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After some discussion during its regular meeting October 2, the Board of Selectmen ranked and approved next year’s proposed capital projects, sending them and the balance of Newtown’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to the Board of Finance.
Selectmen also discussed and clarified issues related to the retention of a project management firm and its representative who worked on the early stages of community center planning — among several town and school district projects.
The board also declined to further a request from several residents to refine current practice and include unsolicited and bagged pamphlets and phone books under a town litter law.
On the request of Selectman Herb Rosenthal, whose son Dan is running for first selectman, the board considered whether to break from a formalized process and delay acting on the CIP until after a new administration is seated on December 1. (First Selectman Pat Llodra will not be seeking another term in office. Selectman Will Rodgers is also seeking the first selectman’s seat.)
Selectman Rosenthal said that with such uncertainty at the state level, and its implications on Newtown’s municipal budget situation, it might be better to hold off on approving any capital planning and leave it up to whomever is elected to the board.
Mrs Llodra explained that the finance board requested selectmen move the CIP forward, so its members can act on it and pass it to council before November elections. She said the council may be inclined to send the CIP back to a new board of selectmen for review, and suggested moving forward with ranking and approving the document and formally recommending it be sent back to the new administration for review.
Mr Rodgers suggested adding that the final CIP should also be subject to change, “because of the state budget travails.”
“I don’t see why the Board of Finance wants to vote until they know what is coming from the state,” Mr Rosenthal added.
Mr Rodgers said the proposed course of action would telegraph “a message to Hartford that our capital plan has come to a screeching halt because they can’t get their act together.”
Mrs Llodra said the finance board is bound by policy to send the CIP to the Legislative Council by December. All parties subsequently agreed to approve it and include a note asking it be returned to a new Board of Selectmen after December 1, after which it could be subject to significant review depending on state action.
Ranking The Projects
Moving on to ranking the coming year’s proposed projects, all agreed to keep town road and bridge maintenance and repair at the top of each year’s ranking. The roads proposal for next year includes $1 million in bonding and $2 million from the general fund. The bridge replacement program has earmarked $400,000 for potential bonding in 2018.
Selectmen Rodgers and Rosenthal both agreed bringing an Edmond Town Hall bathroom up to federal access compliance was a priority concern, and they would support a $50,000 allocation.
At the same time, Mr Rosenthal was clear that he would not support the next phase of proposed improvements at the town-owned Eichler’s Cove beach and marina.
Mrs Llodra suggested new funding in the CIP that would serve as a placeholder for the new Sandy Hook memorial be ranked at number four.
Reviewing a $4 million proposed allocation for Fairfield Hills building demolition, selectmen examined the relationship between that spending and the ability for a new police headquarters project to move forward if it was decided to locate it at Fairfield Hills; proposed spending on road renovations versus a $200,000 earmark for brownfields remediation work at the Watkins site on Glen Road in Sandy Hook; proposed renovations at the C.H. Booth Library in the CIP for $350,000; and additional theater renovations at Edmond Town Hall for $252,000.”
Selectmen then unanimously voted to recommend the CIP and stipulations, ranking roads, the bridge program, the bathroom project, and Sandy Hook memorial one through four; the town hall theater and library the same at five; then the Fairfield Hills demolition sixth, Glen Road brownfields at seven, and the Eichler’s project last.
Following the meeting, Finance Director Robert Tait said that ultimately, the CIP is just a guide, and that under certain financial constraints, none of the projects were required to be bonded. He also reminded residents that they have the final say on approving bonding for most major capital projects every April at Newtown’s budget referendum.
Town Attorney David Grogins appeared to speak with selectmen about a suggested litter ordinance or law. He reminded selectmen that state statutes already exists regarding litter.
Mrs Llodra said a number of residents are concerned they are receiving unsolicited flyers and general distribution of phone books in their driveway, and were requesting the board to initiate an ordinance that would disallow that.
She said a subcommittee of the council already researched the proposal and decided they could not take it up. Mr Grogins provided copies of all related ordinances on littering, plus a copy of a litter ordinance from another town.
The town attorney said selectmen, by majority, may appoint a litter enforcement agent to carry out the litter ordinance — that agent could included any law enforcement or zoning enforcement officer, building inspector, or other official empowered to enforce local ordinances.
He said in 2011, Weston enacted an ordinance where distributors were required to identify where unsolicited drop-offs were coming from, and honor requests of residents not to distribute or there is a fine.
“Weston put it on the books, and it’s still happening,” Mr Grogins said. “There’s some enforcement but very little.” He added that an ordinance has been no panacea, and its success rate is insignificant.
Mrs Llodra said in one case, a complainant was away for a month and found a pile of litter in his driveway that he believes signals to passersby that the house is vacant.
“I never heard a lot of complaints, except for security [issues]),” Mr Rosenthal said. “Some people had their mail and newspaper stopped, but the accumulated litter made it obvious that they were not home.”
Mr Rodgers said he was not inclined to support an ordinance now, but is in favor of making publishers aware of the problems residents are having.
“And I’m concerned about putting things on the books with little or no prospect of enforcement,” he said.
Residents Chris Carvalho and Kinga Walsh, who also serves on the Community Center Commission, spoke during public comment, and selectmen later moved to a discussion tied to the residents’ concerns.
The selectmen covered a number of issues related to the billing and retention of the STV/DMP firm and its owner’s representative, Geralyn Hoerauf, who worked on early stages of the community center project, the school district’s high school auditorium renovation, and was also involved in and praised for her management role on the Sandy Hook Elementary School building project.
Mr Rosenthal had requested to review the DPM contract and determine “what we’re doing.”
He said the town paid the firm $209,622 and was startled at a March 20 meeting when Ms Hoerauf revealed the pool cost escalation, and that the cost was “kept low intentionally to move the project forward.” Mr Rosenthal said the offense equated to a “dereliction of duty.”
“A mistake is a mistake, but they did it intentionally,” he said, suggesting the town should take action to get some or more money back on the project.
Finance Director Robert Tait said except for a nominal lingering invoice, the town should be finished with the firm and its representative.
Mr Rodgers said it was unfortunate that the town attorney was not still present. “We should have a discussion with Dave about liability,” he said.
Mr Rodgers said he recalled comments from the March meeting, but also heard Ms Hoerauf saying that as the project’s scope became more defined, the numbers could be more defined. An attorney by profession, he suggested that legal action “doesn’t have to be the first recourse.”
Mr Rosenthal reiterated what he heard in March — “We kept the costs low to keep the project moving.” “I’m surprised we haven’t done anything yet to get the money back,” he said.
Mrs Llodra qualified that there was a context to that segment of her report.
Mr Rosenthal said the firm stated a building cost of $250 per square foot, “but now its 78 percent more. I think we should make efforts to get some money back and put it into the project one way or the other.”
Mrs Llodra wondered if there a failure to exercise duty as stipulated in the contract. Was there a contract violation? “If so, we should have our attorney look at it. Or a violation of the expectation? I found an error and we terminated the contract,” Mrs Llodra said.
Mr Rosenthal suggested that “maybe in good faith, they may agree to do something about it.”
Mr Rodgers said there are also duties the players bring to the process.
“There may be other breaches or concerns overreaching the contract we can discuss,” he said. “I think the appropriate next step is with our attorney in executive session.”
In closing, Mrs Llodra said she wanted “to be really clear, the Newtown High School auditorium is not a Board of Selectmen project.”
The first selectman acknowledged the statement about community center costs “was a significant error,” but it resulted in the representative’s termination from that project.
“But her work on Sandy Hook Elementary was exemplary,” Mrs Llodra said, adding that the firm is identified as the owner’s rep on the auditorium project because of an outstanding contractual obligation on the part of the school district.
Mrs Llodra said on this project, Ms Hoerauf exhibited an ability to handle business related to the auditorium project and related state reimbursements very well.