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Town Government
August 30, 2006

Hit List

At-large Councilman Ron Gambardella fields questions at last night's HHRT meeting. Photo/Sharon Bass

Tax-relief group readies for its last phase-in chance next Tuesday

By Sharon Bass

Tenacity and record-high tax bills seem to be fueling the Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief. The group has been pushing and pushing the Henrici Administration to consider a phase-in of the 2005 property revaluations. And the answer from Government Center’s third floor keeps coming back: “It can’t be done.” But HHTR won't take no for an answer.

Members are crossing their fingers while trying to convince their local reps that a phase-in is the way to go. The humane thing to do. The final decision rests with the Legislative Council, which is expected to discuss the tax-relief measure next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Last night, the HHTR assembled at the Miller Senior Center to discuss last-minute tactics. About 35 showed up as well as at-large Councilman Ron Gambardella, who said he’s in favor of a phase-in.

“Call your councilpeople before Tuesday’s meeting,” said Mark Sanders, who is leading the effort. “We need to lobby [at-large Councilman] Jim Pascarella. Another person we have to call and lobby heavily is [6th District Councilman] Curt Leng. He’s the finance chair and we believe he’s waffling. I hope he’s waffling our way.”

“Where does [4th District Councilwoman] Gretchen Callahan stand?” a man asked.

“I believe she’s in the middle,” said Sanders. “If she’s listening at all to her constituents, she’ll go our way.”

“As an observer, she votes strictly party line,” said Gambardella.

That triggered a discussion about whether to put time into calling councilmembers who are not likely to budge. “If we’re going to go ahead, I think we should make a list,” said Gambardella.

Gambardella's assessment of Council members' reaction to a phase-in:

President Al Gorman: “Absolutely no.”
At-large Councilwoman Kath Schomaker (shoo-may-kir): “Open-minded.”
At-large Councilwoman Betty Wetmore: “Yes.”
At-large Councilwoman Carol Noble: “Close-minded.”
At-large Pascarella: “Can be convinced.”
1st District Councilman Matt Fitch: “Close-minded.” (Sanders countered that Fitch is open-minded.)
2nd District Councilman John Flanagan: “I gotta say he’s an independent thinker.”
3rd District Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis: “Fence. You might be able to convince her.”
4th District Callahan: “No.”
5th District Councilman Willie Mewborn: “I think we might be able to convince him.”
6th District Leng: “He’s waffling.”
7th District Councilman Michael Colaiacovo: “I think he could be convinced.”
8th District Councilman Mike Germano: “I don’t think so.”
9th District Councilman Bob Westervelt: “I think he’s open-minded.”

The phase-in proposal first has to pass the Finance Committee before going to the full Council. Leng, Gambardella, Noble, Germano, Pascarella, Fitch and Wetmore sit on the committee.

“It’s a good shot to get through committee,” said Sanders, imploring the group to show up Tuesday evening in big numbers.

“The reason it’s important for us to be there is so we can witness the way they vote,” said HHRT member Sandy Friday. “And the way they vote determines their futures, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Is everybody making so much on the Council that they don’t understand?” said Jan Barber.

“This is supposed to be a democratic society. To shift the tax burden onto the middle- and less wealthy class is undemocratic,” said Barbara Schlein.

People asked Gambardella why town salaries are so high. He said they’re contractual and have to be negotiated with the unions.

“So you get to set each other’s salaries?” said Barber.

“I’m the only one watching the till,” Gambardella said. “I’m a Republican, but it’s the Democrats. I wrote a song about it."

“We have to stop the Democratic machine and I’m a Democrat,” said Barber.

“I’m a Democrat, too,” said Marianna D’Albis.

“You support the party that will give you your way and the unions support the Democrats,” Gambardella said.

Sanders had presented his phase-in calculations to the Council in June. State law offers two formulas. A so-called simple phase-in and a more complicated one. Sanders used the simple and the town administration used the other. Sanders’ results showed a higher savings for homeowners.

“We’re taking advantage of something the state wants us to take advantage of,” he told the room. He said the town is against the phase-in for political reasons. “The administration intentionally tried to confuse the Council,” he said.

“Where is the compassion? For [mayor’s top aide] Scott Jackson to say it can’t be done because of the computer, I was totally disgusted that night,” said Friday. “He let us go on and on. Why did he lead us on? They expect us to be good and quiet.”

“And starve to death,” said Barber.

August 29, 2006

Batting 1,000

Police Chief Wydra. File Photo

By Sharon Bass

On July 5, the Legislative Council unanimously and wholeheartedly made Tom Wydra Hamden’s eighth police chief. Last night, a Council committee unanimously and wholeheartedly approved the first idea the 35-year-old has brought to the bench: a staffing realignment that promises to save the town 18 grand.

The new chief is humming.

“This is an excellent proposal by the chief,” said 1st District Councilman Matt Fitch. “It’s innovative. More officers on the street.”

Yes, echoed 6th District Councilman Curt Leng. “I’m very impressed that the chief’s first action is to put more police on the streets,” he said.

There are 10 vacancies on the 107-member-approved police force, including one captain and one sergeant. Wydra’s idea is to eliminate the captain and sergeant, and fill nine vacancies with officers and one with a detective who would be assigned to Internet crimes. He said the downside is the loss of two promotional opportunities. But the upside is more cops in the community.

At-large Councilman Ron Gambardella wanted to know more about the new detective position. “Do you have someone in mind?” he asked.

Wydra said he did. He said the assignment is to investigate online crimes such as child pornography, fraud and ID theft. The detective will take on other tasks as well.

“It means going into chat rooms and initiating conversations [with minors],” the chief said. “I think law enforcement everywhere has lagged behind the proliferation of criminal activity on the Internet.” Though the targets will be local violators, investigations will likely include the world outside of Hamden, too.

“I prefer we take a proactive approach. I think it’s high time in our profession,” Wydra said.

President Al Gorman (at-large) asked if the police union is OK with nixing the sergeant and captain positions.

“They are aware of it. I don’t know if they’re all in favor of it,” said Wydra. “I think we have to do what’s in the best interest of our citizens.”

The Council also approved a state grant to set up roadblocks on Sept. 7 and Sept. 30. This is the town’s third DWI block this year. Wydra said the locations, which are made public beforehand, have not yet been set. Asked if disclosing the sites hampers the effort, he said he didn’t think so based on the number of busts that are made.

And, members of Hamden Homeowners for Tax Relief showed up last night hoping to find their much-desired reval phase-in plan on the Finance Committee agenda. It wasn’t.

Toward the end of the meeting, Finance Chair Leng announced the phase-in would be discussed on Sept. 5

“What time?” someone yelled out. At 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers.

P.S. HHTR created a tax quiz. You can take it here.

Not Ready For Curbside

No bulky waste pickup till October

By Sharon Bass

The curbs of Hamden are looking a little too trashy these days for John Busca.

“It’s getting to be a mess,” the Public Works director said yesterday afternoon. “People have to get used to it. We’re going through a transition here.”

The transition is going back to semiannual bulk pickup (October and April) from the on-demand serve-me schedule the town adopted last year and which officially ended this June 30. Busca said some rezzies might not be aware of the change. He said he’s been getting calls from annoyed Hamdenites asking why their bulk trash has not been removed.

“A lot of times older people put the stuff out before they call and then they’re upset because they don’t realize the [serve-me] program stopped,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, we put it all out and I’m not bringing it back in.’”

That’s a problem. The previous system was tailor-made. It allowed three scheduled pickups a year per household. All one had to do was pick up the phone and within 10 days of normal trash day, the big pile of junk on the curb would be hauled away. But apparently it didn’t work out so great.

“We felt like the town looked very messy all year round and we thought it would help only having it two times a year looking messy,” Busca said.

“It’s convenient to have it on demand,” said Mayor Craig Henrici, “but aesthetically it was lacking.” People can be fined for dumping their throwaways on yards and curbs, according to the town’s blight ordinance

Busca said he didn’t know why the town switched to the appointment system last year. In fact, the contract between the town and the Board of Ed and Trash Master makes no mention of the switch.

Town Purchaser Judi Kozak said there must have been an amendment made to the contract during the Amento Administration. Although in the Trash Master file, there were no documents indicating so.

The $917,400 contract, which also includes weekly garbage pickup, was first signed on April 5, 2004, and extended at the same yearly rate until June 30, 2006. This April, the Legislative Council approved giving Trash Master a two-year, no-bid contract that includes no fee increase the first year and a 5 percent hike in 2008.

“This is it until 2008 when we negotiate with them,” said Kozak. “With the way gas increased, we had tremendous foresight.”

August 28, 2006

Burglary Arrest at School; Crack, Heroin Bust on State Street

From the HPD

A 17-year-old Hamden male was arrested at Dunbar Hill School on Aug. 23 and charged with burglary, according to Hamden police. Alerted by an alarm at the 315 Lane Street elementary school, officers went to the building where they reported seeing someone inside.

Officer Mark Sheppard spotted the male teen leaving the school, who was subsequently arrested and taken to police headquarters. The young male was released on $1,000 bond and is to appear at Meriden Superior Court on Sept. 5. Police reported no missing items at this time.

Also on Aug. 23, Hamden cops confiscated 10 bags of crack cocaine and 65 folds of heroin during a motor vehicle stop on State Street near Ridge Road. Warren Walker, 30, of 30 Ridge Road was arrested. The discovery came on the heels of an investigation conducted by the street crime unit and patrol division.

The reported street value of the drugs is estimated at $1,500. Police also seized $541 during the search. Walker was charged with two counts of possession of narcotics and two counts of possession of narcotics with intent to sell. He was detained at police headquarters on a $100,000 bond, and was given a Meriden court date of Sept. 6.

August 25, 2006

Fire Chief Getting New Digs

Soon to be vacated. File photo

By Sharon Bass

One of the first decisions new Fire Chief David Berardesca has made is to vacate the little schoolhouse on Johnson Road -- aka fire headquarters -- and set up shop across from the Town Attorney’s Office in Government Center. He expects to do so in about a month.

“I think the fire chief should be accessible to the community. Contractors and things like that are coming in for plan reviews,” said Berardesca. “And it’s a better central location for firefighters. We have a conference room also.”

“He asked if he could do it,” said Mayor Craig Henrici. “I never knew why the fire chief’s office was way up in West Woods. He’s a new chief and I’d like to accommodate him.”

In addition to Berardesca’s staff of two secretaries and Deputy Chief Clark Hurlburt, the fire marshal’s office will also move into the empty space on the lower level of the municipal building.

Berardesca, who took over last week, said overall things are going well so far.

“They’re just working out great. I don’t have any issues. We’re moving forward with assessing the department. I had lunch with some of the firefighters the other day. I think it’s something the chief should do to learn about the department and the people,” he said.

One of the mayor’s priorities -- and campaign promises -- is to start a municipal ambulance service. Berardesca came from the Wallingford FD, which has had the service for decades. He said he’s doing some "very preliminary" work on it.

“I’m looking into it. I’ve done this before [in Wallingford]. I have an advantage there. Again, it’s something that we’re not doing right away,” he said, adding that town-run ambulance services are not moneymakers. “What you do it for is the service to the community.” Berardesca said he has no idea how much startup costs would be.

Henrici has said he might hire a consultant for the project, possibly retired Fire Chief Jim Leddy. Asked if he’s still considering doing so, the mayor said, “It’s going to be [Berardesca’s] call. He’s been on a fire department that has an ambulance service for many, many years.”

Sewer Backup

By Sharon Bass

When Hamden joined New Haven, Woodbridge and East Haven last year to form the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority, residents were told their sewer bills would go down.

But that's not exactly what happened. And Dominick DiGangi, executive director of the GNHWPCA, said there’s now $6 million in unpaid bills, including current statements. On Sept. 12, the sewer board will discuss ways to retrieve timelier payments. Annual receipts for the sewer authority ring in at $24 million, he said.

Though many users’ fees went up, DiGangi doesn’t believe they are withholding payment in protest.

“I don’t get that sense that people aren’t paying because they’re angry,” he said. The new statements look different and “some people might think it’s junk mail and throw it away.”

He attributed two factors to the higher-than-promised rates. One, collection rates are lower than originally reported. When the GNHWPCA was being developed, the four member communities told an outside accounting firm that their rates were 95 percent, he said. But auditors said it was more like 90 percent. Fees were raised to compensate for the lower collections, DiGangi said.

“In some cases I think the towns were using their tax collection rates,” he said, instead of their sewer rates.

Also, the new minimum usage is 1,500 cubic feet of sewer water, and those who use less are seeing bills that are double or more because when Hamden ran its own entity the minimum was 500. So if someone only goes through 500 cubic feet he will be charged for 1,500, instead of the actual amount.

“I know there’s been issues in Hamden over the minimum charge,” said DiGangi. But added that the past due accounts are spread out pretty evenly among the towns.

At the board’s Sept. 12 meeting, the auditors’ recommendations to improve collections will be reviewed. Currently, bills are sent out quarterly and reminder notices are not issued. One recommendation is to mail reminders at 30 and 60 days.

“At 90 days we’re going to send you a letter that basically says if we have to use a collection agency, whatever fees they charge” the customer has to pay, DiGangi said. When bills aren’t paid everyone gets penalized via rate hikes, he said.

”If it’s significant [$1,000 or more owed] we actually can foreclose on the property,” he said.

The nine-member board consists of four from New Haven, two from Hamden, two from East Haven and one from East Haven. The Regional Water Authority was hired to do the billing.

August 24, 2006
Badamo Hires High-Powered Attorney in Fundraising Dispute

Brian Badamo. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Yesterday, Brian Badamo retained heavyweight New Haven criminal defense attorney Hugh Keefe, after the HDN called the acting fire marshal about a Columbus Day Committee kickoff dinner he helped run on June 14, 2005.

“It happened over a year ago,” Badamo said when asked for comment. “If you keep this up, you’ll be hearing from my attorney.” He refused to answer any questions. Later on, he left a message with the HDN to call Keefe. Badamo was the committee chair of the dinner and was in charge of collecting money.

According to Charlotte Gambardella of Hamden, who has been on the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Committee since the late ’80s and treasurer for the last four or five years, Badamo took home the cash and checks collected at the June ’05 event. And after many attempts to reach Badamo to ask him to turn in the money, she said he handed in the checks and $6. Tickets were $25 a head.

“At the table at the 2005 event, Vanna [Francia] and I counted a lot of cash. People had given $100 bills and $50 bills. That’s why I questioned the money because I counted the money that night,” said Gambardella.

Vanna Francia, director of Hamden Community Services who worked with Gambardella at the kickoff dinner at Cascade, concurred that cash was collected and that it amounted to much more than $6.

“We always had prepayments before an event. Brian’s the one who accepted money at the door,” said Gambardella. “None of our people in the past or in the future handled cash at the door. When the money came, Vanna and I counted it.” Neither she nor Francia remembered how much cash was collected.

“He took all the money home. I didn’t want that, but he insisted,” said Gambardella. “I didn’t want him to think I didn’t trust him but I said I wanted the money soon.”

Francia said she didn’t understand why Badamo was allowed to take the cash and checks with him.

“After the event I got very suspicious. I was annoyed he wasn’t handing in the money,” said Gambardella. “He knew I was after him for the checks and cash. He wouldn’t return my calls. I called the [fire] station he worked out of. I took some trips to [fire headquarters]. I e-mailed him. Then finally, finally we got the checks and the $6 about two months later. When I did not agree with the money, I, in turn photocopied all the checks and the $6.”


On Aug. 5, 2005, Gambardella received a reply. “Hi Charlotte This is Brian’s wife. Every single penny from that event was give [sic] to you. I’m sure your [sic] not implying otherwise. Jennifer Badamo”

In addition, Gambardella provided the HDN with copies of the checks and the $1 and $5 bills that she said Badamo returned. She also provided copies of two bank deposit slips, showing the checks and cash she said Badamo turned in. Both slips are dated July 26, 2005. One totals $2,125 and lists 19 checks and no cash. The other lists 23 checks and $6 in cash for a total of $806.

Gambardella said when she asked Badamo where the rest of the cash was he said he paid off some expenses, although she said he didn’t submit any receipts. She also gave the HDN copies of five checks she issued from the Columbus Day Committee bank account to cover the dinner’s expenses. Checks were made out to Michael Streeto for $50; Vanna Francia for $55; Cascade Banquet Facility for $1,810; another to Cascade for $500; and one to Presto Print for $50. Gambardella said there were no other bills and no check from Badamo to replace the cash she and Francia counted on the evening of June 14.

“Badamo didn’t turn in one receipt for any bills he claimed to have paid. He told outside people that he paid things by cash. But he didn’t tell me this. I asked him what he paid and he didn’t respond,” Gambardella said. “After the event, he dodged me completely. He wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t talk to me.”

Dominic Corraro of North Haven was chair of the board and is now president of the Columbus Day Committee Corporation. “It was never brought to our attention. This is news to me,” he said expressing concern on how this information could affect the committee’s reputation.

“Alleging anyone stole money is a very serious allegation. If they have evidence to indicate Brian Badamo stole money they should go to the police,” said attorney Keefe. “Short of that they should be very careful of making criminal allegations against anybody because that constitutes defamation for which they could be sued.” He refused to comment further.

Former Mayor John Carusone, who was the committee’s finance chair last year, said he stands behind Gambardella 100 percent. “I have great faith in Charlotte Gambardella. She has been a tremendous treasurer for the Columbus Day Committee for a number of years,” he said. “She is a completely honest person.”

The HDN called Mayor Craig Henrici for comment yesterday afternoon. He had a councilman in his office at the time, and was asked to call the HDN later in the day regarding a serious matter. Henrici said he would call but didn’t.

In April, Henrici announced his appointment of Badamo for fire chief, but lacked the needed Council support -- and created public outcry -- after dragging it out for roughly three months. Instead, Wallingford's David Berardesca was approved for the top fire slot. He assumed the post last week.

August 22, 2006

The Pension Infusion Trail

Former Mayor Barbara DeNicola. File photo

By Sharon Bass

Contributions to the town’s pension plan took a sharp nosedive in 1998. That was former Republican Mayor Barbara DeNicola’s first budget. But it was actually the barely Democratic-controlled Council that cut her $4.4 million retirement fund suggestion by about two-thirds. In 1999, she proposed an amount similar to what the Council approved the year before, $1.5 million.

This time the eight Democrats and seven Republicans voted her way down. Like to zero dollars. And the retirement account has been limping along ever since.

Mayor Craig Henrici thinks it won’t make it on employer and employee contributions and investment returns. He wants to bond it for $85 million. But it’s up to the Legislative Council to decide whether Hamden goes $85M more into the hole called debt -- and there’s a lot of hesitation about going that route. It takes a two-thirds’ vote (or 10 votes) for this type of measure to pass.

“I’m just going to ask the Council to have an open mind,” Henrici said yesterday. He earlier said he’s been contemplating the bonding since he took office last November. After recently being told by an actuary that the un-funded liability on the pension account is $170 million -- about $16 million more than he had thought -- he decided to move the idea forward more aggressively.

26 Years of Donations

According to town budget books dating from 1979, the retirement fund was consistently fed until ’99. Often over $4M was put in. It’s undetermined what the actuary’s advised contribution was for each year, so $4M might have been right on or too low.

The amount needed varies each year, depending on how many employees retire. Former Mayor Lillian Clayman said pension payments might have even been higher in past years. Currently, Hamden dishes out about $14 million in pension checks each year to 640 former town workers.

“You can find years from ’91 to the present where there was a whole slew of retirements,” said Clayman. “People are coming and going constantly. You don’t have a static group of employees.”

Here’s a look at the last 26 years of pension fund infusions (Editor's note: Sorry about the unevenness of the chart. We tried our hardest):

Fiscal Year  Mayor’s Recommendation  Council Approved

1979-80             Lucien Dimeo, R, $1.02M           $1.02M
1980-81             Dick Harris, D, $1.24M            $1.24M
1981-82             Dick Harris, $1.4M          $1.4M
1982-83             Peter Villano, D, $1.75M            $1.75M
1983-84             Peter Villano, $2.14M                  $2.28M
1984-85             Peter Villano, $2.65M                 $2.65M
1985-86             Peter Villano, $2.9M       $2.9M
1986-87             John DeNicola Jr., R, $3M            $3M
1987-88             John DeNicola Jr., $3.78M            $3.78M
1988-89             John Carusone, D, $4.37M            $4.37M
1989-90             John Carusone, $4.75M            $4.5M
1990-91             John Carusone, $4.77M            $4.27M
1991-92             John Carusone, $4.27M            $4.27M
1992-93             Lillian Clayman, D, $4.27M            $4.27M
1993-94             Lillian Clayman, $4.27M            $4.27M
1994-95             Lillian Clayman, $4.27M            $4.27M
1995-96             Lillian Clayman, $4.5M            $4.25M
1996-97             Lillian Clayman, $4.5M   $4.5M
1997-98             Lillian Clayman, $4M             $4M
1998-99             Barbara DeNicola, R, $4.4M          $1.75M
1999-00             Barbara DeNicola, $1.5M   $0
2000-01             Carl Amento, D, $0             $0
2001-02             Carl Amento, $250,000       $0
2002-03             Carl Amento, $500,000        $500,000
2003-04             Carl Amento, $1M               $1M
2004-05             Carl Amento, $3M               $3M
2005-06             Carl Amento, $6M               $6M
2006-07            Craig Henrici, D, $9M     $9M

Barbara’s Battlefield

Asked why she thinks the Council shot down both of her pension proposals, Barbara DeNicola said, “I think what was going on is that the Democrats were so darn mad [that a Republican was elected mayor] that they just decided to sabotage everything. I mean they gave us such a bad time for two years. Because they were really, really angry that we beat Lillian [Clayman].”

DeNicola said she didn’t sign either budget “because they were deficit budgets and they screwed up the pension thing. You blame the Democratic Council for the pension problems.” There was one more Dem than Republican on the legislative body at the time.

Councilwoman Carol Noble was one of the eight Democrats. She said Republicans had defected during DeNicola’s tenure and began siding with Democrats. “What happened was [late Councilmen] Frank Cesare and Floyd Atchley split off from their party’s vote and voted with us,” she said.

Also, Councilman Floyd Atchley, a Republican who has also passed away, said, “the pension was a drain on the town’s operating budget and we should turn it over to the employees,” said Noble. So there wasn’t enough support to properly fund the pension, if at all.

As former Democratic Councilman Pat Corso remembered, “There was so much animosity going on that there were Republicans supporting Democrats. There was a little dissension among the Republicans. They were fighting among themselves.” Corso served from 1989-1999.

DTC to JOE: Foggetaboutit

Andy Wormser reads the “Lieberman resolution” to the Democratic committee. Photo/Sharon Bass
By Sharon Bass

"It is my strong belief that Sen. Lieberman should abide by the wishes of state party members and the Democratic process." State Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo speaking against the senator’s independent run

Those wishes were counted Aug. 8, with 146,061 for Lieberman’s opponent, Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, and 136,042 for the junior senator. Lieberman, who by many accounts expected to lose the state primary, kicked off an independent run the next morning.

Many Dems have been yelling foul play. And some town committees are passing resolutions asking Lieberman to drop his independent bid for November. Hamden did so last night (click here to read it). But not before some spirited discussion.

“I am strongly in support of supporting the nominated Democrat,” said DTC member Mike Crocco. “But I don’t think this committee should tell an American citizen he can’t run. This guy has a right to run.”

Elaine Dove argued for the resolution saying Lieberman is not running as a Democrat.

“Until the registrar of voters in New Haven [where Lieberman lives] and the town chairman of New Haven declare it, he’s a Democrat,” snapped John Flanagan.

Tony Mentone wanted to amend the resolution to simply say the DTC is endorsing Lamont, and strike the Lieberman part. Flanagan said that’s not an amendment but a substitute motion.

“We should get behind our candidate [Lamont] and make it clear,” said Andy Wormser, who read the resolution to the group. “Nobody has said Lieberman can’t do what he wants. But we are the Hamden Democratic Committee.”

The resolution was voted in 17-13. There’s nothing binding about it. It’s really a sentiment directed toward voters, as no one expects Lieberman to pay any mind to it.

Ungracious and Selfish

“I will not support that resolution,” said Flanagan, his voice escalating, “because I will not insinuate that Joe Lieberman’s not a Democrat -- and that’s what this resolution does.”

Al May said he also supports Lieberman but sees the resolution differently than Flanagan.

“I’m probably unique. I’m a Lieberman supporter but I voted for it [resolution] because the Democratic Town Committee has the right to express their feelings,” said May.

And committee members like Marjorie Clark are glad they got to express those feelings and make an official statement.

“This is not the time to be wishy-washy,” said Clark. “We need to stand united as Democrats.” She said even though the resolution wouldn’t affect Lieberman’s “position one iota, I hope it would have an impact on Hamden Democrats.

“When Joe declared that he would run as an independent he basically flipped off all of the Democrats who have helped him get to where his is; his actions clearly stated that he was doing what was best for him, not what was best for Connecticut,” said Clark.

As HDTC chair, Joe McDonagh publicly backs the party-picked candidate. On the evening of Aug. 8, his support went to Lamont.

“To me it is significant that Hamden, which provided Joe Lieberman with one of his strongest votes at the Democratic state convention -- 28-4, better than any large community except Bridgeport -- voted tonight to ask him to step aside from the U.S. Senate race,” McDonagh said.

“I supported Joe's fight in the primary, but when he lost, the right thing for him to do was to step aside and to acknowledge the will of Connecticut's Democratic voters. After all, it was the Connecticut Democratic Party that put him in the U.S. Senate in the first place,” he continued. “If in 1970 [his first state Senate race] or in 1988 [his first U.S. Senate bid] Joe was running on the ‘Connecticut for Lieberman’ Party line, he would never have served, we would never have had the chance to appreciate his talents.

“We certainly owe thanks to Joe Lieberman for his years of service,” said McDonagh, “but Joe owes a debt of gratitude to the Democratic Party for giving him that opportunity. To run against his own party, as he is doing this year, is ungracious and selfish.”

Clark bemoaned the lack of unity among Democrats in this vital Senate race. Particularly on the local level. After the biting contentiousness between Democratic factions during the Carl Amento/Craig Henrici mayoral primary, she said she hoped for better.

“You know what amazes me? After last year’s divisiveness members are still bickering,” she said. “It kind of boggles my mind.”

The DTC voted unanimously for the substitute motion endorsing Lamont.



Whereas Senator Joseph Lieberman sought and won the endorsement of the Connecticut Democratic Party for reelection to the office of United States Senator at its Convention in May, and

Whereas an historic percentage of Democratic voters, on August 8, came to the polls, and chose Ned Lamont to be the Democratic Party’s nominee, and

Whereas prior to the primary, Ned Lamont repeatedly stated that he would accept the decision of Democratic voters in the primary election, so that if Senator Lieberman had prevailed in the primary he would have immediately endorsed Senator Lieberman’s candidacy, and

Whereas Senator Lieberman has refused to abide by the decision of the Democratic voters in the primary, and he has instead taken the necessary steps to run as an independent candidate, and

Whereas this action constitutes a repudiation of the will expressed by Connecticut’s Democratic voters in the primary election, and

Whereas Senator Lieberman’s third party effort threatens to undermine the campaigns by other Democratic candidates for office in Connecticut, including Joe Courtney, Diane Farrell and Chris Murphy, whose campaigns, if successful, could help Democrats gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years,

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Hamden Democratic Town Committee hereby expresses its abhorrence of the intended action by Senator Lieberman to run against Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee for United States Senator, and

FURTHERMORE, THAT it urges each enrolled member of the Democratic Party in Hamden to contact Senator Lieberman and implore that he accept without qualification the democratically expressed wishes of the Democratic Party, which has supported his long and successful political career, and withdraw from the race for United States Senate.

August 16, 2006

How the Pension Hole Was Dug

Finance Director Betz and chief mayoral aide Jackson. File photos

And what keeps digging it

By Sharon Bass

The just-revealed $170 million hole in the town’s pension fund didn’t happen overnight. It also didn’t happen over just the last eight or 10 years. Because the account wasn’t in such reported dire straits before, Town Hall officials say many mayors under-funded it. And the hole grew and grew.

“Listen to your actuary and put in what they tell you to put in -- every year,” said Finance Director Mike Betz.

At the same time, the number of people on Hamden's pension dole has significantly grown. More retirement money is now going out than coming in, officials say. Saying it’s either raise taxes or bond the anorexic retirement account, Mayor Craig Henrici has chosen to pursue the latter. He wants to sell $85 million in bonds to somewhat rescue the fund, which needs $250 million but only has about $82 million.

“At some point we’d come to a pay-as-you-go pension,” said the mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson. Current town employee contributions no longer cover pension payouts, he said. In the mid 1930s, when Social Security hit the scene, there were two active workers for every retiree.

Now it’s the opposite.

“We need to stop new employees from getting into the pension fund,” Jackson said. “Look at your Delta Airlines. People are living longer than before. It’s why companies don’t give pensions anymore. Nobody’s starting a pension in 2006.”

Scott said he was surprised, as were many, to learn the pension hole is so big. “As of two weeks ago the operative number was $154 million” needed to fund the pension account 100 percent. “Last week we heard from the actuary that it’s $170 million.”

Even the $9 million -- up $3 million from last year -- put into the budget this year for the retirement fund hasn’t made a dent, Jackson said. “I was hoping that the increased rate of contribution to the fund would be enough to keep us from falling behind,” he said. “[But] we’re further behind than we were before.” He attributed a recent rash of contractual retirement payouts and salary increases to part of the problem.

$1.2M to 640

Every month, Hamden sends out $1.2 million in pension checks to 640 retirees, according to Personnel Director Ken Kelley. That number includes the 16 or 17 who recently retired from guardian services, he said. But not the four who called it a day on July 31. The first check is sent out one month after officially leaving.

Also, every May town retirees get a cost-of-living hike. Kelley said next year the increase should be about 3 percent.

“I probably won’t see any more retire until November,” he said. “Whoever was going to take advantage of the four-year buyout already had to.” Striking that buyout from the new police and fire labor contracts led to a small exodus of early retirees. The provision allowed cops and firefighters to cash in as many as four years of unused vacation and sick time upon retirement.

The Return & the Debt

The town makes $7.5 million a year from pension fund investments, said Finance Director Betz. That money goes back into the revolving account.

UBS is Hamden’s investment adviser. According to its Web site, UBS is a “global financial firm with the heart and soul of a two-person organization.” Betz said the international adviser puts most of the local taxpayers’ loot into stocks and corporate and government bonds.

The pension is fed via employer and employee contributions and investment income (the $7.5 million). Betz said if the fund gets bonding for $85 million, the investment income would double. But that would be somewhat offset by a higher debt service amount (the loan payments). For ’06-’07, the debt service tab is $11.7 million. Betz said he’s unsure how much it would go up if the bonding is approved. Total indebtedness is currently $110 million.

“We’re talking about doubling the town’s debt,” Jackson said of the mayor’s proposed $85 million bond sale. “It’s huge.” But he said without bonding the pension fund, taxes would skyrocket. “Not just rise, but rise significantly.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the Legislative Council to decide if Hamden should go further into debt. Scott said the Council will probably start talking about bonding at the Aug. 28 committee meetings. Before a vote is taken, the state Office of Policy and Management has to give an opinion. Scott didn’t say whether that opinion would be binding or merely a recommendation.

Some Council members told the HDN they were skeptical about the idea and want a lot of details before making a decision. And former Mayor Carl Amento said bonding is not the way to go.

“At this point it’s the wrong solution at the wrong time,” he said. “You’re doubling your indebtedness of the town. You still have a police station, a fire station, other infrastructure needs and you’re putting all the money for that into a very risky investment. Slow and steady is the way to go.”

He said the pension account has not been fully funded since 1989, during Mayor John Carusone’s Administration. Amento has been harshly criticized for not putting enough money into the account during his six years in office, and is blamed by some for the mess the pension plan is currently in.

Also, he said, 10 years is the maximum term for pension bonds and they carry “double the interest rate of normal bonds. So if you’re going to bond $85 million, it’s going to cost $9 million a year in debt service and you still have to put money into the pension. I’d pursue a long-term solution to a long-term problem.”

Sealed With a Hug

David Berardesca and wife, Opal, moments after Tuesday's swearing-in.

Words and pictures by Sharon Bass

Either everybody was drinking the Kool-Aid yesterday during the swearing-in of Hamden’s new Fire Chief David Berardesca. Or he is truly the nice guy everyone -- everyone -- says he is.

Town Clerk Vera Morrison makes the new fire chief swear. Mayor Henrici looks on.

“He’s a wonderful guy. He deserves everything he gets,” said his sister Elaine Green of Wallingford. “If his father was here, he’d be doing cartwheels.”

“There’s not a person in Wallingford or Hamden who hasn’t said positive things about you,” Mayor Craig Henrici said to the new chief, who begins work today. He was last Wallingford’s assistant fire chief.

“I think it was a great choice by the mayor,” said Hamden Battalion Chief Bob Surprise.

“He’s a nice guy and I think he’s going to work out just fine,” said Deputy Fire Chief Clark Hurlburt. “He’s got the support of the men and women [on the force].

Hamden firefighter Roberta Angiletta shares a smile with her new boss.

“It’s a big loss for our department,” said Wallingford Deputy Fire Chief Guy Casanova. “Dave is a people person. He’s intelligent. He’s got a lot of integrity. He strives to do the right thing. That’s Dave in a nutshell.”

Of course, one would expect Berardesca’s mom to speak glowingly of her son. And she did. “I knew he was going to be something,” said Barbara Berardesca. But she also said he never even once got into trouble or needed discipline as a kid. Not once, she repeated when asked again. No, not even one time, she told this incredulous reporter for a third time.

“My husband and I are easy-going. Maybe that’s why,” she said.

The "great guy" flanked by his daughter, Natalie on left, and wife, Opal.

“He’s a great guy,” said the new chief’s wife, Opal Berardesca, of 32 years. “I’m thrilled.”

Addressing the wall-to-wall crowd of family, friends, Town Council members and firefighters in the stuffy third-floor conference room in Government Center, “Dave” Berardesca thanked everyone. The 52-year-old promised to run an “efficient department and guide my people and keep them safe.

“I will work to be both chief and leader,” he said.

The crowd.

August 15, 2006

Desperate Bonding

In a surprise move, Mayor Henrici proposes to bond the pension plan

By Sharon Bass

What do you do when you discover your retirement-fund glass is only 30 percent full? When it needs $250 million but is only holding $82M? Raise taxes? Again?

“The numbers are staggering. I knew we were in the hole,” Henrici said yesterday. But he said he didn’t realize the hole was as big as $170 million. That was created by a significant lack of nourishment to the pension fund over the last nine years, he and others say, as well as lofty union deals.

So the mayor’s looking to sell bonds to fill half the hole -- about $85 million. Bonds are like loans, where the borrower (the town) has to pay back the amount with interest. It would be the first time Hamden bonded its pension fund, which is where payments to retired town employees come from. If all goes as planned, Henrici said he hopes to send the request either late this month or next to the Legislative Council, which has to approve it by a two-thirds vote. And start selling by January or February.

“We’re pounding out a timetable right now to issue the bonds,” said Finance Director Mike Betz. “The administration has been looking at this for months. We looked at it in April. Talked to some people about it.”

Betz said bonding would reduce the amount of money the town has to put into the pension fund and “makes it more solid.” But it will mean a higher debt service payment and “could crowd out other capital needs the town might have.” Like building renovations and land purchases. Echoing the mayor, Betz said there doesn’t seem to be another option.

Things are bad.

A Republican Thought

Last year, Republican mayoral candidate Dick Reilly touted the idea of bonding the retirement account. Republican Councilman Ron Gambardella has also pushed the idea. But Democrats have frowned on it.

And they’re still frowning.

“What are we getting from borrowing? What are we getting?” the Democratic mayor said. “No new school. No paved road. [But] It’s really the only viable option. We thought about it when we first took office. But this un-funded pension has been the elephant in the room.”

“Towns don’t ever want to do something like this because you’re bonding something that’s not a capital project,” said Betz, whom Henrici appointed. “You get nothing for it. It’s very difficult. This is a first for Hamden. It’s not something you’d expect Hamden would have to go through.”

Democratic Councilwoman Carol Noble said she was shocked by the news.

“I’m astounded that you’re telling me that this pension fund is in such arrears. This was not the figure ($170M) I was given last year,” she said. “Bonding for a pension is a very foolish thing. It is the last resort. It is the last resort. I can’t believe this.

“You’re getting nothing for your money. You’re paying additional money [the interest on the bonds] to pay out money. I have to pay you $2 and I have to pay $2.50 to pay you,” Noble said.

“They’re the junk bonds for any government body because they’re very risky because they’re usually put out by agencies that have gotten themselves into financial difficulties,” said Democratic Councilman John Flanagan. “You don’t bond non-tangible things.”

Gambardella said it’s about time the Democrats woke up.

“Isn’t that ironic? They have never given a Republican any kind of credit for suggestions made in a public forum. This is something I’ve been pushing for two years,” he said. “It takes that long to penetrate the resistance of the Council. Going back to [former Councilwoman] Ann Altman, every time I’d make the suggestion she’d take out reams of data saying that this was a bad idea. The reason they pooh-poohed the idea is because they don’t understand it.”

A few months ago, Gambardella said he asked Betz about selling bonds to fatten up the pension account. “He said he didn’t want to exhaust our bonding capability because he didn’t know if there were larger projects that required bonding.

“What happened that three months later it’s a good idea? You cannot get a straight answer from the administration,” said Gambardella. “The bottom line, it’s going to help. Not only do I think it’s a good idea, I think we should have done it a long time ago. The reason we’re in this [mess] is because of lucrative [labor] contracts given out by Democrats.”

Folks on the other side of the aisle attribute the deficiency to the previous two mayors not properly feeding the account.

“I think it’s a problem the town could have avoided,” Henrici said. “The last eight years [of contributions to the fund] have been goose eggs.”

“They haven’t [been goose eggs], but they’ve been mighty small,” said Betz.

“We’re going to get hammered by the taxpayers,” said Noble about possibly adding $85 million to the town’s $110,000 debt. “This goes back to the second year of [Republican] Barbara DeNicola’s term [when] she put in nothing. Then Carl followed up on it.”

After DeNicola stiffed the pension plan in 1999, former Democratic Mayor Carl Amento followed suit his first two years in office (2000 and 2001). The contributions have steadily risen since. In 2002, $905,852 was put in; in 2003, $1 million; 2004, $3 million; 2005, $6 million; and this fiscal year, $9 million. Actuaries recommend funding the account 70 percent. The percentage rose from 0 percent from 1999-2001, to 8.9 percent in 2002, 9.4 percent in 2003, 22 percent in 2004, 43 percent in 2005 and 62.8 percent in 2006. The amounts were all approved by the Council.

But Noble said since 1997 a minority on the Council, including herself, objected to underfeeding the retirement account. “[Former Councilman] Pat Corso was screaming about the pension fund. Certainly Ann Altman did. They never managed to get majority support, I don’t know why,” she said.

Cemented in New York

In July, Henrici, his top aide Scott Jackson, Economic Development Director Dale Kroop and Betz met with two rating agencies in New York City to discuss the town’s fiscal health.

The retirement fund, the mayor said, was Standard & Poor's’ and Moody’s Investor Services’ No. 1 concern. Hamden received a positive outlook from S&P, but Moody's kept the town’s bond rating at A2, the same as last year and the year before. B is the lowest and AAA the highest. 

The stagnant A2 rating seemed to hit the trigger to bond the pension plan. The reason the entire $170 million hole is not up for sale is the Town Charter does not allow debt service (payments on the total town debt) to exceed 10 percent of the annual budget, without a people’s referendum. This year’s budget is $163 million; on the current debt of approximately $110 million, debt service is $11.7 million. The ceiling is $16.3M.

“Our initial analysis shows that an amount like $85 million would not bump into the 10 percent rule, but actually allow some room for additional debt if needed,” said Betz.

Former Democratic Mayor Lillian Clayman said she’s not surprised about the move to bond.

“The town is in bad shape, absolutely. There’s an enormous temptation for mayors to balance their budgets on the backs of the pension plans,” she said. While Clayman said bonding is not a good way to go, she didn’t think there was an alternative except to raise taxes.

Gambardella said the town should go for $94 million in bonding instead of $85 million. That way the $9 million budgeted this year for the pension fund could be scrapped and tax relief provided for the second half of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the administration is negotiating with local bargaining units to give new employees a private retirement plan, called a 457 (like a 401k but for municipalities), in lieu of a town pension in the new labor contracts.

Asked how he’d vote on bonding the pension, Flanagan said, “I’ve got to see the proposal. How much will it add to debt service?” Though 10 percent of the annual budget is allowed, he said it shouldn’t go above 7 or 8 percent -- “that gives you safety room.”

“The Council has to sit down and really talk this out. You know, you have to talk about the impact to the future,” said Noble. “Betz had better be prepared to present to the Council our bonding position. How long it will take to pay off the $85 million?

August 8, 2006
It Wasn’t Unanimous But ...

Hamden’s new fire chief walks toward the podium to say thanks. Photo/Sharon Bass

... it was good

By Sharon Bass

Aug. 16 will be David Berardesca’s first day on the job as leader of the Hamden FD. Last night the Council -- having expressed mixed but mostly upbeat feelings -- voted him in.

And Berardesca was relieved. “Like any position you seek, you don’t know where you stand,” he said minutes after the nearly unanimous vote. Council members Betty Wetmore and Ron Gambardella abstained, and Berita Rowe-Lewis was absent.

“It’s been a tough process,” said Berardesca, 52, currently the assistant fire chief in Wallingford.

He can say that again. Many on the Council also expressed relief in the -- yes -- hotter-than-a-burning-building chambers (no a/c, no fans, no nothing). The last few months have been tense with the mayor sticking like glue to his first choice for the top job, Brian Badamo, whom many on and off the Council, in and out of the fire department firmly spoke out against.

“I also know this process has been long,” Berardesca addressed the public after receiving a standing ovation. “I’m honored to be chosen. Preparing future leaders is what it’s all about. Firefighter safety is No. 1.” His family and about two-dozen Hamden firefighters were in the room.

Between his résumé and amicable, mild manner, Berardesca wasn’t a tough sell. The only ouch for some was that Mayor Craig Henrici went outside the department, which he vowed to do if Badamo couldn’t be chief.

“It’s a pleasure to get a name from the mayor,” said Councilman John Flanagan. “I’m disappointed for the people [in the Hamden Fire Department], but this is typical Hamden politics; has been going on for 80 years.”

On the other hand, Flanagan said he checked the Town Charter about appointing chiefs and “I didn’t find any divine right” for an insider to get the job. “I think the mayor made an excellent choice -- finally. We end this nonsense that’s been going on for three or four months,” he said.

And while a Hamden firefighter wasn’t chosen this time around, there’s always next time, said Councilman Curt Leng.

“From the talk last week (at the Council committee meeting), it seemed like those in the Hamden Fire Department would not have a shot at chief. But that’s not true,” said Leng. “I don’t think Mr. Berardesca will have a long tenure. There will be other choices.”

Councilman Mike Colaiacovo succinctly embraced both issues -- choosing an out-of-towner and one who is well liked. “I wasn’t happy that the mayor went outside the department, but Mr. Berardesca is qualified,” he said. “And even though I’m a little upset with the appointment, I hope he [is approved].”

Wetmore said she would abstain from voting because her son vied for the chief’s position. She was about to voice her opinion about Berardesca when President Al Gorman stopped her. He said if she’s abstaining she shouldn’t talk so “as not to influence” the others. Wetmore said she just wanted to express her thoughts. But then didn’t.

“I believe Mr. Berardesca is qualified,” said Gambardella. “I’m still curious that the mayor chose to look outside of the department.” He conjectured that the reason might have been to bring a “fresh approach to the fire department.”

Councilwoman Carol Noble raved about Berardesca’s résumé, saying he is a fine pick. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have a fine department,” she said. “We have one of the finest departments in the country.” She said the new chief will be a complement to the force.

“Unfortunately, the process the mayor utilized to arrive at this nomination was not expedient,” said Councilman Jim Pascarella. “He publicly announced his initial preference prior to posting the job. Prior to conducting interviews, he reaffirmed his initial choice. As such, he inadvertently created an atmosphere of disillusion and disenchantment.”

“As I said, I won’t second guess the mayor,” said Gorman.

Council regular Don Werner of Mix Avenue said he hoped Berardesca would help “bridge the communications between the mayor and the department. I’m looking forward to Chief Berardesca smoothing the waters.”

Longtime volunteer firefighter Duane Wetmore said he first met the Wallingford man a few weeks ago. “As I told him, you can’t go backwards. You have to go forward,” said Wetmore, 80. “I’m sure he knows his stuff. He is qualified to be chief.”

Sealed Before the Vote

In other Council biz, a bid waiver for Tyler Technologies Munis Division to upgrade and maintain the town’s antiquated computer system was approved -- after the fact. Tyler and the town already signed a $77,000, one-year contract, which went into effect June 30.

The overhaul should take six to eight months, said Finance Director Mike Betz. He said there wasn’t a competitive bid for the job because Munis has proprietary rights to the system.

“It’s their system; they created it,” he said. A demo of the new computer-ware has been installed so town employees can get used to it before the real McCoy gets inserted. According to Councilman Matt Fitch, the town’s Cobal system hasn’t been touched in 20 years.

The upgrade is aesthetic as well as functional. “It’s a prettier, more efficient way. This sets the stage for the major upgrade of the tax and assessment system,” Betz said. The tax system will cost another 40 grand, he said.

Betz said he was pretty sure it would be able to perform alternative taxation measures such as a split tax (one rate for real estate; another for cars) or a property value phase-in, which activists are still pushing for although the administration has made it quite clear it’s not going to happen. One reason for that, the mayor’s office has repeatedly claimed, is that the computers couldn’t handle it.

“It’s a good system,” Betz said of Munis.

“Munis is a system I never cared for,” said Flanagan. “I’d rather spend a year looking into” a new system.

Fitch said he, too, was not crazy about Munis. “I do think we should keep Munis on a short leash,” he said.

“Will there be any additional costs?” asked Gambardella.

“I don’t believe so,” said Betz.


Town Building Man Retires

Mike Luzzi leaves Town Hall. Photo/Sharon Bass


By Sharon Bass

After 38 years toiling for the town, Superintendent of Buildings Mike Luzzi retired last week. He leaves with good memories as well as frustrations. He also leaves while the going is good.

“A lot of people leave here pissed off,” he said. “A lot of people leave her sour. I left on a good note.”

The 53-year-old, whose wife, Laura Luzzi, works for Parks & Rec, said he retired because the medical co-pay in the new union contract went up. He also landed another job. With another town.

“I have to protect my benefits,” said Luzzi, who worked for Public Works. “I just felt it was time for me to leave.” His new job is facilities director for the Orange Board of Ed.

The Luzzi Timeline

The lifelong Hamden native began his municipal career with Parks & Rec when he was 15, working the Zamboni at the much-later-named Louis Astorino ice rink. Luzzi graduated Hamden High in ’72 and spent the next two years at the University of New Haven, while still doing the ice.

College apparently didn’t agree with him, and in 1978 he went to work for Public Works. Luzzi drove trucks and plowed snow. “You name it, I did it,” he said. Starting pay was a buck 85 an hour, with a 10-cent night differential.

In 1991, he became a mason for the department, and in 2001 was promoted to his final position for which he earned $59,000 last year.

He said he liked his work. A lot. “My job was not just an office in an office. I got to meet everyone from the mayor on down,” he said. “At times, I felt it was honorable [to work for the town]. I never look back with negativity.”

But he is critical about the way the municipal buildings are maintained -- or not maintained.

“I feel the town should put more into the buildings. The buildings are antiquated. Like you’ve got the Keefe building that’s got a lot of problems,” said Luzzi. He said the heat doesn’t work in there, and there’s asbestos in Memorial Town Hall.

This year’s $128,000 building maintenance budget represents a cut of over $30,000.

“$128,000 for 27 town-owned buildings. And we’ll be taking care of the old middle school,” he said. The Board of Education was responsible for its upkeep until the school closed this June.

Public Memories

Asked what sticks out in his mind after nearly four decades on the job, Luzzi described three experiences.

“In 1978, one month after I started working full-time, we were hit with the blizzard in February. I can remember working between 14- to 15-hour shifts for one week without being able to go home. I would have to sleep at the Volunteer Fire Station #7 on Shepherd Avenue.

“In 1982 [give or take a year], we were hit with about 12 inches of rain in a matter of a few hours. At this time I was a truck driver and I can remember driving down to Ives Street and witnessing the Mill River flooded over its banks, which washed out the roadways in the surrounding area. I assisted the state Department of Environmental Protection in the process of rescuing homeowners out of their houses by boat. We had to load them into the back of the dump trucks and bring them to safety.

“In 1989, we were hit in the southern part of Hamden with a tornado. I can remember being one of the first workers to arrive at the scene. I was taken back by the damage it caused and luckily no lives were taken. This process of cleanup continued on for a few months and had me working 16-hour shifts, seven days a week.”

And that’s a wrap.

August 4, 2006

Satisfactory Negotiations

Local 2863 negotiating team: Carol Riccio, Joe Cirillo, Gerry Tobin and Don Werner. Missing are Sue Hutchinson and Ed Parzyck. Photo/Larry Dorman

Two municipal labor contracts get solidly approved this week, while others are close to a vote

By Sharon Bass

When taking office last November, one thing Mayor Craig Henrici hoped to see was pared-down union contracts. Eight in Town Hall were up for negotiation. He brought on a new labor attorney. And got his wish.

Sort of. The pending public safety contracts were stripped of their four-year buy-out retirement provision, but that sparked an exodus of cops and firefighters this year. And this week, members of two locals passed new labor agreements, which call for higher employee contributions to health care as well as salary hikes.

Town Hall Local 2863 and Parks & Rec Local 3042, both of Council 4 (AFSCME), passed three-year contracts after having gone without one for two years.

"Considering the climate out there, we did very well," Henrici said.

"Good contract for the town," said Chris Hodgson, the new labor lawyer. "There was some cost savings, a new insurance plan. We still have to sell it to the Council. [Personnel Director] Ken Kelley and I are happy about it."

So says the other side.

"All I can say right now is we are thrilled," said Laura Luzzi, president of 3042.

"Oh, my God, I'm so relieved," said Carol Riccio, president of 2863, which represents 85 Town Hall clerks and school crossing guards. "I'm happy with what we have. We all would like more. But we were realistic. We went in knowing the shape the town is in."

This past Monday, Local 2863 voted in a new labor agreement 55-5. On Aug. 2, the Parks & Rec local also approved a contract (the vote was not available). The agreements are now headed to the Finance Department, and then must be ratified by the Legislative Council. Henrici said he expects the Council to get them by the end of the month.

Local 2863's new contract, which expires next June 30, includes pay hikes of 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent, for 2005, 2006 and 2007. The pay is retroactive. It also increases the employee share of insurance premium costs. (Information on Parks & Rec's was not available yesterday.)

"The medical was a big thing this time. The town was very tough," said Riccio. "There was a lot of give and take. We're spending a lot more out of pocket. But you know what? We're still very fortunate." She said her weekly health care premium will triple, but was unsure of the amount.

For the first time, health benefits are being carved out of some wage contracts. Riccio said all of Council 4's municipal bargaining units -- Locals 2863 and 3042, town engineers, supervisors, library employees and Parks & Rec -- are getting four-year medical-only agreements. They expire in 2010, while the wage contracts are up next year.

Larry Dorman of Council 4 said he's satisfied with the fruits of the labor.

"I think overall we're very pleased. But I think it took a great deal of patience and persistence on the part of our members," he said. "And it's to their credit that they got an agreement that is fair to the town and its taxpayers and to the employees who provide valuable services. It's a document that represents a certain degree of respect. It's good news."

Dorman said his other locals are still in negotiations, but expects they'll finish up soon. Except for library employes, who are in binding arbitration.

There's also Public Works, which is represented by UPSEU, and the fire and police unions. Hodgson said their contracts should be completed over the next four weeks.

Not High Paid or Lazy

Though Riccio, who works in Elderly Services, is glad to have a live contract again, she said it's not enough. Some full-time workers in Local 2863 are so poorly paid, she said, they qualify for fuel assistance.

"It's sad. It's really sad. The public perceives us town employees as high paid, lazy. But the reality is the majority of us come to work, work really hard," she said. "We're the backbone of this town. We keep it running. And we're not high paid. But you know what? Most of us enjoy our jobs and we hope some day something will happen."

According to Riccio, a study conducted several years ago by an outside consultant indicated that 33 jobs in 2863 were misclassified. "For example, they call you a clerk typist but you are really an administrative assistant and you should be paid five pay grades higher. But there wasn't a vehicle to implement this study," she said.

Her new contract includes a provision to appoint a committee to find a way to implement that study. "We have to find a fair way to do that and not strain the taxpayers," said Riccio.

August 3, 2006

Last Conditions

The controversial Maselli Farm subdivision gets its final marching orders

By Sharon Bass

The developer who won the right in court to build 72 houses on the farm at Gilbert Avenue and Dunbar Hill Road -- after the town said no two years ago -- sat before the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission yesterday evening.

"Tonight we do have the job of setting the conditions and decide which ones we will impose," said vice chair Lorraine DeNicola. Under the May 19 Superior Court decision, the three town commissions that turned down Baker Residential's plan in 2004 must approve it but can place conditions on how it's built.

The Planning & Zoning Commission and the Planning division recently signed off on the project. IWW was the last to go. Commissioners compiled three and a half pages of conditions, which the Pleasantville, N.Y., developer tweaked here and there in response. After a modest amount of discussion between Baker's lawyer and the commission, the parties came to pretty quick agreement on a few sticking points and the conditions were sealed.

Meanwhile, a small group of people who live around the farm showed up at last night's meeting, two carrying petitions. They want the town to buy the 34 acres through eminent domain because they fear the subdivision will wreak financial havoc on the town. The proposed homes are three- and four-bedroom, potentially adding over 150 new kids to the school system and requiring more cops, firefighters and Public Works employees. Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson had told the HDN that eminent domain is one possibility. He said other options are also being looked at to try to stop the new mini-neighborhood from coming to be. But with a court ruling hanging over Town Hall's head, chances are slim that anything can be done.

IWW's stipulations for Baker include a plan for identifying and removing contaminated soil; a phasing plan for remediation and grading activities; placing topsoil and a double row of silt fence backed by hay bales along the boundary of the wetland buffer after removing tainted earth; no dumping of tree stumps, wood chips, grass clippings, etc.; using a licensed waste hauler; and other tenets.

"We're not surprised," Michele Mastropetre said afterwards. She and others in the Dunbar Hill Civic Association have been fighting the housing development for over two years.

"It went the way it was supposed to go," said Bill Burns, prez of the neighborhood group. "There seemed to be a little more restricting, though." He felt IWW's conditions were more stringent than P&Z's and Planning's. "The other commissions seemed to rubberstamp" what the developer wanted.

August 2, 2006

A Real Scorcher

Council regular Meg Nowacki relies on a pretty old fan in the Council Sauna. Photo/Sharon Bass

Henrici's second chief choice sails through committee

By Sharon Bass

It was only appropriate last night that Council members discussed Hamden's likely new fire chief. It was so hot inside the Chambers that getting sprayed by a hose filled with nice, cold water would have been delightful. Forget air-conditioning, there wasn't even a fan in sight.

So, with soggy shirts and sweaty necks the Council's Public Safety Committee finally got its chance to consider a new fire head. It waited three months. In April, the mayor announced Brian Badamo as his choice. However, Badamo was not well received and when it was apparent he did not have the Council votes, Henrici found himself a new guy.

That new guy, Wallingford's Assistant Fire Chief David Berardesca, sat in the torturously steamy room in a long-sleeved suit and listened. They were talking about him.

"Mr. Berardesca has had extensive experience. He comes well recommended and will be a welcomed addition to the Fire Department," said Councilman Jim Pascarella.

"I'm personally very excited," said Councilman Matt Fitch. "It's a rare opportunity in Hamden to bring in someone from out of town."

That "rare opportunity," however, was troubling to others.

"Even though he has impressive [qualifications]," said Councilwoman Betty Wetmore, "I am very disappointed that this is the first time the Hamden Fire Department has gone out of the department." She said she would abstain from the committee vote because her son had also applied for the fire chief's job.

"When I told the mayor I would not support Brian Badamo," Wetmore said, "he said he'd go outside. I thought we had extremely qualified people in the department."

"What does that say about our department?" said Councilman Ron Gambardella. "It presents a dilemma for our fire department. It means you can't advance. I certainly think the mayor's choice is qualified, but it hurts the morale of the department."

Councilman Mike Germano disagreed.

"Instead of guessing what the Fire Department feels about this … I think the Fire Department is happy about it," he said.

Council President Al Gorman said Berardesca will bring a new perspective and new ideas. "I don't really want to second guess the mayor," he said. "If there are qualified people [in the HFD] then they will support this choice."

"First of all," Councilman Curt Leng started, "there are people in the Hamden Fire Department who are very qualified. But there's nothing in this person's résumé that would make me not vote yes."

"Since this appointment was made, I haven't heard any concerns," said Pascarella. "Obviously, many people in town would have preferred someone inside the department. But we need to get on with serving the community."

Public Safety Chair Bob Westervelt, a former Hamden fire marshal and an outspoken opponent of the Badamo appointment, said he just wanted one thing in a new chief. "My only concern was that we get someone qualified," he said. "This is a mayoral appointment. Chief Berardesca is qualified."

Everyone but Wetmore, who abstained, said yes to the mayor's new choice. Next Monday, the full Council is expected to cast the final votes for Berardesca.


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