NB Politicus

City Taps Patton Brook Well For Water After Calling Off Bargain Basement Sale, Hiking Rates To Pay For MDC Water

By John McNamara

More than a year after the Stewart administration and Common Council sought to sell off the Patton Brook Well at an undervalued price of $1 million the unused well is replenishing the Shuttle Meadow reservoir.

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Patton Brook Well culvert near Shuttle Meadow Reservoir  (Photo taken Sunday, November 5, 2017)

Mayor Stewart and her Council majority authorized the sale in August 2016, seeking to give up the nearby water source that is part of New Britain’s coveted watershed land in the region. The Town of Southington, where the watershed parcel and pump station are located, was the prospective buyer.  Previously New Britain shared Patton Brook with Southington at  reasonable rates for decades but used its other sources for city residents.

In the her second attempt to jettison Patton Brook altogether,  Mayor Stewart and her Common Council allies insisted that repairing the well for New Britain’s use would be too costly and that Patton Brook did not figure prominently in the city’s water reserve plan. The flow of water from Patton Brook through a culvert into the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir with little in the way of repairs and expense contradicts the Mayor’s assertions that the well could not be turned back on for New Britain without a major capital expense.

 

 

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Water flows from Patton Brook Well into New Britain’s Shuttle Meadow Reservoir on Sunday, November 5th, 2017

In winning an  11-4 Council vote for the sale of Patton Brook Well in the summer of 2016, Mayor Stewart accused opponents of “political posturing” and spreading “outright lies and unfortunate misinformation.”  Said Stewart:  “We are not selling the New Britain Water Co. and have absolutely no intentions of doing so. We are transferring ownership of a physical well that isn’t connected to the city’s water pipes and hasn’t been used by the city in decades. The Patton Brook well sits on a 0.61 acre parcel of land in Southington and is valued at around $61,000.”

Amid strong public opposition and an ongoing drought that forced the water department to hike rates to pay for $400,000 in Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) reserves this year, Stewart finally relented last April as officials were awaiting state approval of the sale.

Opponents of the well sale say the city administration became aware of a developing drought as early as December 2015, but took no appropriate action to conserve supplies nor warn residents as efforts to sell Patton Brook proceeded.

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Water from Patton Brook culvert may be flowing into Shuttle Meadow reservoir. Photo taken on Sunday, November 6, 2017

In a related development the Connecticut General Assembly enacted legislation introduced by State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) requiring that municipalities or water departments to obtain an independent appraisal of public watershed before it can be sold.

In early October acting Water Director Ray Esponda  told the New Britain Herald that water from Patton Brook can flow into the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir, but that it would take $1 million in repairs to allow the well’s water to reach other reservoirs in the city’s regional reservoir system.

Last month the city Water Department also contradicted Mayor Stewart’s $61,000 value, confirming that the well has a current capacity of at least one million gallons a day. Translated into consumer water rates the city would quickly obtain a return on a $1 million investment whether it leased the well’s water or needed it for use by city residents.  Alternatively, funding from the Army Corps of Engineers could be pursued to add capacity to New Britain’s regional watershed and supply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Numbers Don’t Back Mayor Stewart’s Claim That State Budget Caused City’s Negative Credit Rating

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on November 5, 2017

By John McNamara

Mayor Erin Stewart has blamed this year’s state budget crisis for the city’s negative credit rating in response to a November 2nd report of an “escalating”  debt and her administration’s own budget that shows interest payments will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the next four years.

“We were downgraded by Moody’s along with many other cities and towns across Connecticut as a result of the state budget crisis,” the two-term Republican told the New Britain Herald.

Democratic Mayoral Nominee Merrill Gay, citing double-digit tax increases and a debt load rising to “$75 million”, said Ms. Stewart is mismanaging the city’s finances. “Mayor Stewart’s poor financial planning will cost New Britain taxpayers,” Gay said. “New Britain needs real economic development without increasing the debt despite two tax increases.”

The state Legislature, dealing with deficits caused mainly by unfunded pension liabilities,  finally adopted a biennial state budget at the end of October after a  four-month stalemate.

While the protracted debate in Hartford created short-term uncertainty for cities and towns, New Britain will  maintain state aid amounts it gets as an economically distressed community.  In the current fiscal year that ends June 30, 2018, state aid will be a projected $101 million to pay for schools and government — the same as it received last year. In 2019 the city will be cut by $191,000 from 2017.

City and town officials, including Mayor Stewart, are correct that state government’s continuing fiscal problems can adversely impact local government finances.  Moody’s Investor Services, however, did not cite state budget woes for New Britain’s latest downgrade in the municipal bond market.  Instead the investors’ rating agency pointed to the city’s higher debt costs alluding to new deferments on short-term and capital bonding that will spike interest over the next five years or more.  Whereas consumers and governments usually look to re-finance for lower interest rates the Stewart administration is doing the opposite, re-financing debt that will result in sharp interest rate increases in the near term.

Early this year the Stewart administration and the Common Council pushed the city’s debt further into the future after being told by bond counsel that interests rates would rise in the out years. The result was a short-term $6 million savings to be paid back with much higher interest after the current fiscal year ends.

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Graphic shows New Britain’s escalating debt payments. (Source: Municipal Budget Book)

 

New Britain’s Bond Rating Drops From Stable To Negative: Huge Spike In Debt Through 2021 Cited By Moody’s

Posted in city government, City Hall, municipal budget, New Britain, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on November 4, 2017

By John McNamara

Republican incumbent Mayor Erin Stewart, in her re-election campaign this year and throughout her second term, has touted improving municipal bond ratings for New Britain’s fiscal solvency, claiming credit for budget surpluses of $15 million and pushing spending up at City Hall with no need for an election year tax increase.

Fiscal stability is the cornerstone of her platform and a main talking point in her aspirations to leave the mayor’s job for statewide office. Her campaign’s website points to New Britain “gracing the cover of the Bond Buyer, a trade publication covering the municipal bond market, “not once but twice. The city under her management is a shining example for how to make a financial turnaround work during a difficult economy.”

The November 2nd edition of Bond Buyerhowever, paints a different picture for the city’s finances in the  latest analysis, portending a difficult road ahead for the city’s budget over the next four years.  Moody’s Investor Services, which along with Standard & Poor’s, assesses the borrowing ability and fiscal health of cities in the municipal bond market, has downgraded general obligation borrowing to Baa2 from Baa1. “Moody’s cited New Britain’s reliance on nonrecurring revenues to stabilize its financial position in recent years. The rating agency also revised its outlook on the 73,000-population city to negative from stable,” Bond Buyer’s Paul Burton reported. “The rating also incorporates the city’s elevated debt profile with rapidly escalating debt service and its modest pension liability,’ the rating agency said Tuesday.”

In contrast to Moody’s downgrade four months into the 2018 fiscal year, Standard & Poor’s has previously affirmed  a more favorable A-plus rating for New Britain after upgrading the city four notches through two upgrades.   Moody’s last assessment came in 2014.

According to the Bond Buyer story:

Moody’s said the negative outlook reflects the short-term challenge New Britain will face to match recurring revenues with recurring expenditures while managing its debt service pegged to spike through fiscal 2021. New Britain, said Moody’s, could earn an upgrade through a sustained trend of structurally balanced operations without one-shots, a material reduction in debt burden, growth in its tax base or an improved resident wealth and income profile.  By contrast, continuing reliance on nonrecurring revenues, erosion of its financial position, taking on more debt or deterioration of New Britain’s tax base or wealth profile could lead to a downgrade.

The Moody’s downgrade may be related to action taken by the Common Council prior to the end of the 2017 fiscal year at the behest of the Stewart administration when debt payments were deferred in the last fiscal year pushing the debt into this year and succeeding years when interest rates on the city’s borrowing will be accelerating.

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Will Erin Stewart Get Another Off The Books Push From An Absentee Landlord in 2017?

By John McNamara

On the eve of  the 2015 municipal election scores of  tenants in New Britain got a notice about a possible rent increase from their landlord.

It wasn’t an official increase but a not so subtle endorsement of Mayor Erin Stewart who at the time was cruising to re-election for a second term.

The unsigned communication in English and Spanish read:

“To our residents: In order to help keep your rent from increasing we suggest that on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, you vote for  Mayor Stewart and her entire Row B Team.  It’s important that we all work together to keep rents from increasing by electing responsible leaders like Mayor Erin Stewart  as she has restored New Britain to a place where people can afford to live.”

If anyone thought this message  — mailed first class by The Carabetta Companies of Meriden —- was  a civic-minded promotion of voter turnout by a major out-of-town landlord they were mistaken.  Carabetta’s  tenants were being warned in intimidating fashion: Vote for the Republican Stewart or your rent will go up.

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Bilingual letter to tenants of Carabetta properties mailed on the eve of the 2015 municipal election.

The “To Our Residents” note amounted to an unreported  corporate contribution with promotion of  the Stewart re-election phone number for a ride to the polls and offer of help on getting registered to vote.  “A Team Stewart member will assist you,” said the notice not attributed to any political committee as it should have been.

State election law spells out the kind of violation that could be involved here (see below).  Moreover, penalties could potentially  apply to the Stewart committee for “coordinating” activities with their off the books landlord friends.

Sec. 9-613. (Formerly Sec. 9-333o). Business entities. (a) Contributions or expenditures for candidate or party prohibited. No business entity shall make any contributions or expenditures to, or for the benefit of, any candidate’s campaign for election to any public office or position subject to this chapter or for nomination at a primary for any such office or position, or to promote the defeat of any candidate for any such office or position. No business entity shall make any other contributions or expenditures to promote the success or defeat of any political party, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

 

No doubt the tactic from one of the city’s absentee property owners was a throwback to the 2013 municipal campaign when Stewart and the Republicans teamed up with outside landlords to wage a scorched-earth, months-long campaign against Democrats pouring as much as $100,000 of dark money into the election.

At issue was a controversial  ordinance that set fees for non-owner occupied properties to pay for housing and code enforcement — a policy subsequently repealed that can be found without controversy in hundreds of communities across the country.  Ironically — aside from concerns about blight and raucous parties in rentals around CCSU — the issue that caused the vitriolic campaign in 2013 never surfaced in 2015.

Team Stewart and friends just couldn’t help themselves go low when they could have taken a pass on intimidating tenants into voting a certain way in 2015.   In the era of Citizens United and the anonymous corporate money throughout the political and legislative system it’s easier to make the calculation that any judgment on blatant violations of the law would come months later when the State Elections Enforcement Commission rendered a decision.  And any SEEC fine levied would be worth the  investment to get away with messing with tenants about how they should vote.

As Election Day 2017 approaches consider this a cautionary tale.  Team Stewart — now in an increasingly tight race for City Hall — won’t hesitate to use all manner of 11th hour mischief to stay in power like the tenant notice of two years ago.  Voters need to know that their franchise is personal and private and not subject to influence by their landlord, their boss or anyone else.

Full disclosure: I was the late starting and under-funded Democratic nominee for Mayor and the Democratic Chair in 2015 not willing to see Ms. Stewart go unchallenged. Consequently, any rent increases incurred over the last two years have come on Ms. Stewart’s watch) 

 

 

Did Stewart Get A Prohibited Campaign Freebie In Mailing Of Car Tax Bills?

Posted in city government, city politics and government, ethics, municipal budget, Republicans, Tax Policy by nbpoliticus on September 2, 2017

By John McNamara

New Britain motor vehicle owners finally got their bills on September 1 along with  a glowing missive from Mayor Erin Stewart that makes the case for her re-election.

The city held up auto tax notices this year, blaming the state budget impasse for the two month delay. Uncertain was whether the auto levy would be lowered to 32 mills or stay at 37.  Given the state deficit then and now,  it would have been a safe bet to go with the 37 mill rate in July rather than wait.  The $241.5  million municipal budget for the year that began July 1st is based on what New Britain got from the state in the 2017 fiscal year.

In a city election year the delay in mailing tax bills is giving incumbent Stewart a prohibited taxpayer-funded freebie — an expensive city-wide mailing to everyone who owns a car or truck — to boost her campaign closer to the election.

Don’t expect Stewart and her full-time image team in the Mayor’s office  to miss an incumbent’s prerogative of using public funds to deliver a not so subtle piece of campaign promotion. Normally there’d be nothing wrong with it.  It’s done here and in many places all the time — an advantage to incumbents in local races with no public financing

Brochure advancing Mayor Stewart’s candidacy sent with motor vehicle tax bills this week. State law bars use of public funds for candidate promotions within three months of elections.

The issue usually arises over “franking privileges” for state and federal lawmakers who send their own positive mailers back to their districts on accomplishments and legislation.

At issue here is whether Stewart used the good offices of the Tax Collector to promote her candidacy within three months of an election.  That’s where the Connecticut General Statutes come in. State law prohibits any use of taxpayer money by incumbents within 90 days of an election for self promotion.

From Connecticut general statutes 9-610

(d) (1) No incumbent holding office shall, during the three months preceding an election in which he is a candidate for reelection or election to another office, use public funds to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials intended to bring about his election or reelection.

Using her campaign slogan “Leading The Way” in the taxpayer-funded brochure, Stewart cites saving the city from fiscal ruin, good bond ratings, reorganizing city hall departments “to find efficiencies and improve customer service and “a continuous commitment to provide our teachers and our children with the proper tools for learning and exploring.”  The official message is a carbon copy of what can be found on Stewart’s campaign website.

Any and all of the Stewart’s tax mailer assertions, of course, can be challenged in an election year.  A closer look at the  municipal budget shows higher spending  trumps efficiency at City Hall. A hefty jump in interest payments looms on short-term borrowing because Stewart and the Common Council deferred on paying bills coming due last year. And that  “continuous commitment” to education?  It’s  hard to find in a Stewart budget that continues to spend more at City Hall but didn’t add a dime to schools in the current budget.

In politics timing can be everything and can determine what is allowed and what isn’t under the law.

By incorporating her campaign promotion in the late auto tax notices , Mayor Stewart ignored the law that bans incumbents from using public funds “to mail or print flyers or other promotional materials” for reelection.

 

 

GOP Alderman Hits School Board On Salaries But Rubber Stamps Pay Hikes, More Spending At City Hall

Posted in city government, New Britain Republicans, public education, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on August 5, 2017

 

By John McNamara

The sometimes fragile relations between City Hall  and the Board of Education took a backward step this week over complaints from Ward 2 Republican Alderman Kristian Rosado appearing in the New Britain City Journal.

Rosado, in a front-page story in the City Journal , derided a unanimous BOE move on salary increases for three administrators,  pitting Rosado against BOE President and fellow Republican Nick Mercier.

unnamedRosado was joined by two BOE members, Sharon Beloin-Saavedra and Miriam Geraci, who either half-heartedly voted for the increases or didn’t stick around long enough to vote on the matter at a July 24th meeting.  Geraci, absent for the vote, objected because of uncertainty over the amount of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds the city will receive in the unresolved state budget.  In a City Journal editorial, Editor Robin Vinci, often a mouthpiece for the Stewart administration on many issues, sided with Rosado.

The BOE, however,  unanimously approved three salary increases — a revenue neutral move, according to Mercier, because of a $49,000 cut in Assistant Superintendent Paul Salina’s compensation.  Receiving salary hikes were Chief Financial Officer Kevin Kane, Talent Officer Dr. Shuana Tucker and Assistant Talent Officer, Dr. Nicole Sanders, the principal of the North End School, who was promoted to the position.

 

City Journal Editor Robin Vinci, apparently confusing Dr. Sanders with someone else, falsely reported that Sanders is a member of the BOE.  By law, school employees cannot serve on the elected board.

Mercier, quoted in the City Journal, said “the chief financial officer is taking over as head of three departments, that warranted the salary increase. In terms of the talent office it was partially due to an increase in duties and responsibilities”  and making the salaries “competitive.” Mercier said the move is saving $20,000 in central office spending this year and will reduce administrative costs by $90,000 next year.

But Rosado lambasted the salary levels  as “outrageous and insulting considering that the average resident of New Britain makes under $40,000 a year,” saying more money should be going to classroom support.

By contrast, Rosado, in his capacity as a member of the Common Council, has been a reliable rubber stamp for Mayor’s office salary hikes and major budget increases on the municipal side of the ledger.  He supported Mayor Stewart’s budget that denied a very small increase for city schools.

No one questions Alderman Rosado nor the City Journal for casting a critical eye on how tax dollars are spent. But their critical eyes appear to be only wide open at the Board of Education. They are closed shut when it comes to salary hikes, increasing debt interest and all manner of discretionary spending by the Stewart administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legislature Takes On Water Issues; Rep. Lopes Bill Requires Fair Market Value For City To Sell Wells, Watershed Land

Posted in environment, environmental protection, water resources by nbpoliticus on February 13, 2017

By John McNamara

State Rep. Rick Lopes (D-24) has filed a bill requiring municipalities or water companies to “complete  a fair market appraisal of any property encompassing a watershed, well or reservoir before such property may be sold, and to make such appraisal public at least 90 days prior to such sale.”

Lopes’ proposal is due for a public hearing on Wednesday, February 15th, at the Legislature’s Planning and Development Committee.

Rep. Rick Lopes

Rep. Rick Lopes

The legislation (6481) stems directly from Mayor Stewart’s second attempt to sell the Patton Brook well in Southington to the Town of Southington for $1 million last year. The New Britain Common Council authorized the sale  in a controversial move that brought strong public opposition at a public hearing last July.  The sale remains under review by the state Department of Public Health. The city administration,  through the Board of Water Commissioners, also quietly approved the sale of watershed land in Burlington last last year, land that is also a part of New Britain’s coveted and extensive watershed  in the region.

The effort to sell city watershed, along with a Stewart administration-back proposal by Tilcon, Inc. to lease watershed land on the New Britain-Plainville line for mining operations, has met with growing resistance from the Bradley Mountain Alliance . A citizen coalition has coalesced around protecting the watershed and its members regularly attend City Hall, the Board of Water Commissioners and state regulatory agency meetings.  Year-long drought conditions that have forced the city to purchase water from the Metropolitan District Commission has further increased citizen opposition to the sale of Patton Brook.

According to a commentary raising objections to a Patton Brook sale last July: “The real value of Patton Brook Well – whether it is to be leased or sold – should be calculated on its capacity to produce potable water for residents and businesses.  At no time have New Britain officials, including Stewart and Water Services Director and Southington resident Gil Bligh,  provided a professional or independent appraisal of the Patton Brook Well’s actual value in setting a sale price of $1.2 million two years ago and $1 million this year.  Basing a sale or lease on a real property assessment of the pumping station and the small amount of acreage alone is absurd and irresponsible.”

Rep. Lopes, who represents the 24th assembly district inclusive of New Britain neighborhoods close to watershed land, opposed the attempted sale of Patton Brook in 2014 and 2016 saying in a letter to the editor “water and access to water will always remain a valuable asset. The city of New Britain had the foresight to purchase property with access to water all over the state and these water rights remain among our most valuable assets. Giving up wells and reservoirs are short-term fixes that will only cost the city in the long run.”

Lawmakers are also taking up a series of bills supported by the Save Our Water , a non-partisan citizens’ group that initially mobilized to oppose MDC and Bloomfield decisions to give Niagara Bottling Company of California access and favorable rates to MDC reservoirs. Its membership is growing and includes New Britain as concern over protecting the water supply and natural resources is growing throughout the state.

Save Our Water’s legislative agenda includes law changes on drought protection (HB-6349), permits for large water bottlers (HB6341), water rates for water bottlers (HB6319),  uniform clean water project charge rates (HB6342) and regulation of bottle water (HB5619).   Save Our Water opposes Senate Bill 753 — an act concerning the viability of expanding the bottled water industry in Connecticut. Instead Save Our Water favors its own legislative package “to ensure the prudent management of our state’s valuable water resources, establishing priorities for water usage during droughts and requiring that water rates for large-scale water bottlers are not lower than rates for residential customers.”

 

 

City Hall Watch: Deferring Municipal Debt Payment Means Cash Now, Higher Interest Next Year

Posted in city government, municipal budget, New Britain, property tax by nbpoliticus on February 10, 2017

By John McNamara

The Stewart administration is shifting $6 million from a scheduled payment on the city’s rising municipal debt— creating an election year windfall to avert yet another tax increase.  The Common Council approved what representatives of William Blair & Company, the city’s bond counsel, called a “re-structuring” of  a $28 million bond at a special meeting  on January 11th.

Expect Mayor Stewart to trumpet a “savings” to avert her third property tax hike or claim a hefty boost to the city’s “rainy day fund” as municipal budget talks get underway in a few weeks.

CITY HALL WATCH

CITY HALL WATCH

But using the city’s credit card to increase cash flow in the current fiscal year is hardly a savings or proof of Stewart’s fiscal prudence. It obligates the city to shell out more to bond holders in the out years. Pushing debt obligations to 2018 and beyond  guarantees all the borrowed money (short and long-term debt for capital projects and allowable expenses) will come with considerably higher interest rates.

“We’ve been seeing  the rates increasing from last year,” William Blair’s Richard Thivierge told the Common Council. “Some debt rates have gone up 60 to 80 basis points.”

Ward 5 Alderman Carlo Carlozzi, who extensively questioned bond counsel along with Alderman Manny Sanchez on January 11, expressed some frustration on the new deal with creditors which will lower the payment this year from $28,315,000 to $21, 600,000. “The city always seems to be restructuring its debt.”  Carlozzi said,  wondering out loud if moving the debt was kicking the can down the road at higher interest rates.

Bond counsel representatives explained that the city is not re-financing — which is usually done to get lower rates — but is deferring the debt a portion of which stems from borrowing  in Stewart’s first two terms. Because of the city’s “high debt base” Thivierge said the city needs to “levelize” its debt service by slowing down its payments. Always the obliging middle man in extending the debt, Thivierge called it “budgetary prudence.” In political terms that’s a euphemism for not having to raise taxes or cut services in an election year.  Pressed by Carlozzi’s questions, the Mayor,  Finance Director Lori Granato and Bond Counsel tacitly acknowledged the city could pay down its debt at a lower interest rate this year, but that the extra $6 million will be needed in the next budget after July 1.

Obligating the city to pay more for debt at the start of 2017 stems from structural factors that cash-strapped cities face. New Britain, according to the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM), is the slowest growing grand list in the state with 97% of the land developed and a considerable amount of real property owned by the state or nonprofit institutions. This inelastic tax base, reliance on the property tax and dependence on state aid that this year exceeds $100 million makes the current system unsustainable no matter who is mayor or serves on the Common Council. All of this is why the bond lenders hold cities in a cycle of  borrowing for needed capital improvements not favorable to fiscal stability and residents. Raising taxes is good. Cutting services is better. Selling off municipal assets (such as watershed) is even better for improving your bond rating and pleasing the lenders on Wall Street.

The situation has been made worse in New Britain by “structural deficits” first identified by Mayor Tim O’Brien when he took office in 2011 and quickly acknowledged by Erin Stewart when she succeeded O’Brien despite her politicking that the budget mess was created entirely by O’Brien in one term.

Both mayors pointed to the four terms of former Mayor Tim Stewart who, with the acquiescence of Democratic common councils between 2003 and 2010, relied on one-time fixes and phantom sales of land.  With increases in spending and freezing the tax rate year after year during the first Mayor Stewart’s terms,  a financial hole was created that the city is still climbing out of.

“We had an issue a few years back when someone came into office and said there were structural problems in the budget,” said Carlozzi at the bond authorization meeting, alluding to former Mayor O’Brien sounding the alarm more than five years ago. “That person was heavily criticized. We now have heard for the last three years that we have structural issues with the budget. That individual was correct.”

As Alderman Carlozzi made clear at the Council meeting paying off your credit card debt sooner rather than later would be a good thing.  In 2017, however, the restructuring of debt is a way to paint a hunky-dory financial picture that relies on the city’s mountain of debt getting higher.  What is especially misleading is the “rainy day” or “tax stabilization” fund being counted in the millions of dollars. Implying that the surplus stems from more efficiencies and prudent fiscal management as Stewart boasts is false. It is based almost entirely on restructuring borrowed money and a 2014 property tax increase — the largest in city history.

The bottom line is that in a municipal election year all that glitters is not gold when it comes to city finances. Bond authorizations cannot be used to meet current operations only capital improvements.  But in New Britain and other financially struggling cities increasing debt costs for ready cash carries a heavy price tag due and payable sooner rather than later.

 

Opposing Trump, GOP Agenda: NB, Hartford Part of Historic Women’s March

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on January 22, 2017

From http://www.newbritaindemocrat.org

 

By John McNamara [Photos by Frank Gerratana] The Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump spawned marches from Augusta, Maine to Anchorage Alaska. Millions of people, connected by the same social media so deftly and divisively used by Donald Trump, answered the call of the women’s march to respond to […]

via Opposing Trump, GOP Agenda: Hartford, New Britain Part Of Historic Women’s March For Equality, Economic Justice — New Britain Democrat

City Hall Watch: Stewart Wants More Money For Tilcon Watershed Study; Costs To Exceed $350K

Posted in city government, environmental protection, New Britain, Uncategorized, water resources by nbpoliticus on December 12, 2016

By John McNamara

The Stewart administration is seeking an additional $17,500 for an  environmental study of Tilcon Inc.’s  long-term plan to lease city watershed for trap rock mining.

The extra cost is up for consideration at the December 14th Common Council meeting and follows the June 2016 Common Council approval of a $337,000 no-bid contract to Glastonbury-based Lenard Engineering, a contractor the city has frequently used on water supply issues.

The request for more money from a favored contractor of the Stewart administration stems from the original scope of the study commissioned by the city.  That engineering survey was quickly deemed inadequate by both the regional Water Planning Council (WPC) and the state Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) when members of those councils learned about the agreement with Lenard and opponents of Tilcon’s expansion project raised objections.

Environmental officials, though allowing the city to engage Lenard Engineering last summer, have questioned the “independence” of the firm and chastised the city for the original scope of work which failed to address environmental concerns.

The Tilcon expansion, unsuccessfully sought nine years ago during the first Stewart Administration, will need state approval in order for Tilcon to extract the valuable igneous rock known as trap rock on 131 acres of protected watershed that is in close proximity to the city’s Shuttle Meadow reservoir.

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

from Protect Our Watersheds CT

The new scope of work, according to the council resolution, entails “an enhanced, four-season ecological study.”  The original scope of work, rejected by the CEQ, was set for 15 weeks and left out critical factors in assessing the impacts of expanded Tilcon mining on forest land and the fragile ecology that sustains wetlands in the city-owned regional water system. Apparently the $337,000 isn’t enough for Lenard Engineering to do what it is supposed to do for a true  environmental assessment.

Mayor Stewart, who continues to face strong public opposition about the pending sale of the 1.5 million gallon a day Patton Brook Well as drought conditions force the city to buy water from the Metropolitan District Commission, cites the revenue  ($15 million) the city would obtain from a multi million dollar lease and the long-term benefits of Ireland-based Tilcon creating a small reservoir over the next generation. That reservoir would provide no more than 160,000 gallons a day by the year 2050.

Since Tilcon revived its expansion project this year Stewart has been its biggest cheerleader at first pushing for completion of the study without measuring the ecological impact.  She originally sought to have the study wrapped up this fall.

Her administration has also engaged Gaffney Bennett Associates, a high powered New Britain-based lobbying firm, on behalf of the city on the issue at the same time Gaffney Bennett works for Tilcon Inc. to grease the governmental skids for project approval. Those relationships raise blatant conflicts of interest that have been ignored by both state and city governments.

Attorney Paul Zagorsky, an opponent of the Tilcon expansion and part of a multi-town coalition of citizens (Protect Our Watersheds CT and the Bradley Mountain Alliance), called  out the Stewart administration for its conflicts and  lack of transparency in an August 7th New Britain Herald letter to the editor:

“In her July 28th letter to the WPC the mayor states she was ‘dismayed to learn that the CEQ passed a motion yesterday rescinding their approval of Lenard Engineering.’ While Gilbert Bligh, head of the city’s Water Department was at that CEQ meeting, he did not speak, no one from the city did. I am dismayed the city has withheld and/or provided misleading information to the public and the state, that the Lenard study is a Tilcon quarry feasibility study and not an environmental study, that Lenard is a long time contractor for the city and not ‘independent,’ and that the city is working with Tilcon’s lobbyists on this.”

The absence of  transparency and obvious conflicts of interest around the Stewart administration and water issues should prompt the Common Council to demand more accountability. That includes asking  how much has been expended so far by Lenard Engineering and why $17,500 more is necessary.

The state law adopted this year requires an “independent” study about Tilcon’s expansion and what New Britain’s long-term water needs are. The spirit and letter of that law and the laws protecting the watershed need to be followed.