Second Opinion
October 30, 2006

Another Democrat-Stamped Labor Contract

By Ron Gambardella

This evening, the Labor Committee will vote on the engineers’ union contract. It, of course, will breeze through the committee with a minimum of concern on the part of the Democrats. The following Monday, the contract will go to the full Council for final approval. Once again, as you can probably guess, there will not be the slightest bit of resistance to any of the terms in the agreement from any Democrat.

So let’s look at the terms so you can get a sense of how your representatives are caring for your money.

Section 5.1
The normal workweek for all office personnel employees covered by this agreement shall consist of thirty five (35) hours per week, seven (7) hours per day excluding lunch, Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. The workweek for field personnel shall consist of thirty-seven and one-half (37 ½) hours per week, divided equally over five (5) calendar days, Monday through Friday.

My Comment
If the town was truly interested in providing services to its residents, perhaps there should be some provision to extend the workweek. If that proves to be too much of a stretch, perhaps stagger work hours so any resident wishing to conduct business with the town can reach an employee at 6 in the evening without having to pay the employee overtime. Most of America works a 40-hour week. Hamden town workers are for some reason excluded.

Article 8 - Longevity
Longevity shall be paid on the employee’s anniversary date as follows:

After five years of service $595 then continuing to $1,020 per year after 20 years of service with increases scheduled between five through 20 years.

My Comment
I simply don’t get this. The town creates a category of compensation for simply showing up to work. In other words, we are paying someone because they consistently showed up for work for five consecutive years. I have worked for large corporations for over 22 years. Never once in my entire professional career was I ever offered cash for simply showing up for work. My employers placed an expectation on me that I actually had to do some work. And then I was paid.

Section 27.5 – Health Insurance
A. Employees hired after July 1, 1999, shall be required to pay the same co-pay as when they were active employees upon retirement. Upon retirement, current employees (on the payroll as of June 30, 1999) will not be required to contribute to retiree medical insurance.

My Comment
At age 65, most of America qualifies for Medicare. They typically supplement their Medicare with a supplemental plan and a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. This contract insists that retirees stay on the town plan at a very high cost to the taxpayer. Cost could be substantially reduced if the town bargained to pick up the cost of a supplemental insurance plan and Medicare Part D. The medical coverage would be comparable to what a retiree receives on the town’s plan.

Once again, I applaud union leaders for the strategy they have employed. They have negotiated an excellent contract for the rank and file and should be congratulated on a job well done. Their campaign contributions really paid off. A yes vote from a Democrat is the best deal in town. The cost is low and the return is high. I wouldn’t change a thing from the union’s perspective.

With every winner, unfortunately, there is a loser. In this case, the taxpayers once again will pay for this contact in the form of higher tax bills. Not a single Democrat will vote no on this or any other union contract. The unions are not stupid. They have backed the right horse. Democrats are for sale very inexpensively. For a small campaign contribution, you too can get a sweetheart deal from the town. Come one, come all. For your vote, the Democrats will award subcontracts, hire personnel and provide a financially sound future for its employees by approving extremely favorable contracts. What a deal!

The Democrats have the town in a stranglehold. I sometimes think it would be so much easier to always vote yes, never buck the trend or resist any initiative no matter how outrageous.

Then I think about all the folks who encourage me. They tell me to stay the course and resist the wide path. They say things like, “Who will speak for us if you don’t? Please keep up the good work. We know it’s not easy. Thank you.” After hearing these things, I am moved to continue the good fight.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

October 20, 2006

Like Drunken Sailors

By Ron Gambardella

The town Building Committee met on Oct. 16 to discuss the status of the following projects:

The projects presented to the committee have a total budget of $10.6M with $9.7M already spent or encumbered. Center One, the new government center, cost a lot more than was originally proposed. Don’t even get me started on the ice-skating rink. That project was a colossal waste of money with $450,000 in architectural fees alone. Once again, what we have here is a group of projects run by Democrats who haven’t got the slightest concern over how our money is spent.

Consider this. The Council elected to eliminate funding for a project manger charged with the responsibility of overseeing these projects. The folly here is that you save $80,000 in salary, but you spend hundreds of thousands on mismanaged projects. Go figure. This should not surprise anyone. This same Council also elected to eliminate the library director’s position, but later recanted under public pressure. Can you imagine running a library as large as Hamden’s without a director? Does this make any sense to the most mentally challenged among us?

Here comes the best part. The Democrats will later present a list of accomplishments with no mention of the waste and cost that went into the projects claiming they have achieved much. Folks, repeat the Democrats’ creed with me: “Spend as you please. Pay no attention to cost, simply raise taxes and recover the loss.”

To add insult to injury, we now have a GPS system with no plan. If you believe for a minute that I would have voted in favor of purchasing the GPS system without a plan then I have bridge I want to sell you. Don’t you think I would have voted no to the purchase if I had the slightest hint there wasn’t a plan for using the system once installed? It was perfectly clear to me that the GPS would save money by cutting abuse and improving the routing and utilization of town vehicles. Whenever any cost-saving measures are attempted, you can rest assured the unions will remind the Democrats who put them in office. I ask you, is this any way to run a town?

More later.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

October 11, 2006

Good Stuff

By Curt Leng

The continually negative Mr. Ron Gambardella uses his time in this column to rant and rave -- talking doom and gloom -- oftentimes without having real facts and sometimes by just ignoring the facts completely.

It makes for good soap opera-styled political drama, but is often deceptive to the public, whether or not intentional. I will spend more time debunking Gambardella’s rants sometime in the future, but today I thought it might be nice to write about some of the good things happening in our town.

Is our government perfect? No, far from it. But we are working very hard and making progress on essential Hamden issues, such as the town finances, computer system upgrades, internal controls and a good number of physical projects.

Here are a few updates:

The Hamden Middle School

As promised, our new Hamden Middle School opened on time and on budget. The School Building Committee is continuing to work with the various contractors and vendors to finish “punch-list” items and put on finishing touches.

The town has taken over the landfill/tornado materials removal aspect of the project and is expected to move the materials to the transfer station, where it will be properly capped via state Department of Environmental Protection standards.

It’s been great getting e-mails and phone calls from parents and students who are enjoying their first weeks in this modern new facility. And the best part, the state is paying for two-thirds of the school cost through our education cost-sharing grant, leaving only one-third of the cost on Hamden taxpayers.

Town Finances

Hamden, while still in murky fiscal waters, has taken strides to move from a crisis to a manageable problem. Independent municipal bonding agencies recently complimented the town on its non-deficit budgets prepared by the last two Legislative Council sessions, for its increase in pension funding and for stabilizing the undesignated fund balance.

In addition, they noted that Hamden appeared to be moving in the right direction with the new financial team and the strategies being implemented.

A major town computer overhaul and upgrade are taking place. The town is updating a 20-year-old computer program so archaic that it wouldn’t allow the implementation of some of the creative tax strategies that we wanted to consider this year, to help with the too-high residential property tax. Once finished, we will have the chance to implement such progressive programs during next year’s budget process in spring of 2007.

Hamden Police Department

The Hamden Police Department, under the leadership of new Police Chief Wydra, is making excellent strides. A recently implemented Selective Enforcement Team (SET) has been formed to bring improved police presence in several neighborhoods. The team has had the success of not only getting to know many of our residents better, but they’ve also made an impressive number of arrests.

Revaluation of Property Taxes

Many of us were hit hard in the pocketbook this year because of a flawed revaluation process. Over the last several months a citizen organization, the town and the Legislative Council have been discussing and debating potential revaluation phase-in options. Most important, we were exploring what was feasible with our current computer system and tax collection process.

The most recent update was a letter I sent to state Sens. Martin Looney and Joseph Crisco asking for additional information that the Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief had asked about. I await the information and will report it here when received.

Hamden Town Green Update

The Hamden Town Green Committee, headed by Councilman Matt Fitch, is finalizing its selection of consultants for the project. Some initial ideas the committee is recommending include a walking trail connected to the Farmington Canal, winter ice-skating and other passive recreational uses.

It will be wonderful for Hamden to finally have on official town green. In addition to the very popular summer concert series, which we hope to expand, we’ve been exploring the idea of showing some movies on the green as New Haven does.

The naming of the land at the former Meadowbrook golf course is undecided at this time. My vote goes to calling it the Hamden Town Green or the Meadowbrook Town Green.

Keefe Community Center

The Keefe Community Center, where many human services are offered, is getting some much-needed improvements this month, including boiler repairs for heat.

Hamden High School

Quick update. The air-conditioning project is in the final stages and will finally be ready for next spring and summer. Staff and students will have the long-awaited relief they deserve and the more comfortable environment to cultivate learning.

As you can see, along with some of the not-so-perfect things happening in Hamden, there’s progress and achievement to point to. Sometimes a person can become so consumed with looking for faults that he/she loses perspective on the good. Often, people with this mindset also forget to work to solve problems since they spend so much time just attacking political opponents.

Attacking is easy; finding a solution is hard. A wise piece of advice was given to me a long time ago, “If you oppose a project or idea, then you should be ready to propose an alternative.” Some critics don’t take this advice.

Sure there are bumps in the road, but I think we’re back on the right track.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. You can contact Leng at

October 10, 2006

‘Let Me Explain Hamden Politics 101'

By Ron Gambardella

The Legislative Council met last Tuesday. A key vote was expected on three union contacts. The outcome of the vote was never in doubt. The unions got what they paid for. Tuesday’s vote was a mere formality resulting from deals that were struck on the campaign trail.

For those who might be confused, let me explain Hamden Politics 101.

Unions have the right to question candidates to gain a sense of how they might vote on an issue. In a town like Hamden, union support is critical, since most Hamden residents pay no attention to what is going on in Town Hall. The Democrats and the unions hope it stays that way.

Anyway, in exchange for union support, a candidate agrees to vote favorably on contracts that offer lucrative benefits for the rank and file. The unions did their part by helping 13 Democrats get elected to the Council. The Council returned the favor by voting in favor of a juicy contract, dripping with excesses that any union member would salivate over. Needless to say, this arrangement works out well for the unions and the Democrats in power.

The Council gave a show for the public, attempting to persuade the viewing audience that the contracts were fairly negotiated. Don’t be fooled by this; the deals were cut long before they reached public scrutiny. As usual, the Hamden taxpayer is left holding the bag. With the current contracts in place, the town is once again bound by outdated, poorly constructed agreements that serve to protect the status quo and preserve countless hours of overtime.

Hamden is in a financial crisis. This was a golden opportunity to put our financial house in order. Instead, the Council, as it is accustomed, did nothing to rectify the situation. My vote was the only “no.” Councilman Leng abstained in a veiled attempt to salvage union support. Councilman Flanagan sounded as if he was negotiating for the union. Who is looking out for the taxpaying public?

In a previous column, I listed several items that would have gone a long way in controlling labor costs. Any reasonable person looking at the list would agree. For example, extending the workweek from 35 to 40 hours is not an outrageous request. It is simply a matter of increasing productivity by making the most of the existing workforce. When I mentioned productivity improvements, Councilman Germano and President Gorman quickly came to the aid of their constituents and indicated that the folks working at Town Hall are already productive. Therefore, no changes are necessary.

This sort of response is a clear indication that neither councilman has any sense of the most basic economic principals. They voted yes to union contracts that put upward pressure on an already strained financial picture. It is no wonder the town is in dire straights. When votes are cast as payback for political gain, then the only way out of this mess is to replace the sitting Democrats -- preferably with candidates who have some idea of economic principles.

I am nauseated by having to sit quietly and listen to deception, ineptitude and hypocrisy by the very people claiming to be helping the taxpayers. The situation is rapidly deteriorating to a hopeless state of affairs for those of us looking for an end to the insanity.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

October 3, 2006

Union Contracts Unfair to Taxpayers

By Ron Gambardella

The single greatest expense within the town of Hamden’s operating budget is unquestionably labor. This evening, the Council will be voting on several union contracts that will most definitely commit the town’s financial resources now and into the future.

With an issue this important, it would seem appropriate for the town to seize the opportunity to reduce labor costs as much as possible. Given the historically high recent tax increase, the urgency of the situation is approaching critical mass. While reducing expenses may seem like an obvious course of action, you must remember the town is run by Democrats.

The Democrats understand they are there because of union votes, friends and family. Since the majority of registered voters show no interest at all in town politics, the sitting Democrats need only cater to a select few to remain in power. That said; please don’t believe for a second these contracts take into consideration the taxpaying public. They clearly do not, and here’s why:

  1. The contracts calls for 35-hour workweeks for a variety of town positions with overtime paid after seven hours.
  2. Accumulation of up to 150 sick days where the town must buy back unused sick days.
  3. An employee can earn 20 days vacation with 12 years of service, gaining an additional day every year up to 25 days vacation with 17 years of service.
  4. For the point-of-entry health benefit plan, the town pays 98 percent of the cost in 2006, 97 percent in 2007 and 96 percent in 2008 and 2009.
  5. Up to $325 in clothing allowance.
  6. Longevity payments from $525 after five years to $1,125 after 25 years paid on a graduated scale.

The combined incremental cost to you and me for the new contracts (when approved by the sitting Democrats) will be $455,000 one-time retroactive payment and $480,000 ongoing impact for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, and grows from there. Folks, we are being taken for a ride. The Democrats are counting on the majority of registered voters to do what they always do -- nothing!

If you like where the town is heading, then by all means enjoy the TV show you may be watching. Pay no attention to local politics. Continue to ignore the facts. However, if you’re like the growing undercurrent of dissatisfied, angry taxpayers who have been deceived and betrayed by their elected representatives, then I am talking to you.

This Council could send a message back to the administration that negotiations producing contracts that continue to penalize the taxpayer will no longer be accepted. But, alas they will not. The outcome of the vote is a done deal. The Democrats will overwhelmingly vote in favor of the contracts. Then, to add insult to injury, congratulate each other on a job well done. If you want change, we must remove the old, stale approach to town politics and bring in representatives not afraid to tackle the tough issues. It is ultimately up to you.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

September 29, 2006

Can’t Afford Our Own Employees

By Ron Gambardella

Printed below is an excerpt from a letter dated Sept. 25, 2006, from Board of Education Chairman Michael D’Agostino to Mayor Craig Henrici. A copy of the letter was sent to every legislative Council member. We will be voting on this item during a special session prior to the full Council meeting on Oct. 3.

The gist of the letter is that the BOE would like to save the town some dough by hiring a contractor for some grounds-keeping work. What struck me was the long list of negotiated, expensive benefits that the town currently pays its employees. Read for yourself.

"As a result of our analysis of the costs associated with outsourcing grounds-keeping and snow removal, we have determined that there will be an aggregate savings. This analysis is based on such costs as direct labor, including medical benefits, life insurance, workers’ compensation, longevity, uniform cleaning, bereavement, holiday, vacation, personal and sick days. Other costs saved by moving forward with this proposal include those related to gasoline, sand/salt mixture, repairs, maintenance and wear and tear on vehicles and equipment replacement. All of these cost benefits should lead to long-term savings as well.

"In addition to these immediate and long-term savings, the outsourcing of these services will also lead to more efficient maintenance and upkeep of our facilities ... As noted, we are confident that this division of labor will not only result in an over-all [sic] cost-savings, but will also produce more efficient grounds’ [sic] maintenance for the district, especially at the new Middle School, with its extensive grounds."

According to the analysis conducted by the Board of Education, not only does this proposal save money, but the work can be conducted in a “more efficient” manner. What we have here is the realization that things are broken at Town Hall. The unions, along with the politicians, have now created a situation where there is so much fat built into contracts that their weight can no longer be supported on the backs of the taxpayers.

The BOE still has a requirement to get the work done, but cannot afford to pay town employees to do so. The Board has been forced to look elsewhere. The Town Council must support this initiative. If this measure fails, we can only expect more from the same tired politicians who will not lift a finger to lighten the financial burden we all must bear. To the residents of Hamden, watch closely how this vote turns out. Pay particular attention to the Council members who insist on the status quo. These are the folks who wish to win votes at your expense.

This letter may appear to have a union-busting tone. It is not intended to be so. The unions did the right thing by their members and negotiated the very best contracts that produced extremely favorable results over the years. Current and past politicians voted in favor of these contracts as a way of gleaning votes from the rank and file so they could remain in power.

Folks, we can’t expect the unions to negotiate from both sides of the table. Someone needs to be looking out for the taxpayer. It is up to the politicians to balance labor and cost. These politicians have failed both the taxpayers and the unions by ignoring how the cost of these contracts will ultimately hurt everyone, including the unions.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

September 11, 2006

Another Democratic Farce

By Ron Gambardella

After last Tuesday’s Legislative Council meeting, I came away with a newfound sense of utter hopelessness for the people of Hamden. There were few taxpayers who thought the outcome might have been different.

They referenced discussions with individual Democrats who gave them some assurance they would allow a fair hearing and be open-minded with respect to phasing in the historically high tax increase. These Democrats pretended to listen to the outcry of the taxpayers. Privately, they even thoughtfully agreed with those who took time to call their representative to gain support of the phase-in. These same Council members went so far as to suggest there was some reason to hope for passage.

Their words were as sweet as honey, but once swallowed, quickly soured in the stomach. When the night was over, the final vote was 12-2-1 against the phase-in. Not a single yes vote from the Democrats. There wasn’t the slightest hint of open-mindedness. In fact, the majority of Council members are incapable of comprehending a complex issue like phasing in the tax increase. It was clear from the get-go that the decision was made behind closed doors by the ruling party. This thing never had a chance.

The decision-making process of the Democrats could be better understood by listening in on a typical discussion that occurs prior to the start of a Legislative Council session. It would not surprise me if it went something like this:

Dem 1: Pass me another piece of pork pie, please. I may have to loosen my belt a notch to get it down, but to the victor goes the spoils. Besides that, it tastes so good!
Dem 2: Hey, save a piece for me. You know we all helped in passing the historically high tax increase so we all could enjoy the pie. Don’t help yourself to more than your share. (squabbling ensues)
Dem 3: Can we turn our attention to the agenda for this evening? Let’s see, oh yes, we have that ridiculous proposal to phase in the tax increase. Don’t these people get it, the answer is no. Now, I suppose we will have to give the illusion that we are actually interested in this.
Dem 4: Gambardella will probably press the point. Man, he is turning out to be a thorn in our side. How should we handle these proceedings?
Dem 5: We need to be shrewd. If we don’t give this a sense of a fair hearing, folks will accuse us of rushing to judgment
Dem 6: What folks? The Republicans? We have this town wrapped up. Who listens to them anyway? By the way, the Council president is forming an exploratory committee to look at charter revision. Wasn’t this something that Gambardella suggested a while back?
Dem 7: Yes, he continues to bring the issue to the table during old and new business. He won’t shut up! We should proceed the same way as our treatment of the phase-in proposal. Thank you for not appointing him to the exploratory committee. This should prevent any reports from appearing in the HDN. Good work!
Dem 8: Yeah! I get it. We will pretend to be in favor, but when the vote is called we will shut the door to any changes.
Dem 9: All except one change. We should vote to eliminate reserving any seats for minority representation on the Council. In this way, we will eliminate any voice of opposition. Once we pass this change, what we say is the truth will go unchallenged. Can you imagine?
Dem 10: Say, I like the way you think. Power feels good, but absolute power feels better.
Dem 11: You know, I have been thinking about this phase-in thing. Shouldn’t we at least express regret for not acting sooner? We can say things like, “We apologize,” “We feel bad,” “We made a mistake,” etc. In the end, we do what we always do -- nothing! (group laughs)
Dem 12: That’s not a bad idea; this will give the appearance of sincerity, but relieve us of the responsibility of having to do anything.
Dem 13: We can conclude by agreeing with the administration that after carefully considering all the facts, there is just nothing we can do. (All nod in agreement.)
Dem 1: Come on! Pass me another piece of pork pie!

If Hamden is serious about change, we need to eliminate the status quo. Otherwise, expect more of the same.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

September 5, 2006

Give Me a (Tax) Break

By Ron Gambardella

Today at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, the Finance Committee will discuss and then vote on the resolution to phase in the property tax increase. In previous as well as recent communications, the administration has steadfastly opposed a phase-in approach to mitigating the tax burden, for the following reasons:

  1. Motor vehicle taxes would increase and a supplemental bill would have to be issued.
  2. Possible reduction in state aid.
  3. Possible impact to elderly tax credits.
  4. Mortgage escrow accounts would need adjusting.
  5. Taxpayers would have to be refunded for overpayment of tax.
  6. Higher expense due to additional paperwork processing.
  7. Inadequate computer support.

It amazes me that so much time and energy have been spent focusing on the problem and no time at all on coming up with a solution. Folks are crying out for tax relief. This administration and some Council Democrats choose to ignore this cry for help. Where the will is lacking, the ways and means are never seriously considered.

Before I address each point, it seems appropriate to mention that the list above could have been completely avoided if the administration and sitting Democrats had been more proactive in approving a phase-in. The tax assessor has already verified that 87 percent of all Hamden households experienced a 60 percent or greater appreciation in property values. It is for this reason and this reason alone, that a phase-in would benefit the vast majority of homeowners.

That said, let’s look more closely at the seven excuses listed above for maintaining the status quo and reiterating that same tired tune, “There’s Nothing We Can Do.”

  1. Motor vehicles. The truth is that with a phase-in all car taxes will be less than last year. There is, however, additional work required to adjust motor vehicle taxes to reflect the phase-in methodology. This will result in an increase in motor vehicle taxes from the most recent bill. However, for the majority of homeowners there will be a net savings.
  2. Possible reduction in state aid. This cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. We would have to work the numbers to better understand the impact (if any). A phase-in will not impact the overall revenue the town anticipates in the current budget.
  3. Elderly tax credits. This again is a smokescreen. Don’t forget, the administration was not aware of how the historically high tax increase impacted elderly residents in the first place. The 2006-2007 revenue budget was adjusted at the last minute for this oversight. I doubt if this administration appreciates or even understands the impact. We cannot rely on this statement. The phase-in methodology proposed by Mark Sanders would most likely benefit the elderly population by providing needed tax relief.
  4. Mortgage escrows. Accounts would indeed be adjusted lower (not higher) for the benefit of the taxpayer in the majority of cases.
  5. Taxpayer refund. This explains why the town is where it is today. This administration believes a refund is bad for the taxpayer. Need I say more?
  6. Higher expenses. The Democrats approved a brand new SUV as one of the first acts of the new Council. Now they want to talk about higher expenses especially when the taxpayer is a clear beneficiary from this expenditure. The hypocrisy is stifling.
  7. Inadequate computer support. As a former professional computer programmer, I can say for sure that this is not a difficult problem to solve. This is hardly challenging. Hell, I could probably solve this with an Excel spreadsheet. Give me a break!

These seven issues have been outlined by the administration and sent in the form of a letter to Council members. It is a clear attempt by the administration to thwart the efforts of those taxpayers who are fed up with taxation without competent representation. If Council members wish to atone for past poor decisions that hold the taxpayer hostage, then they have no choice but to approve the phase-in proposal. Should this proposal fail, remember that in November 2007.

Councilmen Curt Leng (D) and Ron Gambardella (R) give us their take on what's happening in town goverment. Gambardella can be reached at

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