Archive for the ‘Municipal’ Category

0Will DEEP allow the Housing Dept. to subsidize $300,000 affordable-housing units in the Norwalk floodplain?

Washington Village flooded parkingTwo years ago, Superstorm Sandy flooded first-floor apartments at Washington Village in Norwalk. Now state and local officials are seeking to expand the project in the same flood-prone location using millions in state and federal taxpayer money, including $9.8 million designated for the Sandy cleanup, but they need approval from environmental regulators first.

The new development would include about 273 units at a cost of at least $85 million, meaning each unit will cost more than $300,000 to construct. In all the developer, Boston-based Trinity Financial, will receive $43 million in state and federal support.

Half of the new units will be considered public housing, targeted at a family of four earning less than $38,500. Another quarter is considered workforce housing, for family incomes between about $64,000 and $70,000. The remaining units will rent at market rates.

Some Norwalk residents have criticized city officials and the developer for building in the floodplain.

After Sandy struck, the Norwalk Hour reported on the damage:

Flood waters damaged dozens of first floor units at the Washington Village housing complex. Residents used hoses to remove an inch or more of water from their living areas. Norwalk Housing Authority employees helped residents clear the excess water from their living spaces and discard of soggy couches and ruined rugs.

There was flooding the area after heavy rain last week.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on the flood management exemption for Washington Village 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15, at the South Norwalk Community Center. DEEP will accept written testimony until close of business on Dec. 18.

Trinity will build all of the first-floor units above the level reached by the worst flood scenario considered in the application. However, 198 parking spaces will be under the building.

One drawing included in the application shows how high up on a car floodwaters in the parking garage would rise. In one building, the worst-case flood – “a 500-year flood with wave” – would leave some cars completely submerged. A 100-year flood would rise up to the bottom of the windshield.

The flood contingency plan calls for the building manager to ask residents to move their cars to higher ground before a storm.

After Superstorm Sandy, the Hour reported that a Washington Village resident “who refused to give his name, said he was given ample warning to move his car, but he did not think the flooding would be that bad.”

The plan also calls for raising the intersection of Raymond and Day Streets above expected flood levels and building a raised pathway through nearby Ryan Park so that emergency vehicles could reach the development if the streets get washed out.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of Trinity, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

0Brookfield Board of Education confirms termination of superintendent

The Brookfield Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to terminate Superintendent Anthony Bivona, confirming a decision the board originally made in May.

The same board that fired Bivona earlier this year sat in judgment of him during a multi-part hearing that stretched on for months.

The board fired Bivona, who led the district for seven years, after auditors discovered the district had been using a gimmick to balance its budget. Bivona’s longtime business manager, Art Colley, resigned under scrutiny earlier this year.

The audit found that $1.3 million in school district bills had been pushed into the subsequent fiscal year. The town approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.1 million to bring the school district’s budget back into balance.

Bivona claimed throughout the hearing process he didn’t know what Colley was doing. The board’s attorney claimed Bivona should have known and the board agreed with his conclusion. Bivona’s attorney argued political pressure led to the firing making it arbitrary and illegal.

0MDC liens property owned by Mayor Segarra’s husband for unpaid water bills

The Metropolitan District Commission has placed a lien for more than $2,000 in unpaid water bills on condos owned by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s husband, Charlie Ortiz.

Ortiz owns a number of properties in the city, including five of the units at 57 John St. where the MDC placed the $2,418 lien.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not respond to requests for comment.

According to an attorney for the MDC, the lien is on all six units but each unit owes one-sixth the amount. The MDC will release the liens on each unit if its owner pays a proportionate share of the unpaid fees, plus a $26 release fee.

Rising MDC bills has become an issue for some South End residents, says Hyacinth Yennie, chairwoman of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group.

Yennie said MDC bills have gone up, in some cases more than double, and they “are going out in a threatening way.”

She said one woman with a $900 bill told the MDC she couldn’t pay it all at once. “She was told, ‘No, you better send it all.’”

Carmen Duhaney, a South End resident, said her MDC bill went up from $210 per quarter to more than $400 per quarter. “It’s not affordable,” she said.

“Customer service was very nasty to her,” Yennie said. “They’re like pitbulls.”

Yennie said it’s also important to have oversight of the MDC. “There is no accountability when it comes to spending our money,” she said, explaining voters approved an $800 million MDC project in 2012. “We knew we were going to have to pay, but we didn’t know at what cost.”

“The plan is to have a meeting with the mayor,” Yennie said. “He’s so into this stupid stadium, I’m not sure I can get a word in.”

0Audit: Bridgeport Housing Authority rents too affordable, undercharged tenants millions since 2004

Federal auditors found the Bridgeport Housing Authority improperly set rental rates for more than 150 tenants, causing the authority to forego millions in revenue that it could have reinvested in its properties.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General, following up on a previous report that faulted the authority for offering employees “Cadillac” health insurance, said the authority, also known as Park City Communities, has not updated its flat rent since 2004.

Since the cost of housing has risen since 2004, the authority should have updated its flat rents, according to the report released last month.

Auditors said they couldn’t precisely estimate how much revenue the authority lost, but said it was at least “millions.”

In the most recent year, the authority missed out on about $600,000 because it undercharged 161 tenants an average of $300 per month.

According to the audit, new staff at the authority are implementing its recommendations, including updated flat rents.

The report also raised two issues related to unreported conflicts of interest.

Authority officials failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest when they contracted with a director’s family member to perform work for the authority’s federal programs. After discussing the issue, the executive director took corrective action and terminated the contract.

The authority also had a longstanding contract with an individual who later became an elected official and thus had a HUD-defined conflict of interest. However, officials did not inform HUD or obtain the required approval. After discussing the issue, authority officials agreed to request the waiver, and HUD officials indicated that they were inclined to approve a waiver for this individual to run an after-school program.

0Suffield to claim bond funds 14 years later

After leaving a state grant unused for 14 years, Suffield is finally claiming $75,000 in borrowed funds, although for a new project.

Originally intended for “renovations and improvements to an existing bathhouse at Babb’s Beach,” the town never completed the project. The State Bond Commission will vote today on repurposing the money for improvements to the skating rink building on the same property.

1Principal ousted only to run another New Haven school

A New Haven school principal faulted for problems at her school lost her post – as part of her reassignment to run a different school.

The New Haven Independent has the story:

In the wake of a blistering state audit revealing deep troubles and a divided faculty at Lincoln-Bassett School, the Board of Education removed Principal Yolanda Jones-Generette from her post Monday night.

A state audit earlier this year revealed the school faces significant problems. Those include student behavior, a low level of “rigor” in classes, teacher absenteeism, and safety issues. The audit found the staff was divided on whether Jones-Generette was solving the problems or making them worse.

The state recently invited the Lincoln-Bassett School into the Commissioner’s Network turnaround program. (Read an earlier story from the Independent here.)

Jones-Generette, who the Independent reports opposed her transfer, will now run the Barnard Magnet School.

0Putnam gets pork; small town scores federal ag grants

With a population just shy of 10,000, Putnam is getting a big chunk of federal funding to upgrade its water system, including a $4.8 million grant and $10.8 million loan.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal and 2nd District Rep. Joseph Courtney, both Democrats, recently announced the windfall.

The grant amounts to $500 per resident. Previously, Putnam received two other grants totaling $13.2 million – about $1,400 per resident – and a $4.55 million low-interest loan.

The latest batch of federal funding will pay for 43,000 feet of new water main and other repairs to the water system.

“I will continue to advocate for the wise use of federal funds for vital projects that keep user fees reasonable, reduce the need for ongoing, costly emergency maintenance and improve critical public services,” Blumenthal said.

“These funds are another step in bringing Putnam’s water system into the 21st century. Since 2009, I have worked with town officials to upgrade a system that has lines that are more than 100 years old,” Courtney said.

Last year, the federal government had a $680 billion deficit.

2Jackson Labs avoids local approvals as a ‘state project’

Construction on the Jackson Laboratory facility in Farmington is well on its way to completion thanks in part to unique treatment of the project: the lab didn’t need any local approvals.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine will receive a $297 million subsidy from the state. Gov. Dannel Malloy has touted the project for its economic-development potential.

If all goes according to plan, the time between legislative approval and grand opening will be almost exactly three years.

In addition to the monetary benefits from the state, treating the lab as a “state project” allowed to it to avoid the time-consuming and costly land-use process faced by other developers. Instead, the project received state approvals.

Mike Hyde, the nonprofit lab’s vice president of external affairs and strategic partnerships, said another developer “would follow the exact same process that we are” – if it was building on state property and had state financial support.

“I don’t know if one is more stringent than the other,” Hyde said. “I couldn’t say it was a privilege because I don’t know what the other experience is like.”

According to a March 2014 update on the project, JGM received about $9 million in state money for research, training and other reimbursable expenses.

By the end of 2013, JGM spent $64 million on construction out of $135 million budgeted. The state gave JGM a $192 million forgivable construction loan.

According to hiring projections, the subsidy amounts to about $42,000 per job per year.

The General Assembly approved Malloy’s incentives for JGM in October 2011. The new law designated Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital fund, to manage the state’s relationship with JGM.

Connecticut Innovations signed an agreement with JGM in January 2012.

JGM awarded the contract to manage construction of the 183,500 square foot lab in January 2013.

Hyde said the lab plans an Oct. 7 grand opening.

In order to maintain its incentives JGM needs to reach 300 employees within 10 years. Hyde said the building could fit up to 320 people. “We’ll hit the 300 employee mark sooner than we had imagined,” Hyde said.

Hyde said JGM has 79 employees in about 11,000 square feet of temporary space and is looking for about 35 new employees. “We’re adding people at a lively clip,” he said.

Some University of Connecticut employees count toward JGM’s hiring goals.

The legal principles that allow JGM to avoid local land-use regulations are the same that allow a contractor for the Department of Transportation to build a road for the state without local approval. These principles have expanded greatly. In 1959, Attorney General Albert Coles wrote an opinion giving the state the ability to give an airport hotel on state property a liquor license instead of following local regulations.

“Therefore, it is my opinion that the airport operation constitutes a governmental function serving the public need and by virtue of its nature is immune to the zoning power of the Town of Windsor Locks,” Coles wrote a half-century ago. “The hotel with a liquor permit would be in furtherance of, rather than a deviation from, the essential airport use and, therefore, exempt from the zoning regulations of the Town of Windsor Locks.”

Update: This  post was updated to clarify that JGM did obtain state-level approvals for construction in place of local approvals.

0No strong link between funding and use at Connecticut libraries

Cities and towns across Connecticut spend a wide range of taxpayer money to support local libraries, from Greenwich’s nearly $9 million to Norfolk’s $1,000.

Despite Norfolk’s small investment, it leads the state in visits per resident, according to 2012 data compiled by the Connecticut State Library. Official data for 2013 will be available on the State Library website later this month.

On average, Norfolk’s residents visit the library nearly twice a month.

(Learn more about libraries across the state here.)

Greenwich does have an engaging library with residents visiting 15 times a year on average. Since it contributes a lot more than Norfolk, Greenwich pays about $9 per visit while Norfolk pays a few pennies.

Based on taxpayer cost per visit, the most expensive libraries are Hebron ($17.57), Middlefield ($16.40), Woodbridge ($16.02), Bridgeport ($14.78) and East Hartford ($13.86).

After Greenwich, Hartford appropriates the most taxpayer money to its libraries, $7.9 million, followed by Stamford ($7 million) and Bridgeport ($6.7 million).

Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, New Haven, Darien and West Hartford spend between $3 and $4.5 million on their libraries.

Another 10 towns spend between $2 and $3 million: Manchester, New Britain, Stratford, Middletown, Wallingford, Wilton, Newington, Waterbury, Farmington and Meriden.

Taxpayers fund all of their library operating costs plus other some additional expenses – in other words more than 100 percent of the library’s operating costs – in 19 towns. Salem’s library is funded at 150 percent of operating costs, followed by Bridgeport, Mansfield, Goshen, Glastonbury, Andover, Avon and Bethlehem. The other 11 towns fund their libraries between 100 and 102 percent.

Norfolk funds the smallest percentage of library operating costs, less than 1 percent. Torrington funds about 4 percent.

Wealthier towns tend to spend more on their libraries on a per capita basis. Westport spends the most, $157 per resident, followed closely by Darien, $153. Greenwich and Wilton spend $10 and $20 less per resident, respectively.

New Canaan, Farmington, Woodbridge, Avon, Easton and Newington spend between $75 and $95 per resident.

Another 11 towns spend more than $60 but less than $75 per person: Fairfield, Bloomfield, Madison, Waterford, Hartford, Durham, Old Saybrook, Wethersfield, Woodbury, Roxbury and Middlefield.

Four Connecticut towns don’t have their own libraries, Barkhamsted, Bozrah, Colebrook, and Lisbon. Instead they contract with other towns. According to the State Library, Barkhamsted and Colebrook contract with Winsted, Bozrah contracts with Salem and Lisbon with Griswold.

0Bridgeport Housing Authority faulted for ‘Cadillac’ employee health plan

Federal watchdogs faulted the Bridgeport Housing Authority Tuesday for improperly charging $1.7 million to Washington and for giving employees a “Cadillac” health plan.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General raised the issues in a report.

HUD identified $895,000 of federal money used for ineligible purposes and $790,000 of improperly documented expenses. The federal agency will seek to get the money refunded.

A Cadillac health plan costs more than $10,200 each year for individuals or $27,500 for families. Starting in 2018, insurance companies will include a 40 percent excise tax on such plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Paying the additional tax would result in fewer funds for housing,” the report said.

Investigators found the housing authority had limited itself “to one vendor and a specific plan” through its collective-bargaining agreements. Authority officials told HUD its health care plan “was generous compared with those of other authorities and private businesses.”

Authority officials are trying to remove the restriction or join the state health care plan, according to the report.

The report also found “a prior executive director promoted all of the janitors to maintenance aides without ensuring they had the skills to perform their new duties.”