Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Morey Calls For Resignation of EDC Vice-Chair

This is Mr. Morey's response to an article (Town's finances scrutinized by citizen; experts say town is faring well in tough economy) in today's News-Times.

I was very pleased by the story in today's News-Times about the excellent condition of the Town's finances. Our bond rating is good. Our financial structure is strong. The Mayor and our Town officials are obviously doing a great job in these very difficult times.

However, I am appalled that Jeff Winter, the Vice-Chairman of the Economic Development Commission, has been challenging the Mayor and our Town officials about their handling of Town funds. Mr. Winter goes to Town Council Meetings to cause trouble when instead he should be a Town cheerleader. He took an oath to promote bringing business to Town and to help create jobs but he's doing just the opposite and his actions are hurting the residents of the Town of New Milford.

I call upon Mr. Winter to resign immediately from the EDC.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Facebook Threats At Schaghticoke Middle School

The incident was described in a News-Times Editorial on October 14.  "Here is what happened: The eighth-grade boy posted on his Facebook page: "I swear to God I'm going to kill, Mr. (name, expletive)." The girl responded: "Let's bomb the school together."

The Editorial is critical of what it perceives as the meddling by the School Administration into private, off-campus matters and pleads the case for a nice get-together to chat about the comments and to turn the wrong into a nice lesson for the tots: "...Facebook, and other social media, are not at all private."  Tea and crumpets, anyone?

Is that really the lesson?  Or is it, "This behavior is never acceptable?"

I have a recommendation for a way to positively send this message home in a manner that these dopey kids would never forget.  And no, unfortunately, corporal punishment isn't an option.  Take them up to Police HQ and lock them in a jail cell for a few hours.  Make sure the doors slam closed.    

Is the News-Times kidding?  In this day and age, how do you ever know what's serious and what's not?  What would have happened if the parents had not come forward and these stupid kids actually tried to do something dumb to Vice-Principal Gerald Robinson?   The parents who reported the posts absolutely did the right thing and the School Administration had to act quickly and decisively.  It's the law.  And invading the students' privacy?  This is a necessary evil given the state of world affairs and one that has been justifiedly and increasingly accepted by courts all over the Country.

Shame on you, News-Times.

Electronics Recycling at the Recycling Center On Youngsfield Road

There is some confusion about the types of electronic devices that may be dropped off at the Recycling Center.   It's really quite simple:  just about any type of electronic item may be dropped off.   And it's free...the biggest bargain in Town!

Although the State Statutes require only the collection of "Covered Electronic Devices" defined as televisions, computers, monitors and printers, the Company that is taking this stuff -- WeRecycle -- is taking these and everything else for free.  So you can bring VCRs, radios, CD players, laptops, netbooks, chargers...just about anything and there's no charge.

Here's the list that's attached to the Company's container at the Recycling Center:

The November Ballot

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shawn Boyne Sworn In As New Chief of Police

It was almost SRO.  The colors were passed and there was a terrific show of support from the men and women of our own Department and many from the State Police.  Chief Boyne's parents were there along with his fiance.  Congratulations to Chief Boyne and congratulations to the Town of New Milford.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Traffic Advisory for Tomorrow

From Town Hall:
The final few hours of Veteran's Bridge inspection is expected to take place on Monday, September 20th.  Michael Baker Engineering will be inspecting the Veteran's Bridge (No. 00901) over the Housatonic River on Route 202 & 67 between the hours of 9am and 1pm.
Baker is coordinating the inspection through Connecticut Department of Transportation Bridge Safety & Evaluation Department.  During inspection, one-way alternating traffic will be required on the bridge at times due to equipment being set up along one lane.  New Milford Police Department will be utilized for traffic control during this time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's Official! Mayor Murphy Selects Shawn Boyne As New Chief of Police

Here's how the appointment appears on Monday night's Town Council Agenda:

8 c)    Discussion and possible action approving the Mayor’s appointment of Shawn M. Boyne to the position of Chief of Police.
8 d)    Discussion and possible action authorizing Mayor Patricia Murphy to sign a contract of employment with Shawn M. Boyne commencing October 15, 2010.

Lt. Boyne is the Commanding Officer of Troop L, Litchfield.

The Meeting is at 7:30 in the E. Paul Martin Room, top floor, Town Hall.

BOE Gets $698,107 From Feds

The BOE got $698,107 as New Milford's share of $110.5 million that the State received from the Feds.  The money is to be used to rehire teachers who were laid off because of budget problems and to pay salaries and benefits for teachers and administrative staff.

This money should free up other funds.  Will pay-to-play be eliminated?  Will the fees for parking spaces be reduced to prior levels?   Let's see if the BOE steps up to the plate.

There's some really good reading here:  BOE Operations Subcommittee

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mark Buckley Promoted to Lieutenant

To a standing ovation and cheers from family, friends and co-workers, Sergeant Mark Buckley -- one of the most affable and respected Members of the New Milford Police Department -- was promoted today to the rank of Lieutenant. Presiding over the well-attended proceeding was Chief Colin D. "Mac" McCormack who explained that Lieutenant Buckley was his first appointment and is likely to be his last, now that he has retired and is working for the Town on a per diem basis.  Attendees included some State Troopers, one of whom is rumored to be a candidate for the Chief's job.  Members of the NMPD and Town officials were mum about the rumor but there sure was a lot of very positive excitement about one particular prospect who may have graciously attended the festivities.  "If this is the guy," one seasoned Member of the Force said, "It's a home run...the man is dialed-in and we're all extremely excited."  "There's a buzz in the building," said another who was equally excited. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Traffic Alert From Mayor's Office

Between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, August 25th and 26th, Michael Baker Engineering will be inspecting the Veteran's Bridge (No. 00901) over the Housatonic River on Route 202 & 67.

Baker is coordinating the inspection through the Connecticut Department of Transportation Bridge Safety & Evaluation Department. During the inspection, one-way alternating traffic will be required at times due to equipment being set up in one lane. The New Milford Police Department will be utilized for traffic control. The contingency date is Friday, August 27th.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Morey: Lawson Letter 'Hypocritical;' 'Top Prize to BOE For Lack of Transparency'

In his Letter to the Editor last week, David Lawson failed to identify himself as a Member of the Board of Education. How about that for transparency, folks? The facts that he is a Member of the BOE and left that out of his letter is significant, of course, and hypocritical, of course, because in that very letter he complains about the lack of transparency in the Town Government.

I marvel at his audacity. Let’s take a look.

Lawson and his cronies criticize the Mayor and the Town Council because they can’t follow the Council Meetings on the Town’s Web Page. Well, Mr. Lawson, hosting meetings on the Web costs money and the Town does the best it can without burdening the taxpayers and creating a new line item in the Budget. The Town Council Meetings are as transparent as the taxpayers can afford at this time. While Council Meetings are cablecast on the Web every Saturday, the Town only has one IT person, not dozens like the Board of Ed has and the Town doesn’t have a 24/7 TV education channel like the Board of Ed has. Why don’t you bring this topic up at your next Meeting and propose that the BOE help the Town by sharing its resources?

With regard to amending the Town Council agendas, maybe you don’t know that there is a State Statute that allows items to be added to an agenda by a 2/3 vote during a meeting! Think about this, Mr. Lawson. Although she has no obligation to do so, the Mayor actually distributes an up-to-the-last-possible-minute Agenda so that there are no surprises at the meetings. She could, instead, just leave the Agenda as is and add new items at the meeting. Remember, too, that issues change daily and come up almost hourly.

Thank you, Mayor Murphy, for keeping us informed.

Finally, on rare occasion, the Council has to add items to an agenda because of the exigencies of time. You know, don’t you, that the Town Council is responsible for far broader issues than that of the BOE. Having never served on the Council and seemingly disinterested in its function, Mr. Lawson’s position is understandable but not acceptable.

Recently, Mr. Lawson seems to have felt threatened by the appointment of a very qualified person, Beth Falder, to a Town Council ad hoc Committee established to examine efficiencies in both the Town and School Budgets to save tax dollars. Likely, he is upset that Ms. Falder had the temerity to speak at a recent School Budget Meeting and ask some totally reasonable questions. I guess that’s a no-no is his book and in the books of the other tax-and-spend cult members for which Mr. Lawson serves as poster-boy.

Mr. Lawson also compared her abilities to those of two Members of the Board of Finance for this Committee who he thinks would have been better candidates. Sorry. Given the abysmal attendance of some members of the BOF at Budget time, they fail the test to qualify for service on any Committee. Ms. Falder is intelligent, has some good ideas, has a mind of her own and brings a fresh approach to an important arena. We’re not fighting Sempra, here, folks and I want to remind readers that the appointees on the Sewer Commission are responsible for millions of dollars.

Mr. Lawson, before you criticize Town agendas for alleged lack of transparency you need to take a hard look at your Board that serves up managed news with very little substance. In fact, I give the BOE top prize for lack of transparency. As viewers of its Meetings know, most of the Board’s important decisions are made in committees and rubber stamped in Board meetings. The viewing public has no clue what’s happened in the subcommittees. Worse, if any Board Member or member of the public attempts to ask any substantive questions about committee matters or any matter affecting our schools, they’re gaveled out of order in a rude and condescending manner by the Board’s Chair.

Here are some examples of the Board of Ed’s lack of disclosure to the public. How was the extra $600,000 in medical savings spent and how was the $750,000 in Federal stimulus money spent in the last fiscal cycle? Why does the BOE wait until a new budget has passed before it votes on its volumes of budget transfers? Why aren’t the school system purchases done in public view but instead in internally managed and controlled meetings out of the public’s sight leaving several bidders questioning the process?

It is my opinion that the BOE doesn’t want the taxpayers to know the large surplus the Board has at the end of the fiscal year at a time when they are asking them for more Budget money?

The School Budget’s initial defeat should be a signal to you and to your fellow board members that the taxpayers are not pleased and that they are onto the games.

Mr. Lawson, please remember that every penny that you spend is the taxpayers money, not the School Board’s money.

We need serious people with serious ideas to improve government. You don’t qualify.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mayor and Council Make History: BOE Now Required To Comply With Town Bidding Ordinance

Without fanfare, on Monday night the Town Council approved extremely important changes to the Town’s Bidding Ordinance.   They are of historic significance and, as dedicated readers know, have cured one of my pet peeves.

Simply, the BOE is now required to create its own purchasing authority and to bid out its purchases in the same manner as does the Town i.e. it must invite competitive bids.  The changes also affect the Library.

Here’s the revision; the matter in brackets is deleted:

Municipal Purchases

Revision of Chapter 2, Article III (Section 2-92) New Milford Code

Offered by: Mayor Pat Murphy
                                Charter, Section 405
                                New Milford Code, Section 1-4

§2-92. Bids. (a) Purchasing authority defined. Except as set forth in paragraph (l), as used in this section, “purchasing authority” shall mean the Director of Finance and Mayor.

(l) Board of Education and library purchases. This section shall [not] apply to [any] purchases made by the Board of Education [or] and the New Milford Library. Provided, however, the purchasing authority for the Board of Education shall be those persons assigned and designated as such by the Board of Education. The purchasing authority for the New Milford Library shall be those persons assigned and designated as such by the library Board of Trustees when such purchases are to be made with monies from fund sources designated in Chapter 11, §11-3 of the New Milford Code of Ordinances. For all other library purchases requiring the expenditure of funds other than or in addition to monies from such designated sources, the purchasing authority shall be the Director of Finance and the Mayor.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Board of Finance Failure Redux

Section 706(c) of the Charter, Duties of the Board of Finance On Other Financial Matters, requires the BOF to "fix the tax rate"  "within five (5) business days following the adoption of the budget..."

So what didn't happen at last night's Regular Meeting?  You got it!  No quorum, no setting of the mill rate.

PRESENT:  Chairman Joanne Chapin, Frank Wargo, Alternate Bill Bennett
ABSENT:    Vice-Chairman Bob Sherry, Gal Alexander, Larry Tripp (sent note), Mark Vendetti (sent e-mail)

A Special Meeting has been scheduled for Monday, June 14.

Tom Morey hit the nail on the proverbial head.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Budget Passes Handily

In a 19.12% turnout, the Budget passed handily:

Town:  2395 to 1051 

School:  2112 to 1348

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The "Vote Yes" Pin

Lest anyone out there still thinks that this was a figment of the imagination, have a look.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Town Council Cuts $1,000,000 from BOE; Restores Its Budget

After the voters rejected the Budget last week, the Town Council tonight cut the $1,000,000 that the Board of Finance added to the Board of Education Budget.  By doing so, the Budget that will next go to the voters is the Budget that it originally approved.  I believe that the next Referendum is set for June 8.

Supporting the BOE Budget: The Law

Here is one of many inquiries that I have received:  "I know that it's a violation to use taxpayer funds, including money used to pay salaries, to advocate a position on the budget, but is it a violation now that we voted down the budget?  My kids are being inundated at school with political propaganda and I'd like to make a formal complaint if that is appropriate."

The following is an excerpt on this topic from A Practical Guide to Connecticut School Law by Thomas B. Mooney who is a Partner at Shipman & Goodwin.  As readers know, I think that this work is the best treatise on any legal topic that I have ever read;  the excerpt is posted here with the Author's permission.   

"Many town charters provide that the board of education budget will be submitted to referendum, either upon petition or in the normal course. Where approval of the board of education budget requires a referendum, school board members and other school officials are free to express their own views, but they must take care not to expend public funds to influence any person to vote for approval of the budget or any other referendum question.

Actions of boards of education are not subject to review by referendum except as provided by law. For example, some years ago the Town of Milford sought to hold an "advisory referendum" posing the question, "Are you in favor of the Board of Education entering into a busing contract presently known as Project Concern for the forthcoming year, 1969-1970?"  The Superior Court, however, enjoined the Town from conducting the referendum because the matter was for the Board of Education to decide: When a question such as this, whether or not the contract for busing should be entered into, presents itself, and no provision exists for its submission to referendum, the expense of submitting it to the voters, even on a "straw vote" basis, as here, would constitute a misapplication and waste of public funds. Murray v. Egan, 28 Conn. Supp. 204, 208-09 (1969). It is appropriate, therefore, to conduct referenda only in accordance with law.

When referenda are held, it is important to avoid any expenditure of public funds to advocate a referendum result. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b prohibits any such expenditures of public funds to influence a vote on a referendum question. The scope of this prohibition is very broad, and it applies to both local and regional school districts. The statute clearly prohibits a board of education from paying for posters or an advertisement urging approval of the board's budget in a pending referendum vote. However, the law also prohibits indirect expenditures. The State Elections Enforcement Commission, the agency responsible for administering this statute, has, for example, repeatedly held that it is a violation of this law to permit students to act as couriers for information advocating approval of a referendum question, because such delivery would be the functional equivalent of the cost of postage. This prohibition applies whether the material is prepared by the school district or by a third party, such as the PTO.

Using equipment or supplies to produce materials advocating approval of a referendum question is similarly prohibited. This prohibition extends to such use even if the party advocating a referendum result reimburses the district for the use of the equipment. School officials granting permission for such improper activities can be personally liable for the value of the facilities or equipment used. School facilities, however, can be made available to parties advocating a referendum result if they are made available to all interested parties on a non-discriminatory basis.

The prohibition against expending public funds to advocate a referendum result applies once a referendum has been scheduled. Significantly, prohibited advocacy is not limited to direct statements, such as "Vote Yes." The Commission will look at such materials as a whole to determine whether they are neutral and factual, or whether they cross the line and constitute advocacy materials. If they do constitute advocacy, expenditure of public funds on their preparation and/or dissemination will be a violation of the law.

In this technological age, it is important to be vigilant against making such indirect expenditures. While advocacy material may generally be posted on the school district website, it must be removed once the referendum is "pending." Avalon Bay, Communities, Inc. v. Gulbin, File No. 2001-186 (St. Elec. Enf. Com. March 27, 2002); In the Matter of Matthew Paulsen, Bethel, File. No. 2003-152A (St. Elec. Enf. Com. 2003). The same analysis applies to a "link" to such material. Also, when students expressed support for a referendum on a publicly-funded cable access program, a violation of the prohibition was found. In the Matter of Daniel Bernier, Killingly, File No. 97-219 (St. Elec. Enf. Com. 1997). Compare In the Matter of Paul Benyeda, Montville, File No. 2002-149 (St. Elec. Enf. Com. 2002) (mayor did not violate prohibition by making advocacy statements on his own time on cable access program that was not publicly funded). A related question is whether a board of education can maintain its practice of broadcasting and re-broadcasting its meetings while a referendum is pending, even if advocacy statements are made. While it does not appear that the Commission has addressed this issue, the answer appears to be a qualified yes. It is important to maintain the established practice with regard to such broadcasts. Any special re-broadcast may be seen as an expenditure to advocate a referendum result.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has provided guidance concerning these prohibitions in a short flyer. This helpful, concise summary is available at, and it addresses the questions most frequently raised concerning Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b. For example, it specifies that "a notice limited to the time, place and question to be voted upon may be sent home to parents via children in school," but it states that "children in school may not be used as couriers of information that advocates a position on a referendum." It also defines "advocacy" broadly: A communication advocates a position on a referendum when in part, or taken as a whole, it urges the listener or reader to vote in a particular manner. The style, tenor and timing of a communication are factors which are considered by the Commission when reviewing alleged improprieties of Section 9-369b. In Sweetman v. State Elections Enforcement Commission, 249 Conn. 296 (1999), the Connecticut Supreme Court confirmed that this statement is a proper description of the legal standard. Moreover, it applied this standard to the communication at issue in that case, and held that the communication violated the law because the content would encourage a reader to vote in favor of the referendum, even though the specific words, "Vote Yes" were not included.

The law sets forth three "safe harbors," i.e. situations where public funds may be expended concerning a referendum result without violating the law. First, a public official may expend public funds to prepare a written, printed or typed summary of his or her views and to distribute that summary to the news media. Significantly, the official may express support for or opposition to the referendum in such a statement. Such a summary may also be provided to members of the public upon their request, but public funds may not be expended on a general distribution of such a summary to the public. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b(a).

Second, by vote of the legislative body, a town may authorize the preparation and printing of concise explanatory texts concerning referenda proposals. If the legislative body is the town meeting, the board of  selectmen may authorize such explanatory texts. The town clerk is responsible for preparing the text, and it is subject to the approval of the municipal attorney to assure that the text does not advocate either the approval or disapproval of the question. This option is also available to a regional school district. The regional board of education may vote to approve an explanatory text, and the secretary of the board is responsible for preparing the text and otherwise fulfilling the duties of the town clerk, and the text must be approved by legal counsel for the board.

The statute also empowers the legislative body of the municipality or regional board of education to authorize "the preparation and printing of materials concerning any such proposal or question in addition to the explanatory text." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b(a). Such materials are subject to the approval of the municipal attorney, and like the explanatory text must be neutral and advocate neither approval nor disapproval of the referendum question. Id.

Third, a municipality may provide by ordinance for the preparation and printing of "concise summaries of arguments in favor of, and arguments opposed to, local proposals or questions approved for submission to the electors of a municipality at a referendum." Any such ordinance must provide for the establishment of a committee to prepare such summaries, and the members of the committee must represent the various viewpoints concerning such referendum questions. When such summaries are prepared, they must then be approved by vote of the town's legislative body, and are to be posted and distributed in the same manner as are explanatory texts prepared by the town clerk for referendum questions. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b(d). Interestingly, however, when it extended the provisions for explanatory texts to regional school districts in 2004, the General Assembly did not take similar action with regard to this provision.

Though the law does not expressly so state, it is important to keep in mind that school board members and school officials retain their right under the First Amendment to speak out in favor of the proposed school budget or other referendum question. The prohibition applies only to the expenditure of public funds. School officials can certainly advocate for a referendum result at meetings of the board of education. In addition, since board of education members do not receive a salary, their devoting their time to such advocacy would not be considered an expenditure. Other school officials may speak out as well, as long as they do so voluntarily on their own time,
so that the value of their salary will not be an imputed expenditure to advocate a referendum result.

Finally, the General Assembly has granted special status to challenges to referenda. A person claiming that (1) he or she is aggrieved by a decision of an election official, (2) votes were miscounted in certifying a referendum result, or (3) there was a violation of certain laws concerning referenda may petition a judge of the Superior Court for expedited relief, and the judge must act, before or after the referendum, on a tight timetable in hearing the matter and issuing a decision. P.A. 04-117, Section 4.  In any event, the prohibitions in the law must be taken seriously.

The law provides that persons violating its provisions are subject to a fine not to exceed twice the amount of the illegal expenditure or $1,000, whichever is greater. Moreover, the law specifically prohibits a school board or other public agency from reimbursing a public employee or officer for any such fine imposed. Normally, public officials and employees are indemnified for claims made against them for their actions in fulfilling their responsibilities. For fines imposed for violations of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-369b, however, one is personally liable."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Winter Gone Overboard

It appears that rabid BOE supporter Jeff Winter has finally done it.

It's aggravating enough that he airs his ignorance in his rants to the Town Council  -- he's entitled, of course -- but now he's gone off the deep end.

In very public exchanges on Facebook, Winter is engaging in a boycott of local businesses that advocated the defeat of the Budget.  Are you kidding me?  People certainly have a right to do this however misguided and downright stupid it may be: yes go ahead and punish the very entities that contribute to the very survival and well-being of the Town, State and Country.  That makes a lot of sense.

But get this.  Winter is the Vice-Chairman of the Economic Development Commission!  Yes, the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION!  Outrageous!

He ought to be removed from the post and the Commission immediately. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Budget Failed

Town:    2666 yes, 1896 no (+770)

School:   2243 yes, 2336 no (-93)

As some of you saw, I was posting on the last entry as the numbers were coming in.  Take a look there to see how the evening progressed.

Now the Budget goes back to the Council.

NMBUDGETFACTS.COM 'Why I do Not Support the School Budget'

I have thought long and hard about this decision.  Remember even businesses can vote so long as they have $1000 in taxable property!  I do not believe the Board of Education has made the efforts that they should have to minimize their request for increases.  For the following reasons I will not support the budget this Tuesday:
The school has made little effort to renegotiate with their various Unions.  Even though Town employees (like most people) have given up their raises 2 years in a row the Board of Ed has proposed the following raises: $1,009, 590 in teacher raises (average raise of 4.24%), $105,216 in administrative raises (average raise of 5.08%), $103,336 in secretarial raises (average raise of 4.87%), $64,352 in maintenance staff raises (average raise of 3.03%).  That is a total of $1,282,494 in raises which is simply unacceptable in these times.  It shall be noted that the Unions on the Town volunteered to give up their raises.
The Board of Education is supposed to make best efforts to state where they believe they will spend their money (i.e. – electricity account should be spent on electricity).  On June 9, 2009 (3 weeks before the fiscal year ended) they made the following transfers: $462, 328.40 transferred from electricity account to other accounts and spent it on things like $12,100.00 for trash liners and $5,500 for cafeteria tables even though we as taxpayers voted for that money to go towards electricity usage expenses!  $240,546.00 transferred from the bus contract account to other accounts and spent it on things like $9,825.00 for hand dryers, $4,800.00 for toilet paper, $4,950.00 for wax, $39,915.00 for cafeteria tables even though it was supposed to be for the busing contract.  $60,528.00 transferred from the natural gas account , $28,599 transferred from the oil account and spent it on things not having to do with utilities.
For the past three years on average, the Board of Ed has overbudgeted $191,543 for fuel, $383,024 for electricity, and $19,179 for advertising expense.  This surplus money is then utilized for things that we as voters did not approve.  The Town Council and Board of Finance both stated that the Board of Education should try to budget their utilities accurately, however, the last 3 years they have overbudgeted their fuel by 21.72 percent and electricity by 28.06 percent.  This is unacceptable.  Any substantial surplus from line items we as taxpayers approve should be returned to the Town instead of spent on things we as voters did not approve.
The Public has brought up several suggestions to consider costs savings including at the BOE meeting on March 30, 2010.  The response from Nancy Latour (Board of Ed members) was, “Mrs. Tarascio-Latour made reference to the fact that during public comment she did not hear anyone reference cuts that would amount to anything substantial.  She did hear comments about reducing printing, postage, and library books. She believes the large cuts could not be found because there isn’t excess in the Board’s budget.”  As a taxpayer to me this is unacceptable as we should be trying to save in every way we can.  Why aren’t we honestly assessing each and every potential for cost savings?
It is for the reasons above that I cannot support the Board of Ed/School budget on May 18th.  We have several small businesses in Town who are struggling right now, we have underemployed and many who are unemployed.  We owe it to them to make the best effort we can to try to minimize their tax increases. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

My Response to Today's Letters to the Editor in the Spectrum

The ignorance of facts is irksome especially at budget times when some BOE supporters are out in full force attacking those who ask even the simplest questions about its Budget.  “You are anti-education,” they say.   To them, I say, “You lack education.”  And respect.

There was a time when The Spectrum wouldn't print letters that contained errors of fact and there was a time when outrageous comments made to the Town Council during public participation were addressed immediately.  Times have changed.  For the worse.

Ali Bitteker, Letter to the Editor, Spectrum, May 15, 2010:

In no year, 2008 or otherwise, did the Town ever have a 4-5 million dollar deficit. 

On June 30, 2008, the Board of Ed did return $741,000 to the Town but it’s my recollection that the money went into a BOE account that’s used for non-reoccurring capital expenses.  For you newcomers, this account was established in the early 90s at the urging of my friend, Tom Pilla, who was on the Town Council at the time.  The BOE has made use of some of this money, leaving a balance in the account today of approximately $400,000.   Even if the money didn’t go into that account, it had to have been used to offset losses.  What often gets lost in these discussions is that all of this money is taxpayer money s if the money was used to offset losses, everyone benefitted.  I’m sure that Ms. Bitteker genuinely supports the Budget but I think that her letter causes confusion and discourages support for her cause, quite the opposite of what she intended.

Wendy Del Monte, Letter to the Editor, Spectrum, May 15, 2010:

Mayor Murphy reduced the original BOE proposal by $800,000 recognizing that many BOE items were “overstated.”  Thereafter, the Town Council Members, realizing that increasing taxes are an anathema to economic growth, wanted the Administrators and Staff to take a wage freeze.  In these troubled times, when all Town Hall employees are taking a wage freeze, they felt that all Boards and Departments should share the pain.   It is also important to note that Ms. Del Monte, like others, is attempting to mislead the taxpayers by suggesting that the Mayor supports the Budget.  The Mayor has not said that she supports the Budget and a lot has happened since the date she made her original recommendation to the Council.

Jeff Winter, Letter to the Editor, Spectrum, May 15, 2010:

This Jeffrey-come-lately makes frequent visits to Town Hall but is having difficulty with room numbers, if you get my drift.  He’s also trying to sell everyone on how the Town should be run.   He has too much time on his hands.   Mr. Winter would be far more credible and feel less need to be arrogant if he took a few crash courses.  He should start with municipal finance, move on to the Freedom of Information Laws and other relevant State Statutes and then he should read the Town’s Charter and Ordinances both of which are in one volume that former Mayor Bobby Gambino called,”the little thick book.”  

With those under his hat, Mr. Winter will learn, for example, that Section 1-225(c) of the Connecticut General Statutes allows items to be added to the Agenda of any regular meeting by a two-thirds vote, that Budget deliberations are one, continued Meeting and money in any department or line item may be brought up at any Meeting and, finally, that agendas may be revised at any time before they must be posted.  He should have been shut down by a point of order when he was standing before the Council and, out of ignorance, attacked the Members of the Council for doing what the Laws and Ordinances permit.

I don’t know what Mr. Winter has done for a living or if he even has a job but it is the height of arrogance to stand up at a Meeting and say that the taxpayers of New Milford are willing to pay more taxes and ask how our elected officials dare to substitute their judgment for that of the taxpayers.  I challenge him to go house-to-house with that attitude and I recommend that he give advance notice to the Police and Ambulance crew.  There’s a lot of suffering going on out there in the real world.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BOE Member Wellman 'Is This The Way We Want Our Local Government To Work?'

At the March Board of Education meeting, in connection with its consideration of the proposed Budget, I raised the issue of whether the District could consolidate its facilities and eliminate the use of East Street School. The Chair and the Superintendent indicated that they wished to assemble information and would provide it at the next Board Meeting. At the next meeting in April, the Chair and the Superintendent did not have the information and said that the information would be provided to me at the next Facilities Committee Meeting on May 4. That meeting was canceled but on that date, May 4, the Superintendent stated that the information was not ready and would not be ready for some time. At last night’s meeting of the Board of Education, the Chair would not even allow this situation to be referenced. Apparently, New Milford voters are expected to decide on a budget without being provided with relevant information which was reasonably requested. Is this the way we want our local government to work?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mayor Did Ask All Boards and Commissions For 0% Increase

An Anonymous poster challenged whether the Mayor had asked the BOE for a 0% budget increase.  Someone responded that the challenger ask Town Finance Director Ray Jankowski the question.

Thanks to the FOIL, here's the answer to the challenge.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mayor: Next Year the BOE Budget Will Be In Same Form as Town's

With regard to the Board of Education Budget, Section 703 of the Charter provides, in part:  The Board of Education shall have the same duties [as the Town] and follow the same form and procedure with respect to its budget...(emphasis added).

This has never been done; the BOE Budget has always been in a different format that contains much less information than the Town-side Budget and has far less transparancy.

This won't happen ever again because at last night's Town Council Meeting, Mayor Pat Murphy announced that  -- as the Charter mandates -- next year's BOE Budget will be in the same format as the Town's.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Terry Pellegrini's 'Manifesto'


After a 40-year career practicing law in New Milford and having lived in the area for the same period, I have some opinions regarding various subjects affecting the town of New Milford.
By way of background, I have, in addition to practicing law, been a town attorney, a selectman, a member of the Board of Directors of The New Milford Bank and Trust Co.(a publicly traded company) for 10 years, a member of the Executive Committee of the New Milford Hospital for 23 years and chairman for 4 years.
I have also served on numerous other boards and commissions.
My intent is to, if nothing else, start a dialogue on the issues I will discuss hereinafter.

Is the Mayor-Council the best form of government for New Milford?
As it is presently used, the answer is “no.” The town of New Milford is a $100 million business and should be run as such by PROFESSIONALS and not by a group of politicians who individually and collectively are not qualified to manage such a business.
Any private company of similar size would have a CEO, COO and executive vice presidents in the areas of finance, human resources, planning, etc.
What would I suggest?
1. The chief executive position should be for a four-year term.
2. A professional town manager, well-paid, with a long-term contract to eliminate political pressure.
3. Eliminate the Board of Finance. It is anachronistic and is too often politicized. Establish a Finance Department headed by a well-paid professional with an adequate staff, who reports directly to the town manager.            
4. The existing Mayor-Council should act more as a Board of Directors. It is too involved in minutiae, micromanaging, pandering and petty politics.
Any good Board of Directors should spend 75 percent of its time looking over the horizon. The Mayor-Council should relegate itself to establishing a mission statement and vision for the town.
It should be creating a five-year long-range plan and a similar capital plan.
It should monitor management to assure compliance with the budget and long-range plan.
It should not be involved discussing skateboarding, signage, individuals raises, or any other issue normally delegated to management.
Its meeting agendas should eliminate public participation, which in my opinion has no place on a board agenda. If people need to complain there should  be a process at the VP level. It is clearly a monumental waste of valuable board time. I  believe its genesis was purely political.
5. To the extent that what I suggest is inconsistent with the Town Charter , the Charter should be revised.
Any Charter Revision Committee should consist of individuals who are familiar with governance documents, preferably weighted in favor of individuals in the private sector with Board of Director and management experience. Unqualified old politicos should not be members.
New Milford is the largest town landwise in the state. It came late to land use, planning (subdivisions) in 1959, and zoning (uses of land) in 1971.
The regulations have been sporadically modified over the years. However, these regulations are at best a1970s retrofit trying to direct action in a 2010 time frame.
The Planning Commission is charged by law with modifying the master plan every 10 years. This process is time-consuming, cumbersome, little understood, and probably not read by more than 50-100 people in the entire community.
The mission statement, vision, long-range plan and master plan should all dovetail and direct community action.
What would I suggest?
1. Combine the Planning and Zoning commissions into a joint commission. This the model in most communities.
2. Eliminate the Inland Wetlands Commission and delegate its jurisdiction to the Conservation Commission or fold it into P&Z.
3. Create a true planning department headed by a well-compensated professional planner with an adequate staff.
4. Make all land use commissions appointed and not elected (to the extent permitted by law).
5. Mandate professional orientation for all land use commission members that educates them in the proper performance of their duties.
There has long been a culture in the town’s land use commissions that their job is to design projects; substitute their judgment for that of professionals; bring primarily an anti-development bias to their votes; and generally to ignore the regulations as a mere nuisance.
A commission’s sole purpose is to determine whether the application meets the regulations, and not whether it’s popular. The commissions should look to staff as to whether the application meets the regulations.
6. Start from scratch with a new land use map and new zoning regulations that are not punitive but complementary to the orderly development of the community in accordance with plan of development.
Our 1970 land use map assumes our industry would be concentrated on Route 7 South. That was before the adoption of Inland Wetland regulations in 1974 which rendered the industrial-zoned land not buildable.
The failure of the Zoning Commission to accommodate property owners in the Village Center Zone with viable permitted uses is the direct reason that the town’s entryway is scarred with a used car lot and body shop better suited to another location.
Another example of land use stupidity is the Restricted Industrial Zone, which was created by the then-director of development to specifically prevent development.
This happened notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of property owners in the zone were opposed to it. The zone has NO permitted uses. Great planning!
Ever since the early 1970s, the need for an east-west connector from Route 7 North across the Housatonic  and  over to Route 202/109 has been recognized.
It was in the plan for the original Route 7 improvements, again in the early 1970s.
Since that time it has been resurrected several times but quickly scuttled as a “hot potato” politically.
As one of my good clients noted several years ago, the “major traffic control device” in New Milford is the Village Green.
If anyone disagrees with that, I suggest trying to get  from Veterans Bridge to Route 109 during peak traffic times. With the improvements to Grove Street and Route 67, this situation will only  become more exacerbated.
If you are still unconvinced, then just look at what happened on June 1, 2009, when the state DOT decided to conduct a surprise inspection of the Veterans Bridge at 12 p.m. The entire downtown became instant gridlock.
It is time for the powers-that-be to come out from under the rocks and move this issue forward. If they don’t, then you the electorate will be the ones who suffer. 
Right now both political parties are afraid of the vocal minority, left-wing, Merryall and  monied anti-development cabal, led by a  land trust (which is really a PAC disguised as a land trust ) and the Friends and Neighbors of Historical Merryall , another anti-development organization, and PAD, yet another anti-development group headed up by a couple of newcomer Manhattan NIMBYs who live on Treasure Hill in South Kent.
These groups somehow think that owning 10 acres with a view gives them the right to control all the properties within their viewshed.
Unless you, the real owners of the town of New Milford, start putting pressure on your elected officials, then you will be relegated to sitting in traffic whenever you  are in the center of town.
All you need to do is drive from Gaylordsville to Brookfield, or vice versa, to note that our town is becoming visually impaired. If I were looking for a town to settle in and drove Route 7, it wouldn’t be New Milford.
We now have essentially four closed and/or obviously distressed car dealerships along Route 7.
The Docktor Brothers’ old shopping center and car wash are a graffiti-filled disgrace, if not a downright health hazard.
The developers are not from New Milford, and what do they care?
Again, our town officials, including but not limited to the mayor, council, zoning, building and health officials sit by and do nothing while these eyesores are observed by 15,000-plus cars a day.
What about the moonscape behind Rite-Aid? Why were they allowed to open up the entire site and then leave it?
If the economy remains bad for another five years, are we going to look at these abominations for years?
If the developers of these sites are shelving their development plans, then make them put the sites in respectable condition while they wait. Believe me, they do not care about New Milford, but our officials sure should.
If Scott Melatti of Scott’s landscaping can improve Route 7 as he has over the past several years, every other owner should be encouraged and/or compelled to do so.
The heart and soul of New Milord and for that matter the surrounding communities is the Village Center, and it should be.
Yet for reasons known only to the powers-that-be, the Village Center is on life support.
Failed restaurants and revolving-door businesses abound. Many tenants are on half rents trying to survive.
What are the problems and solutions?
First: Read the master plan and modify it to encourage good high-density mixed uses of property within close proximity to the Village Center, such as the Old Bleachery property on West Street owned by Hal Fischel. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have represented Mr. Fischel in the past .)
I believe the master plan already encourages these uses. Let’s make it unequivocable.
Develop a spring, summer, fall series of events such as concerts, antique shows, farmers’ markets, bluegrass, kids’ events.
Make these events pedestrian-friendly by closing off the Green or parts of it, as well as Bank Street. Provide event parking and transportation.
Make Bank Street a pedestrian zone at least on weekends.
Encourage, don’t discourage, the restaurants and shops to utilize the sidewalks for dining and display of wares.
Provide children’s entertainment such as clowns and face-painting.
Provide various forms of music genres such as country, ensemble, classical.
Provide evening events to encourage evening use of the downtown.
All paid non-elected positions, including school district positions, should have annual compensation reviews based upon performance standards, which should be created by an HR department or consultant that are specific to each area.
For example, for the Board of Ed, from the superintendent on down they should each be measured by performance standards applicable to them.
For instance the superintendent’s department should be measured against a peer group of similarly sized schools throughout the state or region. Then measure performance such as graduation rates, SAT or ACT scores, college placement, etc.
The same types of performance compensation should be developed and applied to all other departments, such as Public Works, Parks & Rec, etc.
(My comments on the proper role of the Mayor and Council should likewise apply to the Board of Education. That board should be setting the performance standards.)
Where are we on this?
From the outside looking in, all I see are vacant buildings and failing businesses.
How much new development has been brought in by the town’s development team over the last five years?
How much (if any) has the grand list been increased by this development?
It seems to this author that the municipal development effort has historically been woefully inadequate.
From the days 30 years ago when the Economic Development Commission met monthly for lunch and martinis to the David Hubbard fiasco years to the present, very little has been accomplished proactively, although much has been accomplished negatively.
Take the infamous “Restricted Industrial Zone” championed by Mr. Hubbard and approved by the Zoning Commission over the objections of those persons in the zone.
As noted earlier, this great piece of legislation has NO PERMITTED USES. Great planning for attracting industrial or businesses to our community.
Historically, the 1970s land use map had the vast majority of industrial and business zones located on Route 7 South. In 1974, the enactment of the Inland Wetland laws rendered the vast majority of this land not usable for its zoned purpose.
So what have we done about it? Fundamentally nothing.
Instead, our municipal leaders have condoned a culture of stop development at all costs.
Denied the industrial zoning of 200 acres of the old quarry now owned by O&G.
Denied the shopping center with Wal*mart as its anchor, where we now have the Faith Church on this property with no income to the town.
Continue to deny Hal Fischel’s attempts to retrofit the old Robertson’s Bleachery into a mixed-use high-density project when it has access to sewer and water, and the Town Plan of Development suggests that this is where the high-density uses should be.
Couple these follies with the anti-business tone of the zoning regulations, such as “Restricted Business Zone,” “Restricted Industrial Zone” (remember from above, the zone with NO permitted uses?), and “Industrial/Commercial Zone” (the whole Route 7 South corridor).
If you review section 060-040 of that regulation entitled “Building Requirements,” any fool can see they are designed to discourage, not encourage, business or industrial development, especially the last requirement of no retail buildings over 40,000 square feet.
I hope you see my point.
New Milford is not and never will be “a quaint village” such as Bridgewater. New Milford has been historically and should be the nexus for the surrounding towns to provide the wants and needs for both shopping and jobs.
Again, the residents of New Milford must throw out the Old Guard who have dominated the thinking of the administration and land use boards that have caused New Milford to flounder. The small town of Kent is more vibrant then New Milford.
Where are the forward thinkers — the visionaries who will lead the town to be what it can and should  be?
As I said in other sections of this document, we need professionals running the community, not a group of people the vast majority of whom have never run a business or created a job.
Wake up, New Milford. It’s not too late.
While I am committing professional suicide, I might as well go whole hog. The press does not escape my criticism.
The local newspapers have spent way too much space on feel-good issues, such as local sports, weddings, local petty politics and very little time (in my opinion) doing investigative journalism.
Why should a local politico known to all the local power brokers to be a resident of Brookfield while we educated that person’s children gratis be left unscathed?
In fairness, there are some reporters who have over the years done good tough reporting. However, they are the minority.
Too many of the press are beholden to special interest or political groups and rely on spoonfeeding for their stories. The fifth estate should be the watchdog for the community and not asleep on watch.
I have been involved with this great institution for over 30 years, including 23 years on the Executive Committee and four years as chairman. I think that qualifies me to make some comments.
The hospital is at least the second largest employer in the community. It has in the neighborhood of 700 FTEs (full-time equivalents).
Studies show that for each hospital employee two additional jobs are created in the community. So when we discuss the hospital we are talking about 2,000-plus jobs.
That being said, I can tell you that the relationship of the town fathers and the hospital has not been cordial. Additionally, The Trust for Historic Preservation has made it a mission to stop the hospital from a natural expansion.
The hospital will never be relocated to a new campus. It must be allowed to grow so as to provide new services as they come along.
How many of our town’s and our neighboring communities’ residents have received outstanding radiation and medical oncology services over the last 10 years?
Where would they have to go to get these services if they were not here?
It is time for town of New Milford to stop being paranoid about New Milford Hospital.
The town needs to support the hospital by encouraging the entire community to use it.
The town must also be willing to help financially, as should the surrounding towns.
Whatever decision the hospital board makes should be supported by the community to ensure that a viable, full-service hospital remains in New Milford.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Police Chief Colin "Mac" McCormack To Retire

Police Chief Mac McCormack announced yesterday that he will retire effective June 30, 2010.  Captain Mike Mrazik is also retiring, effective June 25, 2010.  

Board of Education Intra-Account Transfers of Funds

I have received many questions about the legality of the Board of Ed transfers that have been identified on

Here's the question:  May Connecticut Boards of education transfer money from one account to another even though its Budget was passed by the voters with specific amounts in specific accounts?  The answer is yes.  Here's the Statutory authority.  Section 10-22 of the Connecticut General Statutes provides, in part:

...The money appropriated by any municipality for the maintenance of public schools shall be expended by and in the discretion of the board of education...any such board may transfer any unexpended or incontracted for portion of any appropriation for school purposes to any other item...

For those of you who might be interested in School Law, I highly recommend Tom Mooney's book, A Practical Guide to Connecticut School Law.  It is the best treatise on any legal topic that I have ever read.  It is comprehensive, well-written and extremely well organized.  Mr. Mooney is a partner in the Hartford firm Shipman and Goodwin.  He's the best education attorney in the State.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paul Szymanski Reports On Board of Finance Meeting

Jay, I just wanted to give you a quick rundown of what I recall from tonight’s Board of Finance Meeting.

Gail Alexander (D) made a motion to add $1 million back to the BOE budget.  Frank Wargo (D) seconded.  As you are aware, the Board of Ed was originally requesting a $1.8 million increase.  The Town Council voted to reduce their budget by $1.8 million leaving them at a 0% increase.  Therefore, the motion by the BOF was to add $1 million back into the BOE budget so they would have a $1 million increase from the prior year instead of the $1.8 million they originally requested.

Larry Tripp (R) commented first.  He believed that the budget proposed by Mayor Murphy was a good budget.  He said that we need to cut back now and almost all taxpayers are not getting increases in salary right now.  He said the teachers live a privileged life as it relates to their salaries, however, they have the hardest job in the Community.  He thinks the administrators should give up their raises and the teachers should give up a portion of their raises.

Frank Wargo (D) commented next.  He said he is voting based on the recommendation of the Mayor.  He says the BOE errs on the side of caution when it budgets their utilities.  He looked over to Wendy Faulenbach (R), Board of Ed (BOE) chair, and commented that any energy line item that ends up being a surplus needs to be returned to the Town like it used to 20 years ago.  The excess should not get transferred within the School budget like it currently does.  Ms. Faulenbach nodded her head "yes" in agreement.  Mr. Wargo says the BOE is acting disingenuously by not returning the surplus to the Town from the energy line items.  He also said they have 17 administrators and the BOE should justify they are really needed and do an analysis to confirm that we cannot get by with fewer administrators.

Gail Alexander (D) commented next.  He says he thinks they should put even more money back in.  He thinks the Town Council went too far.  He said it would be easy if we were living in a vacuum but we need to realize our per pupil spending and salaries are on the lower side of the state average.  By not keeping their salaries competitive we risk losing our teachers to other schools and demoralize them.  We can’t underspend to the point where we get nothing out of what we are spending our money on any more. 

Bob Sherry (R) says he would personally like to see the Town Council work more closely with the BOE.  The Town Council needs to do this to get some level of trust to feel that the BOE budget is accurate.  Seems to him the Town Council didn’t trust the numbers.  He said we do this far too often.

Mark Vendetti (R) says he respects everyone’s comments but there are too many pieces that are not fitting in the puzzle.  We have a serious revenue issue that no one is taking into consideration.  He sees this motion to add $1 million as fiscally irresponsible.  We will end up with a problem in the long term as the tax increases will curb new growth.  He believes there are other savings that can be looked at.

Bill Bennett (R) says he has listened to a lot and has the greatest respect for the education system.  However, the education system isn’t the only thing that needs money.  We have parks that need to be maintained, roads to repair, etc.  Having a business in Town is extremely tough with the increased taxes.  We need an increase in businesses though to ultimately decrease our taxes via revenue generation.  As a business owner in Town, he has had to lay people off and it is not fair to ask for a tax increase.  He has tightened his belt and everyone needs to do it.

Joanne Chapin (R), Chair, says that the motion proposes a tax increase of 2.32% for a new mill rate of 23.04.  She says she agrees the Town Council budget was harsh.  She thought the $1.8 million request was high and there was fat in the BOE budget.  She says the State is projecting a 760 million deficit next year, 3 billion year after and 3.2 billion a year after that.  She is having  a hard time accepting the $1 million add in but reiterates the Town Council cut was too harsh.  Asks if there is a compromise and no one answers.

Motion is called.  Frank Wargo votes "yes."  Gail Alexander votes "yes."  Bob Sherry votes "yes."  Mark Vendetti votes "no."  Larry Tripp votes "yes."  At this point the motion has carried 4-1.  However, for some reason, the Chairman,  Joanne Chapin, then votes "yes" to add the $1 million back into the Board of Ed budget.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BOF Adds $1M to Budget

By a vote of 5-1, the Board of Finance tonight added $1,000,000 back into the Budget.  This results in a proposed tax increase of 2.32% and a new mill rate of 23.04.

Mark Vendetti cast the only vote against the motion made by Gayle Alexander and seconded by Frank Wargo.

The Board of Finance is now out of the loop...if the voters say "no" to this Budget it goes back to the Council for modification.

Friday, April 9, 2010

BOF To Meet On 4-14

Rumors abound that BOF Chairman Joanne Chapin did not intend to schedule another BOF Meeting to discuss the Budget.  Absolutely bogus.  The Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 14, on the same night as a regularly scheduled BOF Meeting.  None of the Members will be able to argue that he didn't have notice of the Meeting since the year's schedule is set at the beginning of the year.

After this absolutely irresponsible organized no-show, it sure would be easy for the "other side" to now make sure that the Council's Budget goes to the voters, wouldn't it?

Finance Director Ray Jankowski reports that a 3.51% tax increase would be the result of the return to the Budget of the BOE's $1,800,000 and a 2.3% tax increase if the number is $800,000.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

BOF A No-Show On Budget

By all accounts, its has never happened before.  The Board of Finance was to meet last night to start its final work on the Budget but not enough Members showed up to make a quorum.

Of the six Member panel, only Chairman Joanne Chapin, Member Mark Vendetti and Alternate Bill Bennett showed up.  Members Gail Alexander, Bob Sherry, Larry Tripp and Frank Wargo were absent.  I am told that Larry Tripp is on vacation.

Contrary to Nanci Hutson's story in today's News-Times, two more regular, elected Members were required to make a quorum, not one as she reported.

Section 7-342 of the Connecticut General Statutes provides, "At all meetings of the board four members shall constitute a quorum..."

Only two "Members" and one Alternate were there.

Section 7-340a provides for the appointment by a regular Member of an Alternate to act in his place if he's absent.  I'm unaware if Mr. Bennett has received such an appointment but even if he has been so appointed, there remains a question of whether he can be counted to make a quorum.  The passage of By-Laws could help resolve the issues.

The Statutes provide that,"The concurrence of three votes shall be necessary for the transaction of business" and Section 705 of the Charter requires "an affirmative vote of at least four (4) members" to approve a Budget.  That approval must be made within 15 days after the final Public Hearing.  The Public Hearing was held on April 1 so the deadline for the BOF to act is April 16. If the BOF fails to act by April 16, the Budget that the Council approved goes to the voters.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mulvihill at BOF Meeting: "I Live On A Fixed Income"

It's going on right now.  The infamous Board of Finance Meeting.  Packed with kids, many of whom are speaking, the Meeting is destined to continue through the night.  I like great debate and brilliant advocacy.  What I can't stomach is twisting or ignorance of the facts.  For example, one very popular teacher whose name I don't remember blamed our fiscal problems on "pushing out the reval until we got into this great recession."  What?  Nice guy but who sold him this?

I couldn't take much more after I heard former Assistant Superintendent Tom Mulvihill say, "I live on a fixed income."  Got to be kidding, Tom.  You may not be lying, Tom, but that fixed income of yours is probably four or five times what most teachers in this Town are ever going to make.  Not only does he collect an incredible pension from New Milford but he now works in another District.  I put his annual "fixed income" -- including benefits -- in the 200K-250K range.  Come now, Tom.

I thought I'd split a gut when a very nice man got up and said that business principles ought to be applied to the school system.  "Why are we just targeting the untenured?" he asked in not so many words and in an innocent manner.  "We should be posting the data on all teachers and rewarding performance."  Well, of course he is absolutely right but the union (non-merit) system doesn't work that way.  His suggestion is an anathema to the system.

Then there was a teacher who is sure to be in trouble tomorrow with her peers.  She actually had the guts to say that she'd be willing to take a wage freeze if it meant saving jobs.  Now here's a person who knows what's going on in the world around her.  Thank you. If only the Administrators would listen.  Oh, is she in for trouble.

Almost every speaker appeared to believe that every teacher who got a pink slip was going to be fired.  That's the scare-em-up machine hard at work.  Shameful.

I had to leave.

Dr. Armand Fusco's 'Ten Questions' For School Boards

Here is a link to Dr. Armand Fusco's reknowned "Ten Questions."  This is excellent stuff:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Will The BOE Use The Fair Dismissal Law?

In these tough economic times, it's happening all over the State...Milford, Norwich, Wallingford, Lyme and more. Wherever Boards of Ed have financial woes -- and that means just about everywhere -- they are protecting themselves by giving pink slips to non-tenured teachers.  Not that they'll all be fired but if the notices aren't given, the lay-offs can't be done for another year and that could put a serious damper on plans to cut expenses. 

The "Fair Dismissal Law," Section 10-151 of the Connecticut General Statutes, provides that non-tenured teachers can be dismissed by nonrenewal of their contracts if they are notified by April 1.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grievance Panel Finds Probable Cause In Ethics Complaint Against Fred Baker, Gambino's Town Attorney

By letter dated March 4, 2010, Grievance Counsel Gail Kotowski informed Fred Baker that the Grievance Panel for the Danbury Judicial District found that "there was probable cause of an ethical violation" of Rule 1.7(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding conflicts of interest.

She wrote, "The file indicates that you represent the Town of Bridgewater and the purchasers of real property known as the Bianchi property.  The sale occurred 15 years ago.  The Town has a right of first refusal that was conveyed in the Will of Daniel Bianchi, however that did not come to light until recently.

The buyers seek a waiver from the Town of its right.  At a December 8, 2009, meeting in your absence as Town Counsel, the Board of Selectman decided that it was not necessary at this time to waive the right of first refusal.  You subsequently, as counsel for the buyer and the Bridgewater Fire Department, wrote to the Selectman that it should waive its right of first refusal.  This letter is the conflict, as you represent the buyer and the Selectman and are requesting the waiver.  You had previously advised the Board to obtain counsel, and that should have been your only communication with the Board regarding this waiver."

The Complaint against Baker was made by New Milford Attorney Paul Garlasco.

RTC Elects Szendy As New Chair

By unanimous vote, the Republican Town Committee elected Councilman Roger Szendy as its new Chairman.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Town Council Votes .75% Tax Increase; BOE Flat

The Town Council passed a Budget last night that results in a .75% tax increase and keeps the BOE Budget at the current spending level i.e. no increase.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Paul Szymanski's Excellent BOE Presentation

Mr. Szymanski was kind enough to share with Jay Lewin, Uncensored the excellent presentation that he made at last night's Town Council discussion of the BOE Budget. I am working on getting his graphs in the proper format.

The BOE taped the Meeting; I trust that when it airs it will be unedited.


March 3, 2010

Honorable Mayor Patricia Murphy
New Milford Town Council
New Milford Board of Finance
New Milford Town Hall
10 Main Street
New Milford, Connecticut 06776

Re: Proposed Town of New Milford and Board of Education Budget

Dear Mayor Murphy, Town Councilmen and Board of Finance,

I write this letter to give you my opinion on the budget as it is currently proposed and the findings of my cursory review of the Board of Education Budget. As background, I became a resident of New Milford in early 2005 and am the owner of a small business in Town, Arthur H. Howland & Associates, P.C. In the last 3 years our total staff has been reduced by 40 percent due to the economic downturn. Now more than ever, as a homeowner and small business owner I must make Every Dollar Count! I like many other homeowners and small business owners in Town cannot afford any more increase in Town taxes except those that are truly and fully justified.

I feel that as both a homeowner and business owner that it is imperative I review the budgets and determine if the proposed increases in spending are justified and necessary. Unfortunately, I was only able to spend a day or so reviewing the Board of Education budget so my findings are only based on a review of certain areas of the School Budget that I was able to concentrate on.

For instance, I did not even begin to review things closely such as the Capital Budget where it shows the purchase of one (1) MIMIO XI PORTABLE/WHITEBOARD for $12,730.00 at Sarah Noble School when you can probably get several of them for that price.

I also didn’t get to review expenditures to date as of January 4, 2010 very closely. However, it is interesting to note in Object Code 540, Advertising Expenses we have only expended $2,650.80 of $22,000.00 budgeted. I cannot comprehend how the Board of Education is proposing to budget this line item at $22,000 again, especially considering the fact that in 2008-2009 only $5,524 was expended from this line item. It would appear we are overfunding this line item by a minimum of $16,000 per year.

I also reviewed the February 22, 2010 “Budget Issue” Newsletter of the New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) as that included a section called, “De ‘myth’ defing the School Budget,” which I felt was important as part of my review as they had already begun a review of the School Budget.

The first disturbing trend is that every year since 2003-2004 there is a decrease in student enrollment yet every year there is an increase in the School Budget. In fact, since 2003-2004 the student enrollment has decreased by 8.12 percent yet the budget itself has increased by 29.96 percent. As a resident of the Town, common sense tells me this does not make sense. I understand utility costs have gone up since then but when will the School District learn that the taxpayers of New Milford do not have the ability to keep supporting these tax increases year after year!

Due to the limited amount of time that I was able to spend reviewing the School Budget I concentrated on areas that I felt have the largest potential for savings. Please see the attachment on page 11 titled, “Board of Education Summary of Salary Increases.” I felt that it was important to determine the amount of salary increases proposed for certified and non-certified employees. It was astounding to learn that approximately $742,649.00 in salary increases is proposed. I understand that many of these increases are parts of negotiated contracts; however, I would be embarrassed to be an employee of the School District and not forego my pay raise this year considering the current state of the economy. As a small business owner, I can state with certainty that I have not been able to give my employees raises for two years and I myself have actually taken a substantial pay cut. In talking with many friends, colleagues and other business owners over the past year I have yet to find any that are giving or have received pay raises. If this is the case, why would the School administration not face the reality that all of the Town of New Milford taxpayers face and do everything possible to eliminate all proposed pay raises? Every Dollar Counts and if we can save $742,649.00 in taxes this should be immediately done.

For some reason, the above analysis was not part of the PTO Budget Newsletter. As I read this newsletter, I felt as a taxpayer it was prudent for me to examine each of their, “myths,” and associated, “facts.” Unfortunately, as I began to delve into the, “facts,” portion of their newsletter I began to realize there was very little factual basis to their findings. I do believe the format worked well though so below please find various, “myths,” that I have found, followed by real, true facts based on research of the Budget, Finance Department, Tax Assessor Department, prior School Budgets, State Department of Education, etc.:

MYTH #1:
From a New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter in which they claim to “de ‘myth’ defy” the School Budget, “Keep this in mind, if the adopted Board of Education budget were instituted with the 3.14% increase it called for, the average homeowners taxes (based on a home value of $250,000—with the average home in New Milford being valued at $231,379*) would rise $102.00 per year. If pay-to-play is instituted, each athlete/participant fee would be $150 per year to play—I’ll let you do the math!”

FACT #1:
It is unfortunate that the PTO does not know how to, “do the math!” The PTO should have called the Tax Assessor, Ms. Kathy Conway if they cared to actually get their facts correct as she is the person who actually assesses homes and determines the true value of a home. As of last year the average value of a home is approximately $342,857 with an assessed value of approximately $240,000 ($342,857 x 70 percent). If we are to assume that the Grand List will stay the same and State funding will remain the same (this will probably decrease, thus making the increase in taxes even larger) we determine the following:

                               Current                Proposed
Total Taxes Raised        $66,042,266.00        $67,831,665.00
Grand List               $2,932,492,514.00     $2,932,492,514.00
Mill Rate                    22.52                   23.13
Average Taxes               $5,404.80              $5,551.45

The increase in taxes would then be $146.65 per year for the average homeowner not $102.00 as the PTO suggested. Their calculations only underestimated our tax increase by 44%; that’s not a big deal is it? Every Dollar Counts and in this economy, as a homeowner and business owner in the Town of New Milford, I cannot afford this unjustified increase in taxes.

MYTH #2:
From a New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter, “Q. How come the school always finds money when they were saying they were going to have to make cuts? A. The budget process in New Milford is completed very early. To create the budget, school administrators are projecting for expenses that may be up to 18 months away. As you know from your home budget, its impossible to tell from month to month what the price of fuel oil, lp gas, electricity, diesel fuel and many other expenditures will be, let alone 18 months out. So, an educated guess is made and sometimes the actual cost is lower than the prediction, resulting in savings and sometimes the actual cost is higher, resulting in the need for a budget transfer.

FACT #2:
The actual fact is that the School District has made a habit of continually overestimating their utility costs. In fact, I couldn’t imagine anyone estimating their utilities for their, “home budget,” like the School District has. Below please find the budgeted amount and actual cost for fuel, natural gas and gasoline for the most recent years for which data was available.

                                  Proposed      Actual
              Fuel            $837,672.00   $217,787.00
              Natural Gas    $35,734.00    $395,669.00
              Gasoline        $23,300.00    $30,090.00
              Sub-Total       $896,706.00   $643,546.00

                   $253,160.00 Amount Over-Estimated
                    28.23      Percent Overestimated By

                                 Proposed        Actual
                Fuel             $312,718.00    $226,175.00
                Natural Gas     $467,156.00     $358,234.00
                Gasoline         $26,300.00     $38,964.00
                Sub-Total        $806,174.00    $623,373.00

                    $182,801.00 Amount Over-Estimated
                    22.68       Percent Overestimated By

                                    Proposed        Actual
              Fuel               $554,039.00    $418,464.00
              Natural Gas       $389,923.00    $388,663.00
                Gasoline          $28,395.00     $26,562.00
                Sub-Total         $972,357.00    $833,689.00

                     $138,668.00 Amount Over-Estimated
                        14.26     Percent Overestimated By

This means on average the School District has overestimated their fuel, natural gas and gasoline costs by $191,543.00 per year or an average overestimation of 21.72 percent per year. I urge the Town Council, Board of Finance and Board of Education to stop this over-estimation immediately.

The School District’s estimation of electricity usage is even worse! Below please find the budgeted amount and actual cost for electricity for the most recent years for which data was available.

                                          Proposed        Actual
              2006-2007               $1,279,637.00  $1,033,042.00
              2007-2008               $1,376,701.00  $  952,670.00
              2008-2009               $1,439,281.00  $  960,835.00
               Sub-Total              $4,095,619.00  $2,946,547.00

            $383,024.00 Amount Over-Estimated Annually
                 28.06 Percent Overestimated By

Yes, you read that right. In the last 3 years of available data the School District has overestimated their electricity costs by an average of $383,024 per year or an average overestimation of 28.06 percent per year. Every Dollar Counts and I implore you to not allow the $574,900.33 per year for utility costs that has been over-estimated time and time again by the School District.

MYTH #3:
“In what other profession can you have a master’s degree and not make $50,000?” a Board of Education member said in a recent newspaper article.

FACT #3:
If the Board of Education Member looked at the budget he would have realized that only 2 of the 60 steps that there are for teachers with a Master’s degree actually make less than $50,000 per year. The other 58 steps range from $50,293 to $81,754 per year. It shall also be noted that teachers do not work a full year like other professions and that Connecticut has the second highest average salaries for teachers in the United States (from

MYTH #4:
From the New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter, “Also, the school receives funding from the State of Connecticut and these numbers are sometimes not finalized until late summer, so again, during the budget process, a prediction is made of what this funding will be, sometimes resulting in additional funds. When any overage of funding is received, it is placed into the Town of New Milford’s undesignated fund.”

FACT #4:
The School District, if they overestimate their utility costs, is able to transfer those monies (with Board of Education approval) to any other area within the School budget. It does not go back to the Undesignated Fund as suggested. Every Dollar Counts and any over-estimates by the School District should go back to the Town and not spent by the School District on things that the taxpayers did not vote to approve.

MYTH #5:
From the New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter, “Q. It seems that the school system has an unfair percentage of the town budget. A. The town had a budget last year of approximately 56 million dollars. When you take into account that …
• Educates 4,800 New Milford students
• Maintains 900,000 square feet of the town’s property it puts it in better perspective. On a side note, Newtown School System in Newtown, CT educates 5,000 students and is often compared to New Milford Schools in regard to staffing numbers and programming and their budget is $69.5 million, showing our costs are more than reasonable.”

FACT #5:
I am not sure how the PTO arrives at the conclusion that, “our costs are more than reasonable.” It is not a fair comparison to simply divide the total spent by the number of students. In contacting the State Department of Education I learned that the way that the State examines per pupil costs is the Net Current Expenditures Per Pupil also known as NCEP. The formula translates raw numbers into expenditures that try to compare “apples with apples” of how a district supports education. Certain expenses can be included and others must be excluded. The per pupil expenditure tries to determine the allocation to learning per student after costs of transportation and other expenses not directly related to the classroom are deducted. Please see the attached document on page 14 titled, “Explanation of Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil (NCEP),” to better understand how per pupil costs should really be calculated.

The Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil (NCEP) for 2008-2009 for New Milford was $11,462.90 versus $11,662.78 for Newtown, which equates to per pupil costs in New Milford being 1.71% less than Newtown. This is much, much less than the difference implied by the PTO. A fair assumption would then be if we are spending almost the same amount per pupil, the performance of our students should then be comparable. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Newtown   NM
88.98    67.53   Math, CT Mast.Test, Grades 3-8, % At/Above Goal, 2009
86.57    72.10   Reading, CT Mast.Test, Grades 3-8, % At/Above Goal, 2009
82.55    68.07   Writing, CT Mast.Test, Grades 3-8, % At/Above Goal, 2009
81.85    70.50   Science, CT Mast.Test, Grades 5 & 8, % At/Above Goal,'09
273.88   271.15  All Subjects, CAPT, Average Scale Score, 2009
54.10    37.80   % Students Reaching Physical Fitness Health Standard,
                 All 4 Tests, 2008

Again, this is not meant to cast aspersions but is meant to factually show that Newtown is spending approximately the same amount per pupil, but is receiving much better performance from its students. Every Dollar Counts and it appears the Newtown School District is making every dollar count much more than in New Milford.

MYTH #6:
From the New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter, “Q. Can’t we turn off some of those outside lights and save money? A. Studies have shown that lighting actually prevents vandalism, which can exceed annual lighting costs in just one occurrence. In fact, our security consultants endorsed our lighting.”

FACT #6:
I can understand the lighting of the buildings all night long. However, what is the worst vandalism that can occur to the acres of parking lots we illuminate all night long, 365 days a year? Someone painting on the pavement? How much would a gallon of paint cost to paint over the vandalism? $25? This thought process of taking the path of least resistance instead of challenging the status quo needs to stop immediately. We need to think outside the box and remember that Every Dollar Counts!

MYTH #7:
From the New Milford Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) budget newsletter, “Q. Couldn’t we save money by combining the Town and the School’s Maintenance departments?
A. The square footage and acreage of buildings and grounds require a certain amount of people and equipment to maintain them. If the departments were combined, the same level of staffing would have to be maintained, with the only difference being where the dollars are budgeted.”

FACT #7:
The same level of staffing would not need to be maintained as suggested at the supervisory level. I am quite sure that the number of supervisors could be reduced as they are not currently managing the maximum amount of employees possible. The School District also fails to consider the fact of the increase in purchasing power due to the combination of the maintenances departments. If you are purchasing double the amount of supplies and parts, I am sure there would be increased discounts for supplies and parts due to the volume purchased. Again the School District should challenge the status quo and demonstrate to the Town Council and Board of Finance why it cannot be done instead of making generalities with no factual basis. It is also disconcerting to learn that recently a Town maintenance employee resigned and joined the School maintenance department due to the fact that he was able to receive a sizable increase in pay. Every Dollar Counts and we should not accept assumptions as fact.

As part of Dr. Paddyfoote’s budget presentation her final thought was, “As educators, board members and collaborative partners, we are being challenged to preserve the benefits of public education for the children of New Milford at a time when the ability to provide public education is being seriously threatened due to a struggling economy. We are capable of meeting this challenge and we must in order to preserve a viable education system for our students.” I couldn’t agree with Dr. Paddyfoote more! Dr. Paddyfoote, I respectfully request that you begin the process tonight by agreeing to not “deferring your salary increase” until next July but instead accept the fact that the Town cannot afford to give you a raise this year or to defer it. Remember, Every Dollar Counts!

I feel that the Town Council and Board of Finance should reject, if possible, the budget presented by the Board of Education and Dr. Paddyfoote immediately. It is apparent from my cursory review of the budget that they have a policy of overestimating their utility costs and not facing the reality of the current economic climate. Based on my cursory review I have found $1,317,216.00 in potential savings based only on not giving raises and accurately estimating utility costs. How many other areas are there for potential savings? It may even be possible with further savings for us to have a net decrease in the proposed budget!

You may have noticed that there was a theme throughout this letter, Every Dollar Counts. It is interesting that this acronym, EDC, is also the acronym for the New Milford Economic Development Commission. As a Town, we need to realize that the real stabilization of a Town is through a healthy industrial and commercial tax base. The only way this can be accomplished is through proper and well thought out economic development. Several years ago the Town of Oxford took these steps and the fruits of their labor are now being realized. Even in this economic downturn they have increased their grand list by 4.5 percent. I hope that the Town Budget has given the tools needed to our Economic Development Commission and Town staff to promote economic development of our Town.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my thoughts and findings.

Arthur H. Howland & Associates, P.C.

Paul S. Szymanski, P.E.


Explanation of Net Current Expenditure Per Pupil (NCEP)

From the Town of Monroe website:
Q # 30: How does the State calculate the Per Pupil Expenditure for a district? Shouldn't it be just dividing the total spent by the number of students?
No, the calculation is not that simple. The description below outlines the process by which a district's Per Pupil Expenditure is calculated. The formula translates raw numbers into expenditures that try to compare “apples with apples” of how a district supports education. Certain expenses can be included and others must be excluded.
It is not a fair comparison to simply divide the total spent by the number of students. The per pupil expenditure tries to determine the allocation to learning per student after costs of transportation and other expenses not directly related to the classroom are deducted.

Process for Determining Per Pupil Expenditure

The State Department of Education provides the following explanation of Net Current Expenditures Per Pupil (NCEP). NCEP measures education expenditures with a couple of adjustments, as explained below, for all the students for which a town is fiscally responsible, regardless of whether the town operates its own school or tuitions its resident students to other districts/regions or private schools. However, there are towns which do not offer in-district middle and secondary-level services. These towns either send the students to designated high schools in other towns or are members of regional school districts or inter district cooperatives. In such cases, these tuition and assessment costs are included in the sending town-based data, so that all 169 towns reflect prekindergarten through Grade 12. As applied to New Milford, the Sherman students are deducted from our Average Daily Membership count, explained below, and the Tuition Revenue received from Oxford is also deducted from our total education expenditures.
Average Daily Membership (ADM) represents the average daily membership calculated from the October 1st Public School Information System (PSIS) and the End of Year School Report (ED001) ADM represents resident students adjusted for school sessions in excess of the 180-day/900-hour minimum, tuition free summer school, full-time equivalent (FTE) prekindergarten pupils and participation in Open Choice.
Net current expenditures (NCE) are calculated as defined in Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-261(a)(3). NCE includes all current public elementary and secondary expenditures from all sources, excluding reimbursable regular education transportation, tuition revenue, capital expenditures for land, buildings and equipment, and debt service. Statute provides for the inclusion in NCE of the principal portion of debt service for NCE eligible items. For many districts, this represents debt incurred for certain minor school building repairs and roof replacements. Net current expenditures per pupil (NCEP) represents NCE divided by ADM. The NCEP Rank is a town's rank between 1 (highest) and 166 (lowest) for 2007-08.
An important note, beginning with 2007-08 the State Department of Education NCEP total number of reporting districts 166 districts, a decrease of 3, from 169 total districts in previous years. This adjustment is due to a shift from prior Education Reference Group (ERG) to District Reference Group (DRG) classification changes instituted by the State Department of Education in 2007-08.