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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Drop-off boxes: at police stations or nowhere

As published in the Record Journal Sunday March 31, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

WALLINGFORD - The idea of a medication drop-off box at the police station has drawn opposition from town officials, but pharmacies are also reluctant to host the boxes even if they were allowed to under state and federal law.

Federal Drug Enforcement Administration rules don’t allow pharmacies to take back leftover medicine, according to Marghie Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association.

The state Department of Consumer Protection requires that the boxes be located in the lobbies of police stations.

Wallingford Chief Douglas Dortenzio said he doesn’t want the Police Department to bear the cost of hosting a drop box, saying the department can’t be a substitute for responsible citizens. Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has supported Dortenzio’s position.

Supporters of the box have said the cost is minimal and an easy way to tackle the serious problem of prescription drug abuse.

A founding member of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, Ken Welch, has advocated for the drop box as a way to counter prescription drug abuse. His partner’s daughter Taylor Short, 20, died in November of an apparent drug overdose.

Welch said he looked into having drop boxes at pharmacies but found it was illegal. He’d like to see it, though.

“I think the industry does bear some responsibility,” he said. “We’re flooding the market with this stuff and there’s no good way to retrieve it.”

Rules on drug returns are being examined, but Giuliano said pharmacies shouldn’t bear the cost of installing and monitoring drop boxes when they’re not entirely responsible for the medications.

“I don’t think it would be fair to put the burden on the pharmacies,” she said. “The pharmacies are selling them, but should it be the doctors? Should it be the pharmaceutical companies who are manufacturing them?

“The end user should be in some way responsible for disposing of medications properly,” Giuliano said.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said changing state and federal laws to allow drop boxes at pharmacies isn’t the easiest way to address the problem.

“Whether one group in Wallingford could change a federal law, I don’t know how feasible that is,” she said. “We have to do what’s possible.”

Thirty towns in the state have drop boxes at their police stations, Mushinsky said.

“It seems to be the easier way to go,” she said.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat running for mayor, pointed out the large quantity of prescription drugs collected at the Southington Police Department.

“If Southington in four months collected 400 pounds (of drugs), clearly someone’s using it,” Zandri said.

Volunteers have offered to install the box, and Zandri said police pay related to cataloging the drugs taken in could be donated.

“I’m sure we could fundraise it if this town is so broke,” he said.

Zandri wasn’t aware of any studies that quantify the effectiveness of medicine drop boxes, but said it was an inexpensive measure that could help.

“It probably would be hard to prove anyway,” he said.

Jerry Farrell Jr., a former state consumer protection commissioner, also didn’t know of any data on whether drop boxes have helped reduce prescription drug abuse. The department sponsors drug take-back days on which unused medicines are collected.

Conscientious citizens are likely already disposing of their drugs properly, while those most at risk likely wouldn’t use a drop box, he said.

The “moderately conscientious” would be the ones most likely to benefit from having somewhere to deposit unused medicines, Farrell said.

“I think it’s a good thing to have out there,” he said. “You want to offer people an opportunity to get rid of them.”

“As a culture we need to be doing more of this,” Farrell said.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, some drugs should be flushed down the toilet but only if it’s recommended on the drug’s label. If not, drugs can be mixed with something undesirable, like coffee grounds, and thrown away. Drugs can also be brought to drug take-back days, the FDA said.

At some pharmacies, drug envelopes can be picked up that allow customers to mail back unused drugs, according to Giuliano. Drugs containing controlled substances, such as Oxycontin, can’t be mailed back, however, and those drugs are the ones most often abused.

“Certainly we’re all concerned about the excess of medications in individuals’ homes and the potential for drug abuse,” Giuliano said.

She said the best place for drop boxes is in police stations where the boxes can be monitored and secured. Taking drugs back at pharmacies introduces the risk of mixing returned drugs with new drugs, she said.

“What seems like something simple can be very complex,” Giuliano said. “It would certainly be a real cost to provide this service for pharmacies.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Opinions vary on wisdom of using arbitration in Wallingford Unions’ dispute

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 28, 2013

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

WALLINGFORD – Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Wednesday that he’d rather resort to arbitration than deal with the ongoing cost of paying town employees every time Town Hall closes due to inclement weather.

Town Hall was closed on Feb. 14 as the cleanup effort began after the blizzard, and two days later Dickinson filed a memo stating that town employees who didn’t report to work that day must take a vacation day in order to be paid. Nonessential town employees had been told not to report to work that day, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy closed the state.

Personnel Director Terrence Sullivan said in early March that six of the town’s seven employee unions filed a grievance in opposition to Dickinson’s ruling. The police union did not file a grievance. Sullivan, who could not be reached Wednesday, said earlier this month that he had heard the arguments of several unions, but could not reach any compromise. He said he expected several unions to resort to arbitration,which Dickinson referred to Wednesday as “a one-time cost.”

“If every time Town Hall closes there’s a cost associated with that, that’s an ongoing cost,” Dickinson said.

Earlier this month, Sullivan said he still had to hear from two unions.

On Wednesday, Dickinson said, “I think it’s still in the grievance process,” so there’s no indication that any town employee union will decide to go to arbitration. Shelby Jackson, president of United Public Service Employees Union Local 424-14, which represents municipal managers, and 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 on Wednesday.

Sullivan explained in February that there are two options when settling a dispute through arbitration. Either the Connecticut State Board of Mediation & Arbitration or the American Arbitration Association can settle the grievance as a neutral party. Sullivan said settling a dispute through the state board is cheaper, but can take more time.

“The state board is flooded with grievances“ from both municipalities and private companies, he said. “It can take a year to a year and a half to get an initial hearing.”

There is a $25 filing fee when dealing with the state board, while the association charges between $250 and $300 to file a complaint, Sullivan said. Going through the association is much faster, he said, with an initial hearing usually held within 90 days, and a conclusion reached 30 days after the final hearing. But there could be arbitration fees of$1,500 per hearing when working with the association.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said there are two schools of thought when settling union complaints. The town can either “run and hide in the corner and agree” to what the union gives as their last offer, or “fight on behalf of the taxpayers,” a method Fishbein would agree with “more often than not.”

Fishbein said he’s been hearing in council chambers that “we’re just going to lose in arbitration,” but the councilor feels if the town doesn’t fight unions through arbitration, there’s no chance of winning.

Town Councilor John LeTourneau said fighting town employee unions through arbitration is a “huge mistake.”

LeTourneau said the cost of arbitration and personnel hours dealing with the grievance and arbitration process is wasteful and will end up costing the town more money than if Dickinson decided to change his mind and pay employees for the day Town Hall was closed.

“This is going to open up such a large can of worms that it will be years until it gets unwound,” LeTourneau said. “We’re paying (employees) to take time to file grievances. They’re on the clock.”

LeTourneau also said the town doesn’t do well in arbitration battles with town unions.

“It sounds good on the surface ... take a stand, don’t pay your employees,” he said. “But if you get into the weeds of this thing, it’s going to cost the town a lot of money. There’s a reason why unions are strong in this town, and this is an example.”

Bill would expand governing boards’ ability to meet in private sessions

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 28, 2013

By Ed Jacovino
Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD — Open government advocates Monday railed against a bill that would give state and municipal governing boards more ability to meet in secret to discuss important issues.

“One of the fundamental precepts of democracy is that the meetings of those the people elect to serve them in their government should be as open and public as possible,” James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said.

Smith questioned why lawmakers would consider a system that would allow elected officials to meet privately to discuss and conduct public business, and then emerge to a public meeting essentially just to vote. The proposal “flies in the face of well established law in what constitutes a meeting of a public agency,” Smith said.

The bill would change the definition of a public meeting under the state Freedom of Information law. It would enable board members to discuss public business behind closed doors even if they have a quorum — or more than half of the elected body present and more than one political party represented.

Under the proposal, those groups could meet to discuss public issues without notifying the public of the meeting, and could bar residents from attending the session. They’d just have to say the meeting was limited to “leaders.” It’s not uncommon for more than half of the members of a town council, for example, to have leadership titles.

Any board that under current law must give notice of a meeting — including boards of education and selectmen, town councils, planning and zoning commissions, and ethics boards — would be covered under the measure.

Mary E. Schwind, managing director and associate general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission, also criticized the proposal at the hearing Monday before the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. The measure was raised by the committee, so it’s unclear which lawmaker or lawmakers proposed the plan.

“In essence, the public would have the opportunity to view the rubber-stamping decisions already made,”Schwind told lawmakers.

She questioned why the law should change. “The law has worked well over all these years and public agencies have managed to conduct their business in public,” she said.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the top four lawmakers on legislative committees often meet behind closed doors in “screening meetings” to determine what bills can pass and what changes to make to bills before they reach the House or the Senate floors.

The privacy of those meetings is important to the process, he said.

Screening meetings are allowed under current law because they don’t involve a quorum of members.

But Smith said the measure would have far-reaching consequences in terms of the public’s right to know what their elected officials are doing.

“What we oppose is legislation that would shut that process in yet another attempt to restrict the transparency laws,” he said.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

FROM WALLINGFORD - Terminal timidity; “The incentive housing zone is near death”

As published in the Record Journal Sunday March 24, 2013

From the Editorial Pages of the Record Journal, as written by Mike Brodinsky host of public access show “Citizen Mike”

The incentive housing zone is near death. When the end comes, the cause of death will be terminal timidity.

The IHZ was once the best plan to revitalize the area of downtown Wallingford near the railroad station. The plan had the potential to entice developers to invest substantial cash downtown, because the IHZ would have allowed more residential and commercial space than would have been otherwise permitted under existing zoning.

The town would have been able to dictate the appearance of any new development by imposing design standards, which are possible only in an incentive housing zone. New projects, therefore, would have looked spiffy and appropriate. We’d have gotten more taxes, too. This seemed like a win-win situation. But it’s not likely to happen.

The town planner introduced the concept of an IHZ to the town council on February 26, 2008. Five years later, the planning and zoning commission is still uncertain of what to do. It’s still groping for information. A glacier moves faster.

Many are happy with this result. Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who never liked the IHZ, cheered the lack of progress. He said a quicker decision would be a haphazard rush to judgment. Council Chairman Bob Parisi, who was never sold on the plan either, also said the timeline was fine. He encouraged more discussion; he did not encourage a decision. The most recent hang up is a worry about the possibility of variances. A variance is government’s permission to build on or use property in a way that is not permitted by zoning. For example, if a developer buys properties intending to develop an IHZ project, but finds the IHZ regulations bothersome or expensive to satisfy, that developer has the right to ask the Zoning Board of Appeals to “vary” the regulations.

Would a request for a variance result in changes to the carefully crafted design standards? Would the ZBA allow a developer in the IHZ to provide less parking than is required? Would we see other surprises? The quick and clear answer is no.

Variances should be tough to get. They require proof of a hardship caused by the characteristics of the land. Following the law, the ZBA couldn’t properly grant a variance merely to reduce the cost of a project.

Nor could the ZBA properly grant a variance to fix a situation the applicant caused. For example, if a developer starts a project but isn’t prepared to spend what it takes to satisfy the IHZ regulations, it will not be able to benefit from some of the IHZ regulations, and get a variance to evade other regulations that are burdensome. That ploy wouldn’t work.

Progress in the downtown, therefore, shouldn’t be frustrated because of an irrational fear that the ZBA will issue variances when it shouldn’t. It’s too bad the P & Z and the ZBA can’t just sit and talk it through. Some officials also worry that if Wallingford adopted IHZ regulations, it couldn’t change them. Proposed amendments must be approved by the state. Experts have advised that routine amendments would be approved routinely as long as they did not weaken the core principles of the zone, such as requiring some affordable housing.

We should not expect the state to issue a written guarantee that it will approve amendments. Some may treat that uncertainty, however, as a reason to say no.

We need to act. The downtown will not get prettier or more vital by itself. There are no alternative plans. The town hasn’t moved to benefit from the coming commuter rail service, even though other towns have.

Those who would sink the IHZ, therefore, need to suggest Plan B. After all, they’ve had five years to think about it.

If they don’t have ideas on how to jump start re-development in the downtown; if they have nothing to offer except aimless drift and undue caution; maybe they should reconsider the IHZ.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bill would create early voting pilot program

As published in the Record Journal on Tuesday March 19, 2013

HARTFORD — Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that would create a pilot program for early voting in municipal elections.
While not fully drafted yet, the proposal is one of several bills being offered during this year’s legislative session to allow people to cast their ballots prior to Election Day.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill testified in favor of the legislation on Monday before the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. Merrill said Connecticut needs to modernize its elections and provide more options for busy voters.

She said she has already asked several municipalities whether they would like to develop the idea further.

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Wallingford Downtown church plan encounters opposition

As published in the Record Journal on Tuesday March 19, 2013

By Eric Heredia
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2243
Twitter: @EHerediaRJ

WALLINGFORD - The Zoning Board of Appeals voted Monday to continue its public hearing on whether a church can move into a storefront at 144 Center St.

Pastor Arcadio Negron, of the Iglesias Church, and parishioner Fred Ortiz testified before the board. They were applying for a parking variance to allow 14 parking spaces where 93 are required.

Ortiz said the Pentecostal church has 30 to 35 parishioners who are carpooled in vans to attend the church’s largest service on Sundays. Ortiz said the church would have at most five or six vehicles in the parking lot at one time.

The church also would like to set up a day care area for church members in the basement of the 3,000-square-foot storefront, which for decades was home to Bolio’s Sporting Goods. Ortiz said it will be a place for children, so they do not disturb the church services, which are also held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

ZBA Chairman Michael Glidden told Ortiz that he should speak to the landlord and fire marshal about installing a sprinkler system. Town Planner Kacie Costello said another legal notice may have to run because the previous notice did not include the use of the basement.

During public comments against the application, downtown business owner John LeTourneau said he had concerns about the parking situation and giving up prime retail space. He did not oppose the church or its views, but was concerned about the overall view of downtown, and said another location away from downtown might be better.

LeTourneau, who serves on the Town Council, said if downtown loses another retail space, it probably won’t come back. He said the area is deteriorating and the business community has to “get its arms around what we want down there.”

Theresa Cipriani, co-owner of the Serenity Spa and Day Salon at 118 Center St., agreed with LeTourneau and said she would prefer the storefront space be leased to a retail business that would “help all the other merchants do better.”

Liz Landow, director of the Wallingford Center non profit organization, said she has heard concerns about parking from tenants who live above 144 Center St.

The public hearing on the church plan is expected to resume at the ZBA’s April meeting.

In other business, the board approved a special exception request by Steven Lazarus to operate a bed and breakfast at his 63 Curtis Ave. home, and denied a variance request and special exception request by Joel Kummer, who wanted to build a garage that would have been larger than his home at 6 Overlook Drive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wallingford: Drop-box decision – Editorial in the Record Journal Sunday March 17, 2013

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday March 17, 2013

Wallingford Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio should reconsider a recent decision to deny installation of a medication drop box in his department’s station.

Abuse of prescription pills is a harmful problem in communities of all types. Ingesting analgesic opioids like Oxycontin and Percocets causes euphoric feelings analogous to taking heroin, a similarly constructed compound. And like heroin, these powerful pain-killing medications, when used recreationally and frequently, lead to addiction, increased tolerance, greater doses required to achieve highs, escalating health problems and, in some cases, overdose and death. Doctors prescribe these potent drugs for individuals in extreme pain. After removing their molars, dental surgeons may send people home with a few Percocets. It’s not uncommon for discharged patients to take analgesics appropriately until physical anguish subsides, but then leave half-filled medicine bottles in household cabinets. Friends and relatives can then steal unguarded, unused opioids for personal abuse or to sell. Addicts sometimes break into residences in search of these narcotics.

Many citizens may not realize the danger of old pills stored in closets and bathrooms. Thus, one would think Wallingford law-enforcement representatives would support local systems for collection and destruction of unwanted prescriptions. Instead, Dortenzio dismissed reasonable requests from the Coalition for a Better Wallingford to establish a public drop box in police headquarters.

The chief’s arguments are illogical. The “most common method” for prescription disposal, he curiously proffered, is for residents to throw away unwanted pills (R-J, 3-14). Surely, Dortenzio in his long career must understand that mono-focused addicts, without second thought, could rip through someone’s trash should they think Oxycontins buried within. And his suggestion that drop-box installation would cause foot traffic issues in police headquarters and parking problems outside is an overestimation of logistics.

“I can’t be a substitute for responsible citizens,” Dortenzio stated in our news story. But wouldn’t responsible action for residents be bringing drugs to police for proper, documented, supervised destruction? The chief also believed maintaining a drop box would require from his department too extensive commitment of man-hours and paperwork. However, 27 state towns already provide comparable disposal services, including Cheshire and Southington. It’s worth the extra effort to save local lives and boost community safety.

Members of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford have secured state grants and local-business support so that drop box purchase and drug destruction would cost taxpayers nothing. Brought before Town Council, the concept received mostly warm reception. Legal approval, however, may remain under the authority of Dortenzio.

He should end his resistance. At the very least, this would be symbolic of town police supporting thorough means of limiting local drug abuse. But a public drop box could also accomplish much more — it would offer residents a safer option for ridding homes of unused prescriptions while also serving as a proactive step toward deterring crime and addiction.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

A town-wide health issue – an editorial by Eric Cotton of the Record Journal

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday March 17, 2013

Reach Eric Cotton at or (203) 317-2344. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3

Wallingford Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio last week recommended that people dispose of unwanted medication by simply throwing the drugs in the trash as opposed to the town creating a secure drop-off box in the police department lobby — even though similar drop-off boxes have been successful and uncontroversial in other communities.

While the town runs two drug take-back events per year, it’s just a bad idea for residents to leave items like powerful narcotic painkillers around the house until then — and it can be just as dangerous to throw them in the trash.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recommends AGAINST throwing many narcotic painkillers in the trash under ANY circumstances, even though the state Department of Consumer Protection website says it’s OK with proper precautions.

The FDA provides a list of painkillers that it says should never be disposed of in the trash, including Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Demerol, Percocet and morphine — the kind of opiate painkillers responsible for many overdose deaths.

In the absence of a community drug take-back option, FDA officials agree with the state DCP that other unwanted drugs may be thrown in the trash, as long as they’re mixed with undesirable substances like kitty litter or coffee grounds and placed in a sealed bag.

But “drugs such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances carry instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse,” according to the FDA website, which explains that the risk of accidental exposure or abuse outweighs environmental concerns if there’s no take-back option available. “For example, the fentanyl patch, an adhesive patch that delivers a potent pain medicine through the skin, comes with instructions to flush used or leftover patches. Too much fentanyl can cause severe breathing problems and lead to death in babies, children, pets, and even adults, especially those who have not been prescribed the drug.”

The FDA website quotes Capt. Jim Hunter, senior program manager on the administration’s Controlled Substance Staff: “Even after a patch is used, a lot of the drug remains in the patch so you wouldn’t want to throw something in the trash that contains a powerful and potentially dangerous narcotic that could harm others.“ Flushing isn’t a great alternative from an environmental standpoint, so why not create a secure drop box? Dortenzio says it would be too onerous for his staff, but Southington police say it only takes about 15 minutes a week to clean out the box they installed in December. That includes weighing the medication and filling out a brief form.

Dortenzio also claims that safely disposing of medication is a matter of personal responsibility and not the town’s concern, which is frankly insulting. If the state and federal governments can’t agree on a proper procedure, what’s the average resident supposed to do?

Federal rules say that, if a city or town opts to have a drop box, it has to be in the police department. But it’s not enough for Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. to simply defer to his police chief as if this were a minor matter of department administration. It’s really a town-wide public health issue and thus it’s appropriate for the mayor to overrule the chief.

Will the drop box solve the problem of local drug abuse? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction and an important resource for residents.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rascati will not run again

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

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

WALLINGFORD – Veteran Town Councilor Rosemary Rascati will not seek reelection this fall. The announcement came during Wednesday night’s Republican Town Committee meeting. Rascati has served four consecutive terms on the Town Council, beginning in 2006, and has been a member of the town committee for 54 years.

Rascati said Thursday that she would serve out her term, which runs through the end of the year, but would not seek reelection in November because “a couple of my children have illnesses” and she wants to spend more time concentrating on her family.

“I’m just afraid that I have a little much on my plate that I have not been able to give all the attention that’s needed,” Rascati said. “I take my council duties very seriously. I just feel that I won’t be able to give the time that I have in the past.”

Rascati, 86, has lived in town for 56 years, and has always been heavily involved in civic activities.

“And I want it to stay that way,” she said.

She said she is also in the process of selling her home and purchasing a new one in town.

Rascati said she’s “going to miss the campaigning,” but plans to stay involved because she doesn’t want to feel like she’s “short-changing citizens” who have voted for her and the Republican Party, which she said has supported her for decades.

Rascati served as Town Clerk on two separate occasions for a total of 12 years, and served on the Planning and Zoning Commission. She is on the boards of directors of both Wallingford Center Inc. and the Wallingford Community Theatre.

“She’s been a great addition,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said on Thursday. “She will be missed. Rosemary has been a wonderful person and a person with experience on the council. She has an understanding of the aspects of doing business.”

Town Council Chairman Bob Parisi has sat next to Rascati for all of her time on the Town Council. He called her “a good lady, good woman, and a dear friend.”

“She’ll be missed, certainly,” Parisi said. “You can always count on her to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.”

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau said the presence of someone who has “been here for so long” will be missed.

Republican Town Chairman Bob Prentice said that after Rascati made the announcement Wednesday night, the estimated 50 people in attendance gave her a standing ovation for about three minutes.

“I couldn’t help but cry a little,” Rascati said. “I noticed a lot of my friends shedding a tear, and it made me feel bad that I’m doing this.”

Prentice called Rascati a “real asset to the town of Wallingford.”

During Rascati’s address at the meeting Wednesday night, Prentice said, she thanked everyone and said she’s “not going away” and “still wants to help out the town.”

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who has served alongside Rascati since 2012, said he was sad to hear that she’s leaving the council. He said he understood that it’s difficult to do your job when family issues arise.

“It’s always a delicate balance of having enough free time to do a job that you need a lot of time to do,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. She really enjoys doing the work.”

The process of finding a replacement for Rascati on the council is already under way, Prentice said. He’ll be sending out an email to all members of the Republican Party in Wallingford to gauge interest in the position.

“We’re just getting the process moving,” he said, adding that he likes to be prepared, especially since the caucus in July isn’t that far off.

“It’s not something you want to go about overnight,” he said.

Prentice said it will be hard to replace Rascati. “She’s so fair and so honest and hardworking,” he said.

Rascati said members of the Republican Town Committee are “like a second family.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wallingford Police Chief: No need for drug drop-off

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

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

WALLINGFORD – Residents should take personal responsibility and dispose of unwanted medication on their own, said Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio, who opposes a medication drop box at the police station.

While Dortenzio said he is “not opposed to the concept of disposing of drugs” for safety reasons, he said “the general public has been disposing of personal medications for decades without the assistance of law enforcement.”

The safest way to dispose of medication is to put it out with the trash, he said. “I can’t be a substitute for responsible citizens.”

Dortenzio was responding to a request from the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, which continues to push for a medication drop box at police headquarters.

A founding member of the group, Ken Welch, presented his case for the medication drop box before the Town Council on Tuesday night. Following Welch’s presentation, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he would defer to Dortenzio on the question of installing and operating a drop box at the police station.

“The most common method that’s available to everyone is to dispose them in the garbage,” Dickinson said.

Welch said “there’s no good reason” to oppose a medication drop box at the department. He said the push for a drop box was part of the coalition’s work to stem the tide of drug use and overdose deaths in Wallingford. Welch said the Police Department considered a medication drop box months ago, but he “was told it was undoable” because of stringent requirements by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which oversees all medication drop box programs in the nation. At the time, Welch said the DEA required every pill in a drop box to be inventoried, which he agreed would be a tedious and wasteful task. Those requirements have been lifted, Welch said, and now the Police Department must only report the total pounds collected annually.

But Dortenzio said Wednesday that current requirements are impractical.

“The conditions of doing these drug boxes are more cumbersome than what we do on a daily basis,” Dortenzio said, explaining that when drugs are seized by law enforcement, they are easier to process.

To legally have a medication drop box, Dortenzio said, two officers must have independent keys to open the box. Every time the box is opened, he said, medication must be logged and weighed, and a case report must be filed. That doesn’t happen with other drug seizures, Dortenzio said.

Dortenzio also argued that the Police Department lobby is not suitable for a medication drop box because of its small size. Placing the box in the lobby would create handicapped- accessibility issues, he said. Dortenzio said parking is limited as well, which would make it difficult for people to stop by and drop off medication. Dortenzio said the medication drop box can’t go anywhere besides the lobby because at least one police officer must be able to see the box throughout the day.

“It’s got to be an efficient and effective means,” Dortenzio said, adding that the debate alone had been helpful in spreading the word to rid households of unnecessary medication.

Welch said the coalition can have the box paid for through a grant, and Covanta Energy has agreed to burn the medication free of charge. He said that labor expenses are the only issue the Police Department would have to deal with,and those expenses are “worth it.”

He said 27 towns in the state have already adopted medication drop boxes, including Cheshire and Southington.

Major pharmacies in town, such as Stop & Shop, Rite Aid and CVS on North Colony Road, and Walgreens on South Colony Road, do not have any drug take-back programs.

Since December, Welch said, the Southington Police Department has collected 400 pounds of unwanted medication. Southington Police Sgt. Mike Baribault said that department’s drop box is emptied monthly. Every time it’s emptied, he said, a police report is filed and the medication is stored in the evidence room until it is destroyed.

Dortenzio said that, whether medication is discarded in residential trash or in a drop box, it’s all burned at the same location, so there’s no point in a medication drop box.

Town councilors were more receptive to the idea, however. On Wednesday, Town Councilor Tom Laffin said that discarding medication in the trash isn’t the answer because people desperate to abuse medications can easily rummage through the trash and salvage what was thrown out. But Dortenzio said that “if a parent has a suspicion that their children do that, it’s incumbent on the parents to dispose of the medication when their children aren’t watching.” Laffin, along with a majority of the Town Council, showed support for the drop box on Tuesday night. The subject was tabled so that the council could obtain more information on the process.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Laffin said Wednesday. “I know there’s some work to do and logistics to go over.”

Town Councilor Rosemary Rascati said Wednesday that she also supports the plan, but wants more information because “I don’t know exactly what it entails.”

“My initial reaction is that it’s a great idea,” she said.

While Town Councilor Vincent Cervoni said Wednesday that he is “generally supportive” of the drop box, “I just have to figure out how to make it happen.”

“I don’t know that I’m sold (on) the idea totally at this point,” said Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who cited accessibility issues and DEA requirements as potential roadblocks.

Town Attorney Gerald Farrell Sr. said the council doesn’t have the authority to get the drop box installed. He said he couldn’t comment on whether the mayor could instruct the police chief to install the box because it is a hypothetical question. Dickinson said that theoretically he is the public safety director for the town and could direct the Police Department, but a medication drop box is “not the prime mission of the department.”

Dortenzio “is the person who knows best what needs to be done on a daily basis in order to accomplish any given task,” Dickinson said, adding that he understands the chief’s concerns.

While Dortenzio is against a medication drop box at the Police Department, he said the department takes part in a drug take-back program administered by the DEA twice a year. The next event is April 27, when he said a circular path is created at the driveway of the police station so residents can drive through and conveniently “just hand it off.”

Welch said he would continue to fight for the drop box. “We’ve dealt with each of the chief’s objections,” he said. “I would like to believe they’re putting a healthy effort into putting in a drug box ... It’s painful that you have to waste time on these arguments.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Invite - Informational Forum on State Budget

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney
Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore Len Fasano
State Representatives Al Adinolfi and Vin Candelora

Host an Informational Forum on the Connecticut State Budget

Monday, March 18th 7PM – 8:30PM

Wallingford Public Library
Community Room
200 North Main Street • Wallingford

Event is open to the public

For more information, contact: Peggy Deschenes at or 1-800-842-1421

Christopher F. Diorio
Senate Republican Office
Public Affairs
Legislative Office Building, Suite 3400
Hartford, CT 06106
Direct- (860) 240-8801
Fax- (860) 240-8306

OPM advice sought on questions about incentive zone

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

By Eric Heredia

Record-Journal staff

(203) 317-2243

WALLINGFORD - Corporation Counsel Janis Small will work with the state Office of Policy and Management’s legal department to address concerns raised by the Planning and Zoning Commission about the proposed Incentive Housing Zone regulations.

The zone would create special zoning regulations for developments on Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac, North Cherry, Meadow, Center and North Colony streets. The regulations allow the town to receive state funding while controlling the design of new developments. By adopting the zone, municipalities can receive up to $20,000 for pre-development studies and up to another $50,000 if at least 250 housing units are built in the zone.

The Incentive Housing Zone falls under an Office of Policy and Management program called Home Connecticut. The program, approved in 2007 bythe state legislature, would require 20 percent affordable housing. Its goal is to provide affordable housing for residents who otherwise wouldn’t be able to stay in Wallingford.

PZC Chairman Jim Seichter asked Small on Monday what would happen if Wallingford were to approve the zone, the state were to accept the application, but the town were to subsequently eliminate the zone. Small said the statute isn’t clear on the consequences, but they would most likely be financial.

“You would think in practical terms that other than ... looking for money back, they might not have an interest, but you can’t say that for sure,” she said, adding that a court order to keep the regulations in place is within the realm of possibility.

Small was asked about the potential of having the zone’s design and parking regulations approved by the PZC, and then having landowners apply for variances through the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“The concern is we’ve spent the time, we’ve crafted regulations, and then if it’s approved and someone comes in and looks for a variance,” Seichter said.

Small said that, in general, state law doesn’t prohibit people from getting variances from the regulations, but they cannot get a variance from a statutory requirement, such as minimum density.

“In talking to OPM about it, you know, raises an interesting point,” she said, recalling an idea raised by an OPM official. “If your regulations for the incentive zone is such that it’s not possible for somebody to actually use it, then why wouldn’t the variance be proper?”

She said the design standards in the drafts are traditionally open for variance applications. She said she assumed that the commission was making requirements that can be can be complied with.

“If you have that level ofcomfort, that’s a good starting point,” Small said.

PZC member James Fitzsimmons, who said he is concerned mostly with parking variances, asked about parcels that have already been granted a variance. Town Planner Kacie Costello asked if variances would carry over if parcels are combined into larger parcels, as happens when buildings are torn down.

Small said she would have to know what the variances are and decide on a case-by-case basis.

Costello asked Small if the commission could add language limiting the types of variances that could be approved. Small said the only thing zoning boards can prohibit are land uses not permitted in the zone.

Dimple Desai, community development director at OPM, said the legal department is looking into the interpretation of the state law and would work with Small to answer the PZC’s questions.

“She’s going to do her own research and come back with her own questions,” Desai said.

For the Incentive Housing Zone to move forward in Wallingford, the Planning and Zoning Commission must establish regulations. Then the Town Council must endorse them because the program involves accepting state funds. After that the amended regulations are sent to OPM, if OPM agrees with the regulations, the agency would give the town preliminary approval.

Then the regulations would be sent back to the PZC, which must hold a public hearing. Then the commission must approve the regulations one last time before sending a final draft back to OPM, at which point “they provide us with final approval,” Costello said.

Old Saybrook has already built 16 housing units through the program and Sharon is going through the permitting process for 12 units. Desai said that OPM has given final approval to five towns: Old Saybrook, East Lyme, Torrington, Sharon and New London. Westbrook and Watertown have gotten preliminary approval.

In other business Monday,the PZC:

-- approved a special permit for retail and restaurant at 1086 N. Colony Road.

-- approved a zoning text amendment allowing for 45foot-high signs on buildings in the IX and IV zones.

-- approved a special permit for M&W Repair to operate an auto repair shop at 71 S. Turnpike Road.

-- approved a special permit for Farms Country Club to build a deck to serve as an extension to its dining area at 180 Cheshire Road.

-- continued its public hearing on J&D Auto Body’s application for a special permit to extend its indoor storage and office space at 1224 Old Colony Road.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Committee mulls alcohol and outdoor dining changes

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday March 7, 2013

By Eric Heredia
Record-Journal staff
) 317-2243

WALLINGFORD — During a special meeting at Town Hall Wednesday, the Town Council’s Ordinance Committee discussed changing the local ordinance pertaining to restaurants’ outdoor dining areas where alcohol is served.

Committee members have come to a consensus that the following language will be removed from ordinance No. 6211: The service of alcoholic liquor in such outdoor sidewalk dining areas must be accompanied by a food purchase and must be accompanied by a food purchase and must be performed by wait staff only.

_ All alcoholic liquor must be placed or situated on the dining table and must be in plain glasses, plain cups or other plain containers.

_ No alcoholic liquor advertising may be displayed in the outdoor sidewalk dining area, and no umbrellas or awnings containing such advertising may be situated over the tables or chairs in said area.

The committee did not take any action, but rather gave Corporation Counsel Janis Small some direction on what they would like to see in a proposed change to the language.

Right now, the ordinance says the outdoor dining area cannot be occupied beyond 11 p.m. Cheryl Milot, owner of Gaetano’s Tavern on Main requested that be pushed back to midnight.

“There are times that we have to tell people ... you’ve got to come in now,” said Milot. “We do have people who come, have dinner and linger and have a couple of more cocktails.” Milot said she’d prefer to reserve outside tables for people who want to eat because the restaurant can make more money that way, but sometimes when “happy hour” starts, customers want to sit on the patio and have drinks but not order food.

“That’s against the ordinance,” she said.

Councilor John LeTourneau said he’s been to restaurants outside of Connecticut where you can walk into the outdoor dining area, sit down, order a drink and have a cigar without having to buy food.

“It works and it can work here,” he said.

Councilor Craig Fishbein was concerned that the ordinance does not call for annual renewal of a permit for dining areas on public sidewalks. Small said applications to occupy a public sidewalk go to the Town Council.

Ordinance Committee members wanted to give that responsibility to another town department, which would also be in charge of enforcing the ordinance.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said it would most likely be the Building Department because it also measures the sidewalk to make sure there’s enough space to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Some answers, but not enough - Incentive Housing Zone questions remain after visit of OPM official

As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday March 6, 2013

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

WALLINGFORD – The Planning and Zoning Commission, having received answers to some of its questions, will continue working toward the possible creation of an Incentive Housing Zone, Town Planner Kacie Costello said Tuesday.

An Incentive Housing Zone would create specialized zoning regulations for developments on Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac, North Cherry, Meadow, Center and North Colony streets. The town would keep control of the design of the developments, but at least 20 percent of the housing units built must be affordable housing and fall under regulations set by the legislature to qualify for state money.

The goal of the workshop, held Monday night, was to gather as much information as possible about the zone, which would fall under an Office of Policy and Management program called Home Connecticut. The program was approved by the state in 2007. Dimple Desai, community development director for OPM, attended the meeting and answered questions from the commission and members of the public.

“I think that it was very helpful having someone from OPM there,” Costello said.

Many of the questions asked during the meeting were procedural, Costello said, because “we as a community are looking for as many concrete answers as we can in terms of what the interactions with OPM will entail.”

One of the issues brought up during the meeting was how the Incentive Housing Zone designation could be repealed, if the town should choose to do so.

“You have to get OPM’s approval to get it off the books,” Desai said, adding that he would have to consult legal counsel for a more specific answer.

PZC Chairman James Seichter asked Desai to get back to the town because “it’s been brought up in our prior workshop and it is a potential issue.”

Seichter asked if there would be any repercussions to repealing the zone, such as returning money given to the town as part of the incentive portion of the program.

Under statute, Desai said OPM “may require” the town to repay the state. “Again, it doesn’t say ‘shall,’ ” he said, adding that “OPM and the state work with municipalities” if they revoke the zone.

If the zone is approved, an overlay zone would be imposed, forcing developers to abide by requirements laid out in town regulations.

Desai said the overlay zone is a benefit to developers because of the affordable housing capability, and a benefit to the town because it will have control over the look of the new developments. Costello said control over design standards was the biggest issue for Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. at a January workshop. Dickinson did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Proposals for an Incentive Housing Zone have been around since early 2008, when then-Town Planner Linda Bush presented the idea of creating an overlay zone for a 23.3-acre swath of downtown Wallingford that would allow for mixed-use commercial and high-density residential properties.

During the workshop Monday night, Desai laid out the financial incentives of the program. He said that if at least 250 housing units are created, the town would receive $50,000 to use at its own discretion.

Commission member James Fitzsimmons asked Desai if the zoning district is “subject to variance,” a topic that Seichter called “an important issue and an important question.”

Costello said, typically, a variance can be obtained through the Zoning Board of Appeals when a commercial or residential developer requests a change in zoning regulations. She said a hardship must be proven to obtain a variance. An example would be if zoning regulations required windows on the first floor of a building to be larger than windows on the second floor. If a developer wants larger windows on the second floor, it must prove a hardship to the board. If a hardship is proven, zoning regulations can be changed.

“What the concern is, there could be the potential of a developer trying to bypass regulations via the variance process,” Costello said.

Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who attended the workshop, said Tuesday that if the appeals board can consider variances, it “throws the Incentive Housing Zone out.”

“The issue of a variance is a major concern,” Fishbein said.

Costello said Tuesday that she will be consulting with the town’s Law Department to clarify if variances are allowed if developers opt into the overlay zone. Desai said OPM has not run into the issue yet because the program is so new. He said it’s really up to the municipality.

The impetus for the Incentive Housing Zone program, Desai said, is to provide more options for young college students or older couples who “cannot afford to live in a town they’ve lived in their whole life.”

Workshops will continue, Seichter said at the end of Monday’s meeting. The commission must look at other issues, such as parking, traffic, and design standards such as maximum building height, Costello said.

“From my perspective, I think it’s beneficial to continue to have discussions on this,” Seichter said.

Housing zone still moving — slowly

As published in the Record Journal on Wednesday March 6, 2013

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

WALLINGFORD – A decision will be made on the proposed downtown Incentive Housing Zone within the next two to three months, according to Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman James Seichter.

During a workshop held by the commission Monday night, Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau asked Seichter when a decision would be made, adding, “I’d love to see this in my lifetime.”

“I appreciate your frustration on this,” said Seichter, who made it clear to Le-Tourneau that he’d rather not set a timetable. “Clearly we need to reach a decision on this issue in a relatively short period of time.”

An Incentive Housing Zone in Wallingford would create specialized zoning regulations for developments on Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac, North Cherry, Meadow, Center and North Colony streets. The regulations allow the town to receive state funding while controlling the design of new developments. By adopting the zone, municipalities can receive up to $20,000 for pre-development studies and up to another $50,000 if at least 250 housing units are built in the zone.

The Incentive Housing Zone falls under an Office of Policy and Management program called Home Connecticut. The program was approved in 2007 by the state legislature and would require 20 percent affordable housing. The goal of the program is to provide affordable housing for residents who otherwise wouldn’t be able to remain in Wallingford.

Town Planner Kacie Costello said that for the Incentive Housing Zone to move forward in Wallingford, the Planning and Zoning Commission must establish regulations for the zone. The commission will hold workshops to “get proposed regulations to the point they want them to be.”

If regulations are approved by the commission, the Town Council must then endorse them, Costello said. Normally, the council would not be involved with zoning regulations, but since the program entails acceptance of money from the state, she said, the council must take action.

After receiving approval from the Town Council, the amended regulations are sent to OPM, Costello said. If OPM agrees with the regulations, the agency would give the town “preliminary approval.”

Regulations are then sent back to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Costello said a public hearing must be held by the commission. Then the commission must approve the regulations one last time before sending a final draft back to OPM, at which point “they provide us with final approval,” Costello said.

“The problem is, there seems to be no urgency on the part of the Planning and Zoning Commission,” said Le-Tourneau, who accused the commission of “dragging their feet” and slowing down the process.

“We’re trying to cure problems that don’t exist,” he said, adding that recent workshops about the Incentive Housing Zone have rehashed issues that had already been settled.

Costello said turnover on the Town Council and Planning and Zoning Commission since 2010 has resulted in some delay during meetings, as new people become acquainted with the situation. The Incentive Housing Zone was first proposed in 2008. On the state side, Costello said, a lack of funding caused delays.

“I don’t think they’re dragging their feet at all,” Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “The towns that rush into things haphazardly get into trouble.”

Fishbein is comfortable with the progress so far because “we want to do it right the first time,” he said. Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi agreed.

“I don’t have a problem with his (Seichter’s) timeline,” Parisi said, “as long as there is free and open discussion.”

Parisi said that, with age, he has learned to become more patient. He believes the Incentive Housing Zone will eventually become a reality, it’s just that in Wallingford, things “are always a little on the slow side,” he said. “I’m not in a rush.”

Instead of two to three months, Town Councilor John Sullivan would like to see a decision made within 30 days.

“Let’s get moving here,” he said.

Sullivan complimented the Planning and Zoning Commission for their “tremendous” work so far, but he sided with LeTourneau in that “we are beating this thing to death.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. pointed out that two to three months isn’t really that long.

“You’re not going to see too many meetings in that amount of time,” he said. “I think everyone needs the time to deal with this in a responsible way.”

Dickinson is supportive of the Incentive Housing Zone, which he hopes will make downtown a “friendlier, more comfortable streetscape kind of scene.”