for proceeds from the sale of the former Ridgeland property — but no related accounting records.

The agency also lacked property records for its Housing Choice Voucher Program (it had been presenting auditors with records provided by Hamden’s housing authority, which administers the program), as well as a system for tracking inventory. Several accounting errors were also uncovered, including $4,400 in security deposit collections that could not be traced to Housing Authority bank accounts and a lack of any record keeping track of extra deposits from tenants who have pets.

The most recent look at the agency’s finances and recordkeeping only adds to a litany of questionable agreements and practices it engaged in under the leadership of former Executive Director Stephen Nere, whose 26-year tenure ended after he accepted a $130,000 buyout in December.

He has admitted that mistakes were made during his time as executive director, but Nere has strongly denied allegations that he intentionally averted state or federal laws and regulations.

Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos, who initiated calls to look into the Housing Authority’s practices in 2007, said the audit was not surprising given the various gaps in accounting and questionable procedures uncovered by past probes. All previous audits, including one designed to detect signs of potential embezzlement or theft, have not uncovered any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

After previous audits, Economopoulos has suggested the board should delve deeper into the agency’s books to uncover the full extent of any potential wrongdoing. However, after Wednesday’s meeting, he said he was ready to join various commissioners in their commitment to focusing on the agency’s future.

“I’m just vindicated. I said that at the least, it would be shoddy record-keeping and bad management. We don’t have the at most, we have the at least,” he said. “The bottom line is we have it, and that’s it. I feel good about what we’ve accomplished.”

Commissioners recently opted not to replace Nere with another full-time director, and hired a full-time property management firm, DeMarco Management Corp., to oversee its finances and 317 units across town. The company has begun reforming many of the agency’s records and procedures, including compiling a master waiting list and implementing specific purchasing policies in line with state and federal laws.

“They instilled a little bit of faith in me, with the way they were running things,” said Economopoulos. “I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”

Wallingford Officials to discuss necessity of uptown police officer post

As published in the Record Journal, Tuesday April 10, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD — Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein believes stationing a police officer at the corner of Center and North Main streets is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and says he will raise the issue at Wednesday’s public hearing on the 2012-13 budget.

Last month, Fishbein requested under the Freedom of Information Act the duties, hours and compensation paid to officers who work at the uptown intersection. Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio said at the time he believed the position was covered under the police union contract, but a letter from Lt. Marc Mikulski to Fishbein says it is not.

“The specifics of this post are not mentioned in the current Wallingford Police Union Local 1570 Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Mikulski wrote in his response to Fishbein’s request.

Dortenzio, chief since 1990, declined to comment on the position Monday, but said last month that an officer working at the corner predated his time on the job and the primary responsibility of the post was to assist school children in crossing the street. The officer is also available to handle service calls.

Dortenzio said he would address the matter further on Wednesday.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Monday that he believed the settlement of a grievance filed by the union many years ago led to an officer maintaining the post. He said the decision to assign an officer there was a judgment for the chief to make, and he heard people say they like seeing an officer uptown.

Fishbein said he thinks that the electronic crossing signs at the intersection are enough, and he didn’t think anybody is needed at the intersection to assist the schoolchildren. He would like to see the officer reassigned until the need for someone at the intersection is established. But Republican Councilor John LeTourneau disagreed.

“I like having the officer there, especially when the kids are crossing,” LeTourneau said. “I think it’s too big for a crossing guard. It’s a main intersection; there’s always a lot going on.”

LeTourneau, who owns Wallingford Lamp and Shade on Center Street, said having an officer there helps keep an eye on what’s happening uptown and downtown.

Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri, who has several young children, said he doesn’t think the “walk/don’t walk” signs are enough.

“I don’t think it’s enough for small children,” he said. “They look both ways, but then they walk out into the street.”

But Zandri that he believes a crossing guard could do the same job for less money. Of the people he’s talked to, he says about half support the officer on the corner and half think it’s a waste of money.

“I think if people understand the cost, we should leave it,” he said.

According to Mikulski’s letter, an officer is at the corner from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m., from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. The post is filled Monday through Friday, but not during the summer or school holidays. Officers rotate to cover the intersection.

Wednesday’s public hearing on Dickinson’s proposed budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Town Hall, 45 S. Main St.

Councilors want say on fireworks, but they’ll have to meet with mayor

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday April 11, 2012

By Mary Ellen Godin
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2255

WALLINGFORD — They might be from different political parties, but the town councilors who founded the Wallingford Fireworks Fund joined Tuesday in the hopes of getting more say in choosing vendors for the annual Fourth of July display.

Democrat Jason Zandri and Republican Craig Fishbein wouldn’t accept the explanation by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. that only the Parks and Recreation Department could handle vendor negotiation and the purchasing process.

“Without a formal process it could unravel as quickly as it came together,” Dickinson said. “You can’t have multiple people representing the town.”

Dickinson added that he knew of no other organization that allows event planners to negotiate contracts on behalf of the town. Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi, a Republican, said he understood the liability and logistical reasons behind Dickinson’s stand, but he said he could see Zandri’s and Fishbein’s point. Parisi even agreed with Democrat John Sullivan that the interested parties need to meet in the mayor’s office and settle the matter.

“The fund would like to have some input,” Parisi said. “They want to hear the final negotiation and bless it. When you’re into it, you’re taking ownership. You want to have a little bit of yourself in it. I share their passion.”

Zandri and Fishbein started the Wallingford Fireworks Fund in 2010, the year the town dropped funding for the $30,000 celebration from its budget. The nonprofit organization has raised enough money to pay for the show in each of the last two years.

Until this year, Zandri has negotiated quotes with vendors. He said the arrangement allowed certain flexibility on costs, through discounts from the vendor, and room to accommodate last-minute donations that could improve the show.

This year, the town has been seeking quotes without Zandri, who said the price and the quality of the show could suffer if he can’t be at the negotiating table.

“I’m looking for that flexibility,” Zandri said. “I want to try to figure out how to do that.”

Fishbein disagreed with Dickinson that other groups don’t hire vendors, and he pointed to Celebrate Wallingford. He also asked when the town would ever contribute to a fireworks display that draws 10,000 people versus a symphony concert and other events that bring in fewer people.

Zandri also said he wanted to extend the fundraising deadline to allow more contributions to make a better show, but was told by Dickinson that a range on costs could be written into the contract, and that the need for police and fire service demanded a deadline.

Other councilors, including Republican Thomas Laffin and Sullivan, said the Town Council isn’t the proper place for airing the grievances. They said the parties should meet in the mayor’s office to reach a partnership agreement with the Parks and Recreation Department.

In other business, the Town Council approved several appointments to boards and commissions and set a public hearing for April 24 on a 2012 Small Cities Community Block Grant, an ordinance concerning food service establishments, changes to sewer and drain ordinances, and a restriction on employees contracting with the town.




Photos courtesy of the Record Journal