By Josh LaBella
When Mayor Nancy Rossi announced a nearly $30 million increase in the city’s grand list it seemed like a cut-and-dry story. Apparently, not so much. So says her predecessor and possible opponent.
Within a week of the announcement, former mayor Ed O’Brien stated in a press release that Rossi was taking credit for his achievements. O’Brien, who is preparing to run for mayor in this year’s election, shared his grievances on his Facebook page and in a press release.
“With all due respect, many of the properties that Mayor Rossi is taking credit for bringing into West Haven’s grand list, were signed, sealed and delivered during my administration through the tremendous dedication and hard work of many individuals,” O’Brien said on Facebook. “Don’t claim credit where it doesn’t belong, Mayor Rossi.”
O’Brien said in the press release he did not want the efforts of his administration to “attract, retain and grow strong, revenue raising businesses to West Haven” to go unrecognized.
Mayor Rossi was quick to fire back and issued another press release as a “reply” to O’Brien’s. She said her administration has continued the work of previous ones while also adding new projects. She also critiqued O’Brien’s handling of certain economic development projects.
“The Regional Operations Center (Yale) on Route 34 had been promised a tax abatement by the former administration. My administration did not grant any tax abatement, and therefore the project is fully taxable,” said Rossi. “Public hearings, site plan review and groundbreaking were all accomplished under my administration; this project was not shovel ready.”
Regarding Allingtown, the mayor said O’Brien’s administration had told the Department of Economic and Community Development they had bonded for a sewer pipe and other infrastructure when they had not. She also said the previous administration had given a tax abatement, “to the fullest extent of the law,” to Atwood and Park Place. She then went on to comment on the Haven project, which she pointed out started under Mayor Borer.
“The Bayview Park had restrictions that were never dealt with. So my administration spent countless hours getting permission from the federal government to transfer the restrictions to another park and sold the park to the developer for a little over $250,000,” said Rossi. “The site plan review was under my administration and we are currently waiting for the DOT process to be completed and an OSTA certificate, Office of State Traffic Administration, to be issued.”
Concerning the grand list growth she said the largest percentage of the increase came from personal property taxes which her administration “aggressively identified” through audits. Rossi said the issue of economic development was about delivering for West Haven, not about taking credit.
“Whatever projects are in process when I leave office, my sincerest hope is the next administration will continue those as well,” said Rossi. “To me, that is called passing the torch.”
Rossi also took aim at the city’s deficit, saying that when O’Brien left office the city had authorized deficit bonding in the amount of $17 million resulting in the MARB takeover of city finances. Throwing down the gauntlet, the mayor challenged O’Brien, and anyone else considering running for the position, to come to the next MARB meeting on March 7.
“The candidates can speak to their role in the consecutive budget deficits and the deficit borrowing. As well as their vision, ideas and plans for West Haven and how they would implement them to improve the financial challenges West Haven now faces,” said Rossi. “I think West Haven deserves an explanation of their actions and the consequences we now face because of their decisions and shortcomings.”
O’Brien, who announced a few weeks ago that he was considering a run at his old office, has since let it be known to some in his circle that run might be as an independent.
The three-way split in the Democratic Party, which has the so-called Picard faction in power with Rossi’s ascendancy, has refused to back O’Brien’s most recent run, and is, instead, looking for another candidate. Reports have them considering City Clerk Deborah Collins.
A three-way race in November, then, is a strong possibility, with Rossi facing a Democratic opponent in September, the winner then facing O’Brien and a Republican in November.
The nastiness between O’Brien and Rossi goes back to before Rossi announced her intention to run in 2016. But the enmity between the two was most apparent in the primary run, which saw Rossi beat in the incumbent by a handful of votes.
Almost on a weekly basis the two sparred over policy, finances and whatever else they could find, and usually in the most vitriolic terms.