30 June 2014

Who's Selling The City's Water Supply Now? This Time It's For Real

One of the more effective hits on former Mayor  O'Brien's  2013 campaign was unfounded assertions that he was cutting a deal with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) to sell the city's water department --- the city's most coveted natural resource.

None other than ex-Congresswoman turned lobbyist Nancy Johnson was trotted out by the Republican campaign to falsely and deliberately spread the rumor that Mayor O'Brien was getting rid of water assets to the tune of $80 million: a big lie that had its origins in former Mayor Tim Stewart's talks with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) about the city's regional water assets.

Now comes a plan from the second Stewart administration to sell off a piece of the city's water resources in Southington in exchange for a cool $ 1.2 million from that town's government.  Southington now pays New Britain a $106,000 annual lease for the water rights.

Mayor Stewart, quoted in her weekly newsletter, assures us that our neighboring town wants the Patton Brook Well for its water plan and that continuing the lease is not an option for either town.

According to the Mayor's office,  Southington offered to buy the Patton Brook parcel for $200,000. Miraculously, Erin Stewart claims she negotiated a sale for $1 million more, adding one-time revenue to the city.  The Stewart administration insists that the city is not selling any more water reserves at this time.

Reservoir near New Britain and Southington line (www.lenard-eng.com) 
But the devil may be in the details here. And it will be up to a public hearing and the Common Council to get these details and more answers that weren't provided in the Mayor's braggadocio about her negotiating skills.

Will that $1.2 million sale price obligate New Britain to do infrastructure work on the city's dime before the sale goes through?  If that is the case the city's return on a sell off of one of its natural assets may not even be close to  $1 million. And lost forever is the $106,000 annual income from the longstanding lease with Southington.  

There are also questions as to why the sale income would go into city's general fund instead of the water enterprise department fund as would be customary in transactions involving the water department.  The Board of Water Commissioners reportedly approved the deal but with only three members present and one of those Stewart-appointed members abstaining.

No one questions that the city -- its structural deficits acknowledged by the current and past mayor -- could use revenue over what property taxes and state aid provide.  But the selling of public land and natural resources for short term gain is a risky proposition that may cost the city more in the long run.

The public needs to  know a lot more about this sales contract before it is approved by the Council and signed by the administration.

23 June 2014

Shrinking Federal Funds: Stewart Blocks Funds For Basic Human Needs, Community Services

A mayoral veto this month reducing federal funds that will go to meet basic human needs and community services shows the difference between the city's Democrats and the Stewart-led Republicans.
The Stewart Administration wants to take away at least $62,000 from community services and hand it over to acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski who intends to use the funds to pad his office budget with another administrative position.
The veto message and the list of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grants can be found HERE.
This is not a case of cutting back to save taxpayer money. The federal appropriation is already in place. The longstanding federal program which used to provide upwards of $4 million to the city has steadily dropped over 30 years. It has hovered at $1.5 million in recent years.  In the budget priorities of the Stewart regime federal funds for direct services for  residents are losing out to the City Hall bureaucracy.
Mayor Stewart and Malinowski, misinterpreting and exploiting a letter from a Housing and Urban Development official, cited a guideline that only 15% of  the city's $1.5 million allocation of CDBG funds go to basic human needs and community organizations.  But New Britain and other distressed cities received an exemption to the 15% rule more than 25 years ago -- an exemption still in effect that gives the city more leeway in how the federal funds can be used.  The real threat to losing federal funds may lie in the way Malinowski has previously administered federal funds. These include an unaccounted for $100,000 developer loan for which the city had to pay back HUD and the potential loss of federal money for a poorly planned Arch Street project for veterans that was hatched during Malinowski's time in the first Stewart administration.
photo (8)
Dozens of residents turned out at the June 11th Council meeting to protest Mayor Stewart's veto of funds for community services under the federal CDBG program.
The Democratic majority on the Common Council approved $371,000 for direct services in May restoring funds taken away by the Mayor's Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND) which set a $319,000 allocation for community services. That prompted the Mayor to send her veto message that could not be overturned. Two Democratic Aldermen -- Michael Trueworthy and Carlo Carlozzi -- didn't vote citing conflicts under HUD regulations. No member of the Republican caucus was moved by the many residents who sought restoration of funds at the June 11th Council meeting.
Stewart's and Malinowski's agenda, like the Boehner and Ryan crowd in Washington,  hits anti-poverty services particularly hard, including programs at the Human Resources Agency (HRA) such as the Food Resource Center, Las Perlas Hispanas Senior Center and the Polish Outreach Office. Small grant program funds at the OIC (youth employment) and Prudence Crandall Center were also eliminated.
The upheld veto leaves the Common Council with no choice but to adjust the allocations and with fewer dollars to go around this time for neighborhood services and organizations.
The Common Council meets on Wednesday, June 25th, for its last meeting before the fiscal year begins July 1.

12 June 2014

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate: Rock Cats Owners Didn't Even Bother To Tell The Big Club

One of the biggest complaints coming out of the pending deal by the Rock Cats and the City of Hartford is that key "stakeholders" were not let in on the talks nor intentions of the team's ownership to vacate New Britain Stadium in 2016 for the proposed I-84 linked Parcel 12B in downtown Hartford.

Neither New Britain's Mayor Stewart nor State Senator Eric Coleman nor even the team's big corporate sponsor, The Stanley Works, among others, were consulted or given as much as a courtesy call.

Well move over Erin and Eric. As it turns out local officials and sponsors were not the only ones left out of the loop. The ownership group led by Boston real estate mogul Josh Solomon didn't even bother to inform the big club in Minnesota.

A news blog out of Minneapolis reports that the MLB Twins of which the Rock Cats are a Double A affiliate in the Eastern League were also blindsided by the New Britain to Hartford project. And we're not talking about the busway here.

"The Twins were not consulted about the plans of their Class AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats, to move into a $60 million stadium in Hartford, Conn., for the 2016 season, a deal announced in the state’s capital Wednesday. But Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said the Twins understand why owner Josh Solomon is making the move, and will likely support him," wrote Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on June 5th

Hartford city officials are giving the Rock Cats owners a pass about their insistence on cloak and dagger negotiations. Hartford's Development Director told Connecticut Public Radio  that development proposals, if they are to come to fruition, need to be  under wraps before moving into the public domain.

So much for planning the use of taxpayer money with transparency. And the Twins -- a long way away from New Britain anyway -- are excusing the Solomons for their pursuit of a new park in secrecy.

The Rock Cats owners, however, may be in for a rude awakening now that the $60 million plan is subject to oversight and the full involvement of stakeholders in the process.

They want to walk away from New Britain's sweetheart deal of a $120,000 or so annual lease because they want even more public subsidies from their current local government.

They see dollar signs and corporate sky boxes at their proposed band box of a publically financed park in downtown Hartford. But if it can't be built, if the project won't survive a legitimate public vetting, they -- the fans and corporate sponsors --will not come.

Mr. Solomon may think he has a back up in Springfield but there are no guarantees there.

In the end the Rock Cats owners may have to come crawling back to hard hittin' New Britain just for a place to play two years hence. If that occurs let's negotiate the deal in the open with the involvement of all stakeholders.

08 June 2014

Stewart Veto Puts HUD Funds For Community Services In Jeopardy: Does Administration Want Money For Political Appointee Malinowski?

In a June 6th letter Mayor Erin Stewart vetoed and returned to the Common Council a plan for use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in the new fiscal year.

On May 28th the Common Council on a 7 to 5 voted restored funds to several community agencies that had been reduced by the Mayor's Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND).

According to The New Britain Herald story several organizations that had been zeroed out by Stewart and the CCND, including the Prudence Crandall Center,  the Opportunities Industrialization Center and HRA's Polish Outreach Center, among others, had grant funds put back into the plan by the Council.

At issue is the allocation for community services in the $1.5 million the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Council reduced the percentage this year to $371,000 or 24.7 percent of the CDBG money while the Administration and acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski wants to allocate $319,000 (21.2 percent) -- an 8.4 percent cut in funds that have been relied on by various community agencies for more than 30 years.

Stewart and Malinowski, citing HUD's recommended allocation percentage of 15% for community and social services, want to re-direct funds under the federal program.  This is not a matter of reducing appropriations to save the cash-strapped city but federal funds that are available for a range of neighborhood , housing and community services.  Mayor Stewart and Malinowski want the money for something else, but the specifics have not been given to justify immediate cuts to direct service programs.

Some observers claim the transfer of funds is sought to pay for Malinowski's $102,000 annual salary as acting head of the department that handles the federal money, a job he left when the previous administration took office in 2011. As is, the Council approved money for management and administration totalling $300,236 or 20 percent of the CDBG budget.

In re-appointing Malinowski to lead municipal development at a six figure salary Mayor Stewart  said she wanted to "get the federal money flowing again." It also helped that Malinowski was a primary fundraiser for the Mayor's 2013 campaign after he openly flirted with a mayoral run himself. But Malinowski's record as a dispenser of HUD funds took at least one serious hit late in the administration of former Mayor Tim Stewart.  HUD ordered the city to return $100,000 for a "non-recourse" loan made to Arete Development Group because the loan was ineligible.  HUD  found violations on the loan given to Arete on Malinowski's watch related to the application process, environmental standards and accounting for the money.

In her June 6th veto letter Mayor Stewart cited a letter from a HUD official who said most cities have "an annual limit of 15% that can be spent on public services."  But the same letter affirmed that New Britain has used an allowable "exception" granted in 1984 that may exceed the 15% goal for human and social services. "The statute and regulations have allowed New Britain and similarly situated cities to continue to use that exception ever since," wrote  Gary Reisine, director of community planning and development in Connecticut's HUD office.  At the very least HUD is not mandating New Britain's move to 15 percent this year,  contrary to what Stewart and Malinowski are implying.

The veto is little more than a power play to circumvent the shared governance process that has long been established in the allocation of federal funds. Unfortunately, it may be a pretext by the administration to take money away from direct services for unspecified uses by the Mayor and her political appointee, Ken Malinowski.

22 May 2014

NB Holds Its Own With Population at 72,939: Counting Heads Key To Amount of Funds City Can Receive

New Britain's population is holding steady according to US Census data estimates reported by the Courant May 22nd.

The city's estimated population in 2010 was 73,202 and was 72,939 in 2013, a drop of 263 residents.

The census counts are a key to funding formulas for a wide variety of state and federal funding programs that support cities and towns.

A Brookings Institution brief points to the importance of population numbers in terms of public investments and economic aid. Billions of federal dollars flow into communities based on the results of the census that is taken every 10 years.  The latest numbers show New Britain -- an economically distresses city -- is faring no better or worse in the way state and federal funds are disbursed.

The count also figures in the way Congressional districts and political boundaries are drawn.

For example, New Britain was once part of the 6th Congressional district prior to 2000 but population drops reduced the number of Congressional districts to five.