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Monday, October 29, 2012

MY TAKE - New concerns about old lampposts

I have a new post over on Wallingford Politico written by Laurie Rich Salerno from the Record Journal titled New concerns about old lampposts.

I am working on collecting some additional information I want to review and I will want to most likely wish to discuss at the next or immediately following Council Meeting.

At the end of the day it is really this: the
Town Charter and the Wallingford Code are pretty clear on what is supposed to occur and in what fashion:

“The Purchasing Agent shall have the authority, with the approval of the Comptroller and the Mayor, to dispose of all unsaleable or unsold supplies, material and equipment.”

Not anyone else.

And the approval seems to require both the Comptroller and the Mayor (not “or” but rather “and”).

This was not the case as the Purchasing Agent was not aware that this activity was going on when I called Wednesday afternoon as he had indicated to me that “normally as part of his duties as the Purchasing Agent that he would otherwise handle “surplus property disposition” whether the decision be to recycle the materials or to try to sell them.

He also indicated on Thursday morning on a follow up call that to find out any further, specific details around the present situation that I should follow up with Mayor Dickinson.”

So this would seem to be yet another case of departments in the town doing what they want at will without respect for what the Charter and the Wallingford Code outlines especially now that I am watching the wagons get circled.

Sad part it – it wasn’t supposed to be a witch hunt; I was trying to get to the bottom of why there was no perceived value to these lights and all of a sudden when I asked why Purchasing wasn’t involved everyone got tight lipped and then suggested I call the Mayor.

There is a quote in the article that reads as follows:

Amadeo says the decision is up to Adair.

“It’s his call; if he’s saying it’s scrap, it’s scrap,” Amadeo said of Adair. “Stuff that is deemed saleable, they would send back to us to sell.”

So let’s take a look at the beginning of the Wallingford Code at 43-14:

The Purchasing Agent, with the approval of the Mayor, shall transfer to or between departments, office and agencies, or sell supplies, materials and equipment, determined, after consultation with the head of the department, office or agency concerned, to be surplus, obsolete or unused.

The Mayor gave no approval as the Purchasing Agent told me on the phone that he wasn’t full aware of the activity going on as the Public Utilities Director hadn’t been in contact with him regarding the work and that the Public Utilities Director was handling the activity and that if I wanted more details I would have to contact him.

Additionally, the way this reads, even if a prior discussion occurred the task should have been handled by the Purchasing Agent and not the Public Utilities Director or the staff.

The Purchasing Agent, with the approval of the Mayor, shall transfer to or between departments, office and agencies, or sell supplies, materials and equipment, determined, after consultation with the head of the department, office or agency concerned, to be surplus, obsolete or unused.

In my opinion the conversation, that never happened, should have gone like this according to our own ordinances, code and charter:

Public Utilities Director: “Hey Mr. Purchasing Agent, “We (the Wallingford Electric Division) don’t consider (these assets) suitable. We (the Wallingford Electric Division) do not want to perpetuate the use of them. We (the Wallingford Electric Division) consider them truly to be scrap.”

Purchasing Agent: “Thanks Mr. Public Utilities Director, let me get a hold of the Mayor and get the approval to surplus these obsolete assets.”

Purchasing Agent (dials the phone): “Mr. Mayor – I have the Public Utilities Director here in my office and he wants to recycle these obsolete assets; according to the
Town Charter and the Wallingford Code, I need the “OK” first before I take on this effort”

Mayor: “If the Public Utilities Director says that they are inadequate, they are the department in charge of that asset, so I am good with that assessment and you can perform the duties as assigned.”

Purchasing Agent (to the Public Utilities Director): I have the approval to do this work; we can go ahead with the recycling if you think that is the best, most cost effective way to deal with the asset that is being retired.”

As to whether these assets really are “truly to be scrap” and have no value all I can say is “one battle at a time.”

Stay tuned.

New concerns about old lampposts

As published in the Record Journal Saturday October 27, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — Jason Zandri has joined a small group of town councilors in questioning the decision by the Public Utilities Department to sell used ornamental lampposts for scrap instead of reselling them intact or reusing them elsewhere in town. Some other councilors say they trust the department’s call. Zandri has been talking to town staff and blogging in recent days about the lights, saying that he believes purchasing agent Sal Amadeo should have been the one to make the call as to whether the lights could be resold as is, not the Public Utilities Department.

“To me, the procedure should be that those are assets, the purchasing agent should have said these are scrap and then (utilities Director) George Adair should have been able to scrap them,” Zandri said.

Amadeo says the decision is up to Adair.

“It’s his call; if he’s saying it’s scrap, it’s scrap,” Amadeo said of Adair. “Stuff that is deemed saleable, they would send back to us to sell.”

The town-run Electric Division has been working to replace 37 ornamental lampposts that were originally installed during streetscape projects in the 1980s and 1990s. Adair says the poles are operational, but in poor shape, having been damaged by snowplows and weathering over the years. He said their construction also makes it difficult to get to wiring inside the base, forcing workers to lift the 50pound aluminum base to get inside.

The new poles have an access panel at the base. They cost just more than $3,000 apiece, and though a Wednesday Record-Journal article erroneously stated that that the funding for them came from a yearly town allocation, the replacement poles are part of normal operating costs that actually come from Electric Division revenues, Adair said.

The old poles are being disassembled and sold to a scrap dealer under a contract the dealer holds with the town.

Town councilors Craig Fishbein, a Republican, and Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, said Tuesday that they felt the department could have reused the poles for other projects in town, such as the temporary Wooding-Caplan parking lot that is being constructed, or resold them intact for a higher price than they believe scrapping them would fetch.

Adair says the poles are basically unusable. “These are beat up; they’ve done their duty, they’ve seen their day.” Zandri said he believes the lights could have a higher resale value intact, comparing them to computers he has resold.

“A computer that might be scrap to me ... because I’m a power user ... I can rebuild it and sell it to somebody for 100 bucks because they just want to use the internet and do email on it,” Zandri said.

Other councilors said they had faith in the Public Utilities Department’s decision.

“I hope George Adair is making the best decision for the town of Wallingford, both from a fiscal standpoint and using good judgment here — and I’m sure he is,” said Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat.

His Republican colleague, Tom Laffin, agreed, saying he doesn’t believe in micromanaging town staff.

“I trust the experts that carried us through the last storm and will this storm to know what they’re doing,” Laffin said, mentioning Hurricane Sandy, which is predicted to hit the area early next week.

Zandri said he wants to know what the actual procedure in place is and whether it’s being followed consistently by town employees and said he plans to continue to follow upon the issue, possibly requesting the issue to be placed on a future Town Council meeting agenda.

The town’s purchasing ordinance says that the purchasing agent has powers and duties, with the approval of the mayor, to sell “supplies, materials and equipment, determined after consultation with the head of the department, offices or agency concerned to be surplus, obsolete or unused.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he thought the old poles were handled appropriately.

“I don’t think very many people would see a used street light pole and fixture as something that would have general value,” Dickinson said. “If you have a table or a chair — that people can use — they can offer to other departments, they can be auctioned. In this case, I just don’t think there’s a market for used ornamental light fixtures that the department in charge of them are saying are inadequate.”

Wastewater treatment changes may be put off

As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday October 24, 2012

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
) 317-2224

WALLINGFORDAfter months of negotiating with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a coalition of municipalities that includes Southington, Wallingford and Meriden may not have to make expensive changes — an average of $56 million — to the facilities that handle their discharged water for at least five years.

The state has previously indicated that the phosphorus limits in water released from wastewater treatment plants would need to be decreased to 0.2 parts phosphorus per million. Relief from that requirement may be on the way, Southington Town Councilor Lou Martocchio said during Monday night’s council meeting, as the coalition is nearing an agreement that would provide a five-year permit from the DEEP allowing for phosphorus limits to remain at 0.7 parts per million, a limit set in 2008.

With the permit, Martocchio said, municipalities may see “literally in the millions of dollars in savings.”

Southington, Meriden and Wallingford have all said they would have to spend an average of $56 million in capital improvements and more than $2 million in annual operating costs to reach the new phosphorus limit of 0.2 parts per million.

“Six months ago, I thought this would never happen,” Martocchio said.

With nothing set in stone, leaders in Meriden, Wallingford and Southington are cautiously excited.

“There have been some good signs recently,” Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Tuesday.

He’s not convinced just yet though, saying, “We haven’t seen any language that at this point would confirm a breakthrough.”

“If you still have to commit to a process of removal within five or nine years, that would still be a concern to us,” he said.

Dickinson wants assurance he won’t have to upgrade the town’s treatment plant for phosphorus in the future, but Martocchio said that won’t be necessary after more testing is conducted to determine the effects of the nutrient on plant and animal life in the Quinnipiac River.

“The position DEEP took was at best arbitrary,” Martocchio said Monday night. “The standard or threshold won’t stay at the level it is now ... the threshold requirements are based on now will go higher.”

By possibly holding off on enforcing new limits for at least five years for further research, Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said DEEP is “doing what we had asked of them initially.”

“We’re encouraged by the department’s latest position,” Kendzior said.

Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback credited the DEEP for “stepping up to the plate” and considering a five year permit. The part that is still up in the air, he said, is further scientific research.

“We’ve got to have some scientific evaluation method as to whether or not the draconian and expensive steps we would have to take to get phosphorus levels down to 0.2 parts per million are necessary,” Brumback said.

Unlike Dickinson, Brumback isn’t worried about a commitment to upgrade the town’s treatment plant after the permit expires.

“We would have the ability to protest it, and we’re hoping if we get to that point, the handwriting will already be on the wall,” he said.

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said that the state agency understands the challenges faced by municipalities in trying to adhere to phosphorus limits handed down by the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal entity.

“We’re working with them trying to find new approaches that work for municipalities, work for us and the EPA, and serve to protect the environment,” Schain said.

He couldn’t comment further on negotiations because they are ongoing.

Cheshire was once part of the coalition, which also includes Danbury and Waterbury, but dropped out in April because it received $6.9 million in grant money from the Clean Water Fund to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant — a $31.3 million project.

“We’re happy with the way we went,” Milone said. “We couldn’t walk away from $7million in grants.”

He credited the entire coalition, especially Brumback, for its work in fighting new limits, but said “I’m not completely confident that there will be an immediate resolution.”

Brumback said that the permit, if issued, would come by the end of the calendar year.

Milone said that he felt that the best that could be achieved is a delay, and that the town would still have to go forward with upgrades five years from now. To partner the phosphorus upgrade with the Cheshire treatment plant’s overhaul saves money, Milone said, and it would be pointless to do the project separately.

“I’ve learned one thing,” Milone said. “It ain’t over till it’s over. Until the permit is signed, you can’t rely on it.”