Friday, June 7, 2013

Ansonia alderman opposes bonding referendum plan

Calls $4.9M project an 'absolute embarrassment to the city'

By Alderman John Marini

I wanted to share some comments regarding the bonding project in Ansonia.

Bonding is a great idea and one that can save the city money in the long term.
In fact, I have long urged the use of bonding as a way to fund large and necessary capital expenses.
I support many of the items on the list, including funding for school security, the nature center and the fire house roof.
However, this bonding project has been run miserably since its announcement and is at this point an absolute embarrassment to the city.
The bonding proposal was cooked-up by a small group of city officials in closed-door meetings.

The bonding projects were hand-picked by this exclusive group, with no formal input by the Board of Aldermen or its sub-committees.

The proposal was first presented to the full BOA on May 6, 2013 (in the absence of bond counsel) at which time many of the aldermen expressed concern over the projects selected and the speed at which this $4.9 million spending project was proceeding at.

The proposal was hastily revised to meet some of the board’s concerns.
In good faith I extended my support of the proposal in the hopes that the BOA could work together for the good of Ansonia.

I stressed that the bonding made sense so long that it was financially advantageous for the city. I also explained it was important to educate the public on the savings the bonding could generate.
I offered my own political signs to be converted to publicize the bond. I also made clear that the entire city needed to be involved in this matter.

Since that time the project has run entirely off the rails.

·         The advertising of the referendum violates state law. One official made a unilateral decision to use city funds to purchase signs endorsing a "yes" vote on the bond. Beyond the fact that the BOA should have approved of this expenditure, the signs were flagrant violations of state campaign finance laws.
         The city cannot spend funds to endorse a specific vote on a referendum.  Moreover, the signs did not indicate who paid for them and they were improperly placed on public property.  The signs were eventually taped over to hide the "yes" vote endorsement. Even more disturbing, the signs were purchased and distributed before the BOA even approved the referendum (in fact, the BOA will not vote to approve it until June 11).

·     The bonding project no longer makes financial sense. Due to a last minute change (made by a small group of city officials outside the scope of official meetings) the bonding items have been broken up piecemeal into several different ballot questions.  Bonding only makes sense if the total amount of the bond justifies incurring long-term debt.  There is now a risk that the bond questions with smaller price tags will pass, while the larger ones will not.  If this occurs, there will be no tax savings.  There will only be increased spending.

·     The referendum will cost taxpayers between $14,000-$17,000.  The referendum could have been included on the general election ballot in November.  The June vote requires all polling stations in Ansonia to be opened at an estimated cost of $14,000-$17,000.

·    Poor communication between city leaders. The full BOA did not meet to approve expenditures for advertising the bonding project.
        The full BOA did not meet with city departments to determine the best bonding projects. The full BOA did not consult with bond counsel to discuss the details of the bonding process. In fact, the full BOA has yet to meet with bond counsel on this matter.  The full BOA had no say in the last minute change to break the bonding proposal up into line items. Who made these decisions?  A small and exclusive group of city leaders behind closed doors.

·     Poor communication with residents.  Does anyone in town know what they are to be voting for on June 25?  I personally advocated Ward meetings to educate the public about the bonding project.  Only now, in the 11th hour, are these meetings being scheduled.  Moreover, press from the city has done little to educate the public about why this bonding project must be done at such an accelerated pace. Poor communication may result in a low turnout at bond time, except for those who have a vested interest in any given proposal. Given that the referendum requires merely a majority vote to pass, a small group of voters can easily commit the city to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for their particular project.

·         Last minute changes continue. Many aldermen, myself included, learned only on June 6, 2013 (via the Valley Independent Sentinel) that the bond was being broken into separate ballot questions, purportedly at the recommendation of bond counsel. It was also only recently divulged that the aldermen would have to vote a second time on the bonding proposal and that a vote by the Board of Apportionment and Taxation would be needed. Are there other changes coming?

There will be a final vote by the Board of Aldermen on June 11 as to whether this bonding proposal goes to referendum on June 25, 2013.
I am sorry to say that I can no longer support the proposal.

The decision to spend up to an additional $4.9 million of taxpayers’ money is an important one. It should have been afforded careful consideration and thoughtful planning. It should have been the collective effort of Ansonia’s entire city government.

Instead, this multi-million dollar bonding project has become the badly managed “pet project” of a small group of city officials. This is absolutely unacceptable.
I am urging that the full Board of Aldermen vote to cancel the June 25 referendum.

I also urge members of the public to share their thoughts with the Board of Aldermen at the public hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 11 in City Hall.

Marini is a 7th Ward Republican.

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