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Sunday, February 24, 2013

School systems moving steadily toward BYOD policy

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230

Area school districts are on the verge of allowing students to bring and use electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and laptops in the classroom — and one district is already there.

“Bring your own devices,” as the effort is called by educators, hasn’t yet been implemented in Meriden, Wallingford or Southington, but Cheshire recently made the change in its middle and high schools. And all four school systems say there’s value in allowing students to bring familiar devices for research or note-taking.

The Meriden Board of Education expects to have a policy on student devices up for a vote by late winter, according to Assistant School Superintendent Michael Grove.

“Schools are reviewing the policy and making some changes,” he said.

Students could be bringing their electronics into the classroom by as early as spring. The high and middle schools have fairly reliable wireless Internet access, Grove said, as do some of the elementary schools.

Though details of the policy are still being formulated, Grove said teachers will have control over when and how devices are used in the classroom.

A pilot program in some Platt High School classrooms that allowed students to bring devices went well, according to Grove, and encouraged the board to consider a district wide policy.

After “very successful” pilot programs, Cheshire schools allowed middle and high school students to bring their own devices last month, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Detrick.

Wireless Internet was installed at both schools, allowing students with smart phones and tablets to do Web research. Installing wireless at the elementary schools is the next step to allow pupils in the lower grades to bring their own devices.

Students can also borrow Internet- connected devices from the schools’ libraries.

“If a particular lesson demands the use of a device, then they have access to that,” Detrick said.

The Cheshire Board of Education created policies for “bring your own devices” two years ago.

In December, the Wallingford Board of Education approved $284,000 to upgrade wireless Internet access at the town’s high and middle schools. The upgrades are needed to implement a BYOD program there, said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.

The district has policies in place but has put the effort on hold. Menzo said companies approached the district about devices in the classroom but wouldn’t say what the proposals were or which companies offered them.

A BYOD policy needs to improve education, Menzo said, and not just allow students to check their email in the halls.

“We want to make sure we take purposeful next steps,” he said.

Wallingford schools conducted a survey last year of parents and teachers on electronics in the classroom. Of 770 parents surveyed, 53 percent supported the idea of letting children bring electronic devices to school, while 32 percent said they wanted more information.

The survey covered 2,300 students, and almost 90 percent said they owned a device that can browse the Internet. Eighty-eight percent of students in middle or high school said they had a cell phone, with 58 percent of those students owning a smart phone. In the sixth grade, 61 percent of students had a smart phone, compared with 40 percent in 11th grade.

Using a variety of student owned electronic devices, Southington schools conducted a pilot program last year at the high, middle and elementary school levels. Technology Director Karen Veilleux said the pilot was successful at all levels and a report will be sent to the Board of Education next month.

Veilleux expects the board to pass policies on allowing devices district wide, although there are challenges, such as wireless Internet availability and teaching students with devices ranging from eight-year old laptops to the latest iPad.

Ruling on snow day irks workers - Wallingford town staff had to take vacation day

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Town employees told to take vacation time for the day Town Hall was closed during the blizzard are wondering why school system employees weren’t treated the same.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. issued a memo Feb. 14 telling employees that if they did not go to work on Feb. 11, when Town Hall was shut because of the storm, they must take a vacation day to get paid. Interviews with several town employees showed that while they’re upset with the mayor and his decision, they’re also angry that employees of the school system will get paid for the three days they were told not to show up to work.

The issue is “something that came up in conversations,” said Chuck Ballard, president of Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers. “If the mayor is going to come up with a memo, it should be issued across the board.”

School Superintendent Sal Menzo acknowledged earlier this week that the discrepancies between town and school district employees are “difficult for people to understand.”

“We work under separate labor contracts,” Menzo said.

Much of Menzo’s decision making in regard to school cancellation and employee compensation are based on past practice, which “often times dictates how myself and the administration are required to handle a circumstance,” he said. Dickinson said state law gives control to the Board of Education.

“We do not have any authority over the Board of Education,” Dickinson said.

Last week, Dickinson said, “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work.”

Had Town Hall been open on Feb. 11, employees still would not have been able to work, because the parking lot and roads still hadn’t been plowed completely.

“I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted,” he said.

Dickinson said the school district often closes several times a year because of inclement weather, so Menzo already has a procedure in place. Usually, Town Hall does not close, Dickinson said, so there isn’t any regular procedure.

Dickinson said he does understand why town employees are upset that school employees aren’t being treated the same. The money that funds the general government and the school district come from the same local taxes, creating a situation in which there are two separate entities being held accountable for taxpayers’ money.

“It creates jealousies,” Dickinson said. “There would have to be a change in state law to put everyone on the same footing.”

Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said “it would be nice to follow all the same rules” in order to avoid jealousies between town and school employees.

The solution, said Dickinson, would be to make school districts responsible for raising their own money through taxes. In the past, local legislators have proposed creating a separate Board of Education tax in the state, Dickinson said. He said the practice is employed successfully in Pennsylvania and New York.

With two taxes, “if you’re not satisfied with something on either side, you know who to call,” Dickinson said.

While Dickinson believes creating a separate Board of Education tax would relieve what he calls an “awkward” situation, he does not see a change of state policy on the horizon.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wallingford - Unions protest vacation-day edict

As published in the Record Journal on Saturday February 23, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Two unions have filed grievances protesting the mayor’s decision requiring town employees to use a vacation day to cover time not worked when Town Hall was closed earlier this month due to the blizzard.

Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said Friday that United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-14, representing municipal managers, and United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-16, representing the Water Department employees, had filed a grievance protesting Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s Feb. 14 memo.

Sullivan also said he expects Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers, to file a grievance soon. Earlier this week, the union’s president, Chuck Ballard, said one would be filed by week’s end.

“I’m hopeful we find some resolution,” Sullivan said.

Because multiple unions are filing grievances, Sullivan said the first two steps of the resolution process will be skipped. Normally, an aggrieved employee first brings his or her complaint to a direct supervisor. If the supervisor cannot resolve the issue, it’s brought to the department head. If the complaint is still unresolved, Sullivan holds an informal hearing.

In this case, though, the process will skip directly to the informal hearing with Sullivan because it’s not a single employee bringing forward a complaint.

Separate hearings will be held within “the next two weeks,” Sullivan said, calling the meetings “a fair process.”

Sullivan said that Dickinson is unlikely to be involved in the hearings. Also, no matter what the decision, no disciplinary action will be taken.

“This is just an administrative matter,” Sullivan said.

If the issue can’t be resolved through Sullivan, there is the possibility it will go to arbitration through either the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration or the American Arbitration Association. That is a last resort, though.

“Very few grievances actually go all the way,” Sullivan said.

Shelby Jackson, president of the managers union, was out of the office and unavailable for comment on Friday. Joseph Mrozowski, president of the water workers union, referred comment to Wayne Gilbert, regional director of the United Public Service Employees Union, but Gilbert was out of his office on Friday.

Ballard was also unavailable for comment, but made his position clear in a letter to the editor published in the Record-Journal Friday.

After referring to Dickinson’s memo, Ballard wrote: “However, the binding agreement states that the town is not allowed to close town government offices and demand vacation time to be used. Furthermore, town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees— so why is this situation any different?”

Ballard goes on to say that, with multiple grievances filed,work hours will be wasted and the expense to the town will grow.

“The end result is a huge bill for taxpayers,” he said.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, a Republican, agreed with Dickinson’s stance, stating, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to pay people arbitrarily.”

While the cost of arbitration and time put into finding a resolution are “always a concern,” Fishbein said, he thinks it’s inappropriate for the unions to use them as leverage. He called the blizzard “a once-in-a lifetime storm,” and doesn’t think this issue will come up again anytime soon.

Town Councilor John Letourneau, a Republican, said he disagreed with Dickinson, and that the issue could “cost the town thousands in litigation.”

“Is it worth it at the end of the day for a philosophical stance?” LeTourneau said. “That’s where I differ from the mayor.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Editor Letter from the Record Journal - Miscalculated memo

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

Wallingford municipal employees who could not attend a day of work because of Blizzard Nemo should not be forced into counting it as a vacation day.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has requested this use of time-off from workers who stayed home when town hall was closed Feb. 11 due to snowfall. Fiscal conservatism of Dickinson has long helped Wallingford remain in solid financial shape, even during stormy economic times. Thus, in asking that staff count a day lost to Nemo as vacation, he’s at least acting with the best monetary interests of taxpayers in mind. “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work,” Dickinson logically argued in a Feb. 14 memo (R-J, 2-16).

Problem is that this comes after the fact. Certain civic employees were told to attend work on Feb. 11 for assistance with cleanup efforts. Maybe additional individuals would have come in had they known beforehand that the alternative was a lost vacation day.

Employees in private sectors, or even other municipalities, justifiably might be unhappy if their boss requested similar sacrifice days after the storm. It’s therefore reasonable, as outlined by Local 1183 President Chuck Ballard (see his letter below), that at least one union representing Wallingford workers expects to file a grievance. “Town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees — so why is this situation any different?” Ballard persuasively writes. Especially since Dickinson’s decision is opposite some public policy in Connecticut.

In Meriden, Southington and Cheshire, municipal employees are not required to use vacation hours in order to receive wages for days when work is canceled. State staff also gets paid even if officials close Connecticut offices in extreme situations like Nemo, as was the case on Feb. 11. Comparatively, Dickinson’s request is unorthodox.

But more importantly, it seems retroactive, and based on unclear legal language. In his memo about the matter, Dickinson stated that he did “believe” that collective bargaining contracts do not require payment of wages unless an employee reports for work. Wallingford unions probably would have responded differently to this if a definite answer existed — and was widely known before Nemo — about whether it’s contractually permissible or not.

Some readers understandably may agree here with the mayor, who has made another tough decision in his decades-long tradition of holding the line on expenses. Wallingford retains sound monetary status partly because of Dickinson’s willingness to govern conservatively and, at times, unconventionally. But taking away vacation without employees knowing prior that those hours were at risk is unjust.

If Dickinson plans to continue requiring vacation time for workdays canceled amidst severe weather conditions, he must negotiate such language unambiguously into future union contracts — ensuring fair, even-handed treatment for both employees and community.

Letter to the Editor of the Record Journal - Mayor and memo

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

Editor: What good is an agreement if it’s violated? More importantly, what is the ramification if either party does not adhere to the agreement issued by the State Labor Board? It all comes down to this: taxpayer dollars! The fact is that Wallingford Mayor Bill Dickinson closed town government offices on Monday, February 11, 2013. Mayor Dickinson then issued a memo declaring that all employees must use vacation time or lose pay for that Monday.

However, the binding agreement states that the town is not allowed to close town government offices and demand vacation time to be used. Furthermore, town government offices have been closed in the past and have fulfilled their obligation to pay employees — so why is this situation any different?

There will certainly be grievances filed by affected unions, which will result in a multitude of work hours being spent on the case. In addition, add the expense of the town’s labor attorney, which can be even more costly. The end result is a huge bill for taxpayers.

According to a Record-Journal news story (Saturday, February 16), the mayor stated: “I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted.” In this instance, he is doing just that. He is wasting time and taxpayer dollars on a poor labor decision (which is not his first).

Perhaps the residents of Wallingford need to realize it’s time for a change and bring this town into the twenty first century by not wasting taxpayer dollars!

(The writer is President, Local 1183.) CHUCK BALLARD, CARMEL, NEW YORK

Economopoulos opposes quick vote on consent calendar

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 22, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD – Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos is unhappy with how the consent agenda is used during Town Council meetings.

During the council’s last meeting, on Feb. 13, Economopoulos questioned an item on the consent agenda, which is technically against procedure.

“There is no discussion or debate either by members of the council or by the general public on consent items,” according to Town Council procedures, which were last amended in 2010.

Thirteen items were on the consent agenda last week, one of which was an appropriation of $500,000 to the Wallingford Housing Authority to cover building repairs. Economopoulos questioned Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi about the item and asked why the council was voting on a costly appropriation he knew nothing about.

“I don’t like voting yes for something when I don’t know what it is,” Economopoulos said on Thursday.

Parisi then explained that the item was brought up in past discussion, and Economopoulos reluctantly accepted the agenda along with his fellow councilors.

The consent agenda was established for council meetings between 10 and 15 years ago, Parisi said. Town Council procedures state that “the consent agenda is a separate listing from the regular agenda of a variety of items to be approved by one vote of the Town Council, rather than by specific votes on each item.”

It’s used to speed up meetings by accepting items that don’t require discussion in bulk.

“You put the ho-hum items on it, the ones that aren’t normally going to involve a lot of discussion,” Parisi said.

During last week’s meeting, Economopoulos suggested placing a monetary limit on items that can be placed on the consent agenda. On Thursday, he said “I’m against the consent agenda as it is,” explaining that cost doesn’t matter. The item could be a $6,000 tax credit, he said. If he doesn’t know what it’s about, he doesn’t like approving it.

Parisi said councilors have a chance to take items off the consent calendar, but there is a deadline. That’s why he said it is important for councilors to check the agenda immediately when they receive it on the Wednesday before the meeting.

“Some councilors haven’t made themselves aware of what the rules are,” Parisi said.

Procedures direct councilors to bring any questions on the consent agenda “up with the department head submitting the request, or the Mayor, if a satisfactory answer is not obtained.”

If more information is needed, councilors must notify the secretary of the Town Council, or the Town Clerk, by 4:30 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting.

“I have other things I have to do that are much more important” than calling town department heads to have consent items explained, Economopoulos said. Town employees have other business to take care of as well, he said, adding that if he called about all the items he isn’t sure about on the consent agenda he would be accused of micromanaging.

“A department head doesn’t want to take our calls,” he said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau disagreed, and said town employees are usually very helpful.

“You really don’t get people stonewalling you,” Le-Tourneau said, adding that he has no issue with the consent agenda. “A councilor must read their backup material and understand what’s happening during the meeting.”

Economopoulos said there are too many items on a consent agenda to understand them all in detail.

“Be an adult,” Parisi said of Economopoulos. “Don’t play games with the agenda.”

Parisi said that the consent agenda’s purpose is to expedite business, not slow it down.

“These are items we should all agree on,” he said.

But Economopoulos said he often does not, and believes the consent calendar implies items are clear cut when they may not be.

“I’m against the consent calendar,” Economopoulos repeated. “There’s nobody watching out for the taxpayer.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

The American Legion building in Wallingford: A timeline

As published in the Record Journal on Monday February 18, 2013

1890s: House at 41 S. Main St. is built, owned by Roger Austin, Wallingford’s tax collector.

1920: American Legion takes over building.

1988: Town begins talks with American Legion Post 73 to buy building. Post eventually rejects offer.

December 1994: Dime Savings Bank forecloses on building’s mortgage. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. makes the winning bid on the property at $190,000, outbidding five others.

June 1995: Town Council turns down offer from New Haven firm Paul Pizzo Architects to lease the building.

May 2002: Town Council votes to raze the building.

August 2002: Then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal files injunction on behalf of Connecticut Historical Commission to stop the town from demolishing the structure.

2008: Town Council rejects bids by Wallingford Public Access Association to buy the building for $10,000 and Gouveia Vineyards owner Joseph Gouveia, who offered $65,000 to turn it to office and residential use.

April 2010: Testimony begins in trial over whether town can raze the building.

February 2011: A New Haven Superior Court judge rules the town cannot demolish the building.

March 2011: Town Council votes to sell the building.

June 2011: Joseph Gouveia rescinds two bids on the property, one for $100,000 to turn the house into a wine and coffee lounge, and one for $45,000 to build offices and apartments.

July 2011: Town Council votes to sell American Legion Building to Rick Termini for $125,000.

October 2011: Termini rescinds his bid.

November 2011: Council accepts Jeanine Connelly’s bid for $125,000 to turn the building into a bed and breakfast called The Hitching Post Inn.

July 2012: Connelly tells Council she won’t go forward with arrangement due to loss of a backer and anticipated employee.

November 2012: Council awards Joe Gouveia bid for $75,000 to turn building into first floor office with second- and third-floor apartments.

February 2013: Gouveia rescinds bid because an issue with the building’s sewer hookup could not be resolved.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

State to seek more federal storm money

By Susan Haigh

Associated Press

HARTFORD — Connecticut officials plan to seek additional federal reimbursement for storm-related expenses incurred by the state and municipalities during the recent blizzard, saying their request is justified given the enormity of the storm.

Starting next week, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin the process of collecting information from cities and towns about their costs, DESPP spokesman Scott DeVico said. That data will be included in an application by the state for a major disaster declaration by the federal government, a designation that could lead to more federal funds.

Connecticut received an emergency declaration by President Barack Obama shortly after the blizzard hit, which DeVico said is unusual for snowstorms. That declaration authorizes 75 percent federal reimbursement of certain storm-related costs over a 48 hour period. The major disaster declaration, however, would cover an additional 24 hours of costs.

“We feel that the impact of this storm on the state warrants us to get more than 48 hours of assistance and we will be making that case to the federal government,” DeVico said.A total price tag for the storm, which left up to 3 feet of snow in some places, has not yet been determined.

That was welcome news to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, whose city was hit hard by the blizzard. Nearly all roads were not made passable until Thursday, six days after the storm arrived.

“We’ve had crews working around the clock,” said Elaine Ficarra, a spokeswoman for the mayor. She said city officials have not yet tallied up their costs.

“It’s an extraordinary event. It’s almost an extraordinary expense,” Ficarra said. “It’s probably going to be outside our normal realm of spending on a normal snowstorm.”

Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said many of his member cities and towns are still trying to add up their costs from the massive storm. He said the hefty bills could cause cash flow problems for some municipalities, because even if the state is granted the additional federal reimbursement, it could be months before any checks are cut.

“The towns have fronted the money,” he said.

Brenda Bergeron, an attorney for DESPP, said some municipalities are just now receiving funds from 2011’s Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm. Cities and towns have not yet been reimbursed for costs associated with Superstorm Sandy, which hit the state this past October. She said the federal reimbursement process can be time-consuming, requiring detailed documentation of certain costs.

The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has yet to total its costs from the blizzard, but it could be in the millions of dollars.

Judd Everhart, the agency’s spokesman, said DOT crews were on the job continuously, beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, and working through Tuesday night. That equates to about 100 hours.

DOT has 1,196 maintenance employees and it typically costs $95,000 an hour when there is a “full call out” of staff, as DOT had for this storm. Maintenance employees work 17-hour shifts, get a three-hour break and return for another 17-hour shift until the job is done, he said.

The agency budgeted $28.6 million for this winter season for snow and ice removal. Everhart estimates the state has probably spent 60 to 70 percent of that budget so far, perhaps more. If DOT goes over budget, he said funds can be moved from other accounts once the season ends.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dickinson: No work, no snow day pay

As published in the Record Journal on Saturday February 16, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Since Town Hall was closed Monday during the blizzard cleanup effort, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. is asking town department heads, managers and employees who didn’t report to work to take a vacation day in order to be paid. Dickinson made the announcement in a memo addressed to all town employees on Thursday. Nonessential town employees had been told not to report to work on Monday.

“We believe that collective bargaining contracts do not require the payment of wages unless an employee has reported for work,” Dickinson wrote. “We believe that this is a fair and just resolution of the questions that arise when payment of wages to employees who have not work are raised by those employees who did work.” Some managers and employees were still asked to report to work on Monday to continue snow removal and support “public safety operations,” Dickinson said.

Shelby Jackson, president of United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-14, which represents municipal managers in Wallingford, said “members of our union have expressed concern and the memo is under review.”

He could not confirm if the union plans to file a grievance. Jackson said that, according to contract, the union has until Thursday to file a grievance.

Chuck Ballard, president of Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Dickinson explained his reasoning for the memo on Friday, stating, “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work.”

“I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted,” he said.

Dickinson said the employees who did have to work Monday feel “they should be paid something extra” for their time if those who were asked not to show up for work Monday are still paid.

Dickinson said he would have trouble explaining to the public “that we pay people when they are not working.”

In Meriden, Southington and Cheshire, municipal employees are not asked to use vacation days in order to receive payment for a day they were told not to show up. Those municipal governments were open on Monday.

“When we don’t open Town Hall, we don’t charge vacation days,” Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback said.

In Cheshire, Town Manager Michael Milone said charging vacation or personal time is against policy when Town Hall is closed.

“People would say to me, ‘I would have been at work if you didn’t close,’ ” Milone said. “And that’s probably true.”

Caroline Beitman, Meriden’s personnel director, said, “We cannot legally make our unionized employees use personal time if you send them home and shut down the work place.” However, she said, those who couldn’t get to work Monday had to use personal time.

According to the state comptroller’s office, hourly state employees are also paid for days they are asked not to report to work in circumstances such as Monday’s, when state offices were closed.

Workers at Wallingford Town Hall who have not accumulated vacation time will be allowed to make up the lost time. Jackson said two people in the assessor’s office, where he works, were hired recently and have no vacation time. After consulting with the town’s personnel director, Terry Sullivan, he learned that they will be able to work an extra hour per day until the lost time is made up, making Dickinson’s action “more palatable.”



Friday, February 15, 2013

FEMA funds to ease fiscal pain (snow removal from Charlotte)

As published in the Record Journal on Friday February 15, 2013

By Dan Brechlin
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2266
Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ

“Wallingford spent more than $800,000 on that storm (October 2011), and more than $900,000 on Tropical Storm Irene. Last weekend’s blizzard is expected to be a significant cost, though Wallingford avoided the added expense of hiring numerous private contractors. Just two pieces of equipment were rented, and one operator was hired.

“Last weekend’s storm drew the quickest disaster declaration (for FEMA reimbursement)”


Municipal leaders will spend the next several days tallying pay, fuel, equipment maintenance, contracting, and other costs related to last weekend’s blizzard. The storm is expected to exact a heavy price.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama declared Connecticut a disaster area, meaning municipalities will be eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred during part of the storm.

The area is used to this. Since the beginning of 2011, it has qualified for FEMA reimbursement for an early 2011 snowstorm, Tropical Storm Irene, the October snowstorm of 2011, and Superstorm Sandy. Last weekend’s storm drew the quickest disaster declaration.

“Even before the beginning of the storm we started calculating our expenses, including pre-treating the roads,” said David Bowen, Meriden’s deputy fire chief and emergency management director.

Typically, FEMA reimburses for 48 hours of the storm and recovery costs, Bowen said. For last weekend’s snowstorm, because of the record-breaking totals, 75 percent of the costs were reimbursed over 72 hours.

The total costs associated with last weekend’s storm have yet to be determined, but they are expected to be significant. Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback typically budgets for about six storms a year, and said last weekend’s blizzard added up to several storms.

“Even with the FEMA reimbursement, this will account for two or three storms worth of expense,” Brumback said. “Without FEMA, this would be devastating.”

Southington’s budget for snow removal this fiscal year is $670,000. Like other municipalities, Southington paid a high fee for maintenance on its equipment because the large amount of snow caused numerous breakdowns and equipment failures. The long time spent on the roads also lead to high fuel costs and a significant overtime cost.

“We wanted to get our town back to normal as quickly as possible,” Brumback said, and that also added costs, including the hiring of additional private contractors.

Though he expects a big bill, Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone said it will likely not be as high as the tab for the October snowstorm in 2011. That storm left heavy damage and thousands in the area without power.

“This will probably be $150,000 to $200,000,” after FEMA reimbursement, said Milone. “We were better off than most towns and still had four or five days of hard work. Some other communities, it will take a lot longer.”

Dealing with the October 2011 storm, Cheshire spent $530,000 before any reimbursement. In addition to cleanup, paying for town buildings to run on generators was a significant cost.

Wallingford spent more than $800,000 on that storm, and more than $900,000 on Tropical Storm Irene. Last weekend’s blizzard is expected to be a significant cost, though Wallingford avoided the added expense of hiring numerous private contractors. Just two pieces of equipment were rented, and one operator was hired.

Before this past weekend’s snowfall, Meriden had already used half of its $500,000 snow removal budget. In 2011, the city spent nearly $840,000 on the January snowstorm and more than $1 million on the October snowstorm.

“It was done fairly well; there’s no real way to clear aloof the streets in one day,” Bowen said, noting that sometimes events happen and bills have to be paid. “It’s just like if your roof at your house starts to leak and you have to get it fixed. You have to respond and that’s what it costs sometimes.”

Bowen said calculating the total cost is complicated because of the many types of expenses. Though municipal leaders expressed confidence in paying the high bill, Brumback said he is hoping that there are not any more significant storms in the near future.

“If we’re at all fortunate and Mother Nature smiles on us, we will still have the ability to have a budget for one or two more storms going forward,” he said.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dickinson: Outside help is OK with me

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday February 14, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — While Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. prefers that the town’s workforce clear its snow, he’s not philosophically opposed to bringing in outside contractors, and is, in fact, considering putting the service out to bid “if snow keeps coming down like this,” he said Wednesday.

Dickinson clarified his attitude toward private contractors after an article in Wednesday’s Record-Journal incorrectly stated that he doesn’t believe in using them. The town simply hires contractors for snow removal on an as needed basis and does not budget for them as some other cities and towns do.

“It’s not that we don’t ever do it,” he said. “We just do it when it’s necessary.”

For this past weekend’s blizzard, Dickinson said, the town rented a front loader that came with an operator, as well as another piece of snow removal equipment that was operated by a town employee.

“This time we got some equipment, but we didn’t reach a point” where the town needed to bring in outside contractors, Dickinson said.

Dickinson used the Department of Public Utilities as an example of the town bringing in outside contractors to assist during emergencies. George Adair, the department’s director, said the town hires outside help for “two primary areas.”

Adair said Asplundh Tree Expert Co., of East Windsor, performs zone trimming annually. The company trims vegetation on one-quarter of the town’s roads. Adair said Asplundh is also brought in to do “spot trimming on an as needed basis.”

Another example is Thirau LLC, an electrical contracting company based in Newington, which is brought in to help the Department of Public Utilities, mainly during emergencies, Adair said.

The company provides linemen, who are “utilized and often pre-positioned prior to major events” such as Hurricane Irene or Superstorm Sandy, Adair said.

Adair said companies are hired on multiyear contracts through competitive bidding. He stressed that the town is capable of repairing power lines and trimming trees, but that hiring outside help is crucial so “we don’t have to maintain folks just for those purposes.”

There are “times when we don’t have enough people to respond to an emergency event,” he said.

Dickinson said he may look into hiring contractors to remove snow through the bidding process. In Southington, 10 to 15 private contractors have been on the road helping clear snow in the past few days, according to Town Manager Garry Brumback. The town secures snow removal contractors every year by putting the service out to bid.

Dickinson said Public Works Department staff and town officials will have to assess if putting snow removal services out to bid is a good idea.

“We may already have some capabilities with existing bids” through the Board of Education, Dickinson said.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the district signed a three-year contract with a snow removal company last spring. The district puts the work out to bid every three years, but “sometimes extensions are granted,” Menzo said. “We’re very satisfied with what was done this storm,” Menzo said.

Dickinson said that, if the school system has successfully hired a contractor for snow removal through the bidding process, the town might be able to “just use the existing bid.”


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Outside help’s OK in three of four "Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. does not believe in hiring outside contractors to help clear snow"

As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday February 13, 2013

By Andrew Ragali

Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. does not believe in hiring outside contractors to help clear snow, but Meriden, Southington and Cheshire are employing several companies.

As a general rule, Dickinson said, the town doesn’t use outside contractors, but equipment has been rented this time around. Dickinson said the town “rented some equipment, including a pay loader that came with an operator.” Another piece of equipment was rented as well, “but our personnel are driving it,” he said.

“We feel we have the adequate manpower to handle our needs. The town has always approached it from that standpoint and it has worked,” Dickinson said.

Meriden is receiving aid from several private contractors and Northeast Utilities.

“We have about 50 percent additional to our normal complement,” City Manager Larry Kendzior said. In an email, Kendzior wrote that in addition to the city’s regular private contractors, equipment and operators from La Rosa Construction, Cariati Developers, Suzio York Hill are on the job, as is a contractor from Norfolk.

“That’s something Wallingford needs to do,” Wallingford Town Councilor John LeTourneau said. Le­Tourneau said he hopes to bring public safety officials together once everything has settled to “find out what we can do better” after future snowstorms.

Kenzior said Meriden used three pieces of equipment from Yankee Gas on Tuesday. The crew began work on Church Street and moved toward Dove Drive, he said. The aid will be free of charge, said Theresa Gilbert, a spokeswoman for Yankee Gas’ parent company, Northeast Utilities.

About 50 pieces of CL&P and Yankee Gas snow removal equipment, including backhoes, dump trucks and trailers, were deployed, along with more than 40 employees to operate the equipment, on Monday. The effort was coordinated through the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Crews were dispatched to Meriden, Hartford and Waterbury first because Northeast Utilities has work locations in those cities, which made sense “from an efficiency standpoint,” Gilbert said.

The company is donating its services as a way to thank municipalities for working hard to make roads passable. Going forward, Gilbert said the state will further assess which municipalities need assistance from the company.

“There’s obviously a great need,” Gilbert said.

Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback estimated that 10 to 15 private contractors were helping to clear areas in town. Combined with town equipment, Brumback said there were over 40 vehicles “still on the road opening stuff up” on Tuesday. Southington secures snow removal contractors every fall by putting the service out to bid.

As in Wallingford, Cheshire officials traditionally don’t bring in outside contractors, Public Works Director George Noewatne said.

“We pretty much do our own snow plowing and clearing,” he said. But similar to the October storm in 2011, the town has decided to hire contractors in order to use their heavy machinery.

“We brought in a couple of private contractors to clear sidewalks and intersections” to improve sightlines for motorists, Noewatne said.

With high snow banks, “safety is a concern for drivers,” he added.

A.J. Waste Systems and Excavation Technologies, both of Cheshire, were hired, Noewatne said.

Snow removal companies are having issues of their own.

Rick Macri Jr., owner of Affordable Home Improvements in Wallingford, said the greatest challenge was getting out of his own driveway, not plowing others’.

“We couldn’t even get to customers,” Macri said, explaining that his street wasn’t plowed until Monday.

While Macri’s company serves both commercial and residential properties in the area, he’s taking it slow so as to not wear out his equipment.

“We’re trying to take it easy, telling customers they have to be patient,” he said, adding that equipment breaks down more quickly in heavy snow. “Slower equipment is better than no equipment.”

Taffy Guest, whose husband, David, runs Total Maintenance in Southington, also said getting to customers was the biggest issue.

“It’s hard to get to customers until town roads are plowed,” she said.

The company does 95 percent of its work in Southington, Guest said, including plowing the Southington Library parking lot for the town.

While people may think private contractors are cleaning up financially, Guest tells a different story. “Storms of this size lose money,” she said. “We don’t make money at all.”

Between fuel costs, which grow because of the extended hours crews are putting in, and the wear and tear on machinery, many contractors won’t profit from this storm, she said.

Dealing with angry residents has also been a problem, Guest said. While some understand why they’ve had such a long wait to get out of their homes, and even bring out coffee or food to crews working on their driveways, “others want to rip you from one end to another,” she said.

“I don’t think the public understands.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

Slim growth of tax base suggests belt tightening isn’t over yet in Wallingford

As published in the Record Journal Friday February 1, 2013

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

WALLINGFORD – With little growth in the grand list and the threat of reductions in state aid, residents may see an increase in taxes when the 2013-14 budget is adopted.

The town will collect about an additional $1 million in property taxes next year after seeing almost 1 percent growth in the grand list, but the increase in the school and general government budgets is likely to top that. School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo has requested a $2.2 million increase. Town department budgets haven’t been finalized yet.

Coupled with slow economic growth and a stagnant local tax base is the state’s budget difficulty, with major deficits projected over the next two years. State Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said that if he were a municipal official, he’d be planning for a 10to 15-percent reduction in municipal aid. “Given the state of the national economy, this problem isn’t going away,” he said. “You have to take a conservative approach. Local government has to continue to reinvent itself and downsize.”

“It is probably unlikely that we are going to be able to hold cities and towns harmless,” House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said earlier this month.

The majority of municipal aid comes through the state Education Cost Sharing grant. The town received $22.3 million in state aid for education last year.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he doesn’t know at this point whether municipal aid will be cut and is waiting for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to release his budget on Wednesday. Dickinson said even if aid remains the same, it will be impossible to fulfill all of the departments’ budget requests at the current tax rate.

“You have to measure reduction of services against an increase in taxes,” he said.

Dickinson said he didn’t anticipate any major requests for new personnel, but pension costs will increase and he expects departments to submit requests to fund capital expenditures including new computers for the Police Department and snow plowing equipment for Public Works.

Department heads have been instructed to give “careful scrutiny” to every item in the budget, Dickinson said.

“They need to be thoughtful in their requests,” he said. “The ability to fund everything when it’s needed is difficult.”

Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay said possible cuts to state aid were part of the school board’s conversation when formulating a budget.

“It would be unrealistic not to be concerned,” McKay said.

While McKay said she understands the deficit the state faces, at the same time the state Department of Education has required districts to work toward several unfunded mandates, including the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations.

Bridging the state budget gap will be more difficult this year because layoffs or changes in employee benefits are off the table. Malloy reached an agreement with the state employee unions two years ago that offered a four year, no-layoff clause in exchange for a two-year wage freeze.

Candelora said even if municipal aid through the Education Cost Sharing grant remains intact, municipalities may see cuts in state grants for services provided by housing authorities or senior centers.

State Rep. Mary G. Fritz, D Wallingford, said she believes cuts to municipal aid will be minimal but she doesn’t want to see any reductions in funding to cities and towns.

“When people pay state taxes, that’s their money coming home,” she said.