By Josh LaBella
In a two and half hour meeting the city council heard concerns and complaints from residents, swore in a new City Council clerk, and approved a State Special Act offering tax deferments to federal workers affected by the longest government shutdown in US history. It also was highlighted by a back-and-forth between Mayor Nancy Rossi and the former chairman of the Finance Committee.
Lee Tiernan, West Haven Corporation Counsel, swore in Stacy Riccio as City Council clerk at the onset of the meeting. Riccio is a former council member and worked for the Corporation Counsel’s office.
Public session for the meeting, which was slated to last five minutes, went on for nearly an hour as citizens spoke about topics including a proposed ordinance limiting eminent domain and an Acorn Group development project that has been stalled.
One resident from Allingtown, Shawn Brown, claimed the city had misused $1.5 million designated for the borough. He said the city continued to raise taxes on Allingtown, which he called West Haven’s “red-headed stepchild.”
“We hear it’s [the money] going to the wrong place that has nothing to do with the people,” said Brown. “If it is, we still want to know where it is. Either give us an answer or, I promise you, those of you that are from Allingtown will not come back.”
Councilman Peter Massaro later said the funds Brown was referring to was being spent on infrastructure such as sidewalks in the Allingtown area.
Councilwoman Tracy Morrissey spoke at length regarding data on vacation buybacks for city workers. She said she wanted all “black books” and a list of all vacation buybacks from Dec. 1, 2017 to present, a list of all approvals of the buybacks, and a list of all employees who did not take insurance but did get reimbursed.
“I do not like the idea of black books,” said Morrissey. “I’ve been told that the black books do not have any legal standing. So, I would like to see in writing that none of the black books, people will be compensated. Because with a black book you’re logging extra hours work, but are you logging all the hours that you’re taking off? Where’s the balance here?”
Mayor Rossi said she found some of the claims that Morrissey made very alarming. She said Morrissey is only looking to check records from Dec. 2017 when the previous administration took an over $6,000 payout when he left.
“There was no documentation whatsoever,” said Rossi. “So I suggest if we’re holding one person to a standard, we hold all of them to a standard.”
Rossi said the standard should go back to the beginning of former Mayor Ed O’Brien’s term. She said they should look at vacation buybacks and payouts and that while Morrissey was Finance Committee chairman she did not investigate comp time payouts.
“One person got $133,000 comp time,” said Rossi. “So, number one, I don’t know about anybody else’s books. As I’ve said before, but it bears repeating because somehow people aren’t getting it, I’m keeping track of the hours I put in.”
Rossi said the time she puts in and takes off is well documented. Later in the meeting, the council approved State Special Act 19-1, which established a furloughed federal employees’ tax deferment program.
The program to hopes to ease the financial burden for West Haven federal employees who were furloughed by the 35-day government shutdown.
Initiated by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, the resolution, “Furloughed Employee Tax Deferment,” instructs the tax office to establish a program deferring real estate and motor vehicle taxes for affected federal employees consistent with the West Haven Charter and Connecticut Special Act 19-1 under House Bill 5765.
According to the state statute, enacted by the General Assembly on Jan. 22, an affected employee is defined as “a federal employee who, during the shutdown, is (A) a resident of this state, and (B) required to work as a federal employee without pay or furloughed as a federal employee without pay.”
Rossi said the tax deferment program will give federal employees immediate relief by allowing them to postpone paying their taxes. The resolution was adopted 8-0, with five council members absent for the vote.
Voting “yes” were Nicholas W. Ruickoldt, D-2; Aaron Charney, D-3; Majority Leader Robbin Watt Hamilton, D-5; Peter V. Massaro, D-6; Portia Bias, D-7; Tracy A. Morrissey, D-8; Louise Martone, D-10; and Minority Leader Richard DePalma, R-at large. Absent were Bridgette J. Hoskie, D-1; Mitchell L. Gallignano, D-4; Sean P. Ronan, D-9; Chairman Ronald M. Quagliani, D-at large; and David C. Forsyth, D-at large.
Rossi thanked the council for adopting the resolution just in time, as the second installment of the city’s tax bills are due Feb. 1. She also thanked Quagliani for amending the council agenda to include the resolution. Rossi said an unknown number of city residents who work for the U.S. government were affected by the partial shutdown, which ran from Dec. 22 to Jan. 25.
Michael Walsh, City PR director, contributed to this story.