In a stunning denial of any belief in democracy, Mayor John Harkins rejected out of hand the voters right to petition the government. We have been commenting upon Town politics for nearly ten years. That is a lot of slime and muck to wade through. But we have never witnessed such a blatant disregard for the will of the voter, taxpayers and businesses in Stratford. Never.
To review, Harkins had conducted a secret negotiation with Greater New Haven WPCA to sell our WPCA to them for $11 million. Oh, you will hear lots of different numbers coming out of Town Hall. $16 million, $37 million, pick a number. It doesn’t matter. The deal is $11 million for a $100 million asset plus $10 million per year to Greater New Haven WPCA in revenue. That’s the deal.
Unfortunately for Harkins, he couldn’t just sell it with his signature alone. He needed some weak and stupid councilmen to go along with his plan and sell out Stratford residents. Turns out they were pretty easy to find. Gavin Forrester (R), Joseph Kubic (R), Peter Massey, (R), Brian Dempsey, (R), Ken Poisson (R), James J. Connor, Jr. (R) and Jason W. Santi (D). A little arm twisting from Lou Decilio and Harkins had seven easy votes. But it was a public vote. On the record. That’s when voters became irate. Quite a few in fact.
Nearly 7,000 registered voters (more actually than ever voted for Harkins) signed the petition to stop the sale of our WPCA and let the voters decide on election day whether or not it should be sold.
Let’s make no mistake here. What Harkins did yesterday is send a clear message to every resident of Stratford that they do not have the right to vote on Town issues and that furthermore our right to petition the government as specified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is null and void within the Stratford Town limits.
This, my neighbors, is outrageous!
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 59 Comments
Stratford mayor: critics waging ‘smear campaign’
Updated 11:13 pm, Wednesday, April 29, 2015
“The group seeking to scuttle the sale of the waste treatment plant on Birdseye Street is dealing in half-truths and staging a “smear campaign,” according to Mayor John Harkins.” http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Stratford-mayor-critics-waging-smear-campaign-6231794.php
We are amazed at our great good fortune. We have been treated to several statements lately from Harkins/Decilio that have appeared in the friendly and uncritical local print media. We, of course, will analyze the statements in detail below.
However, we would take a moment here and discuss the purpose of municipal government. This mayor has stated repeatedly that Stratford should not be in the “business” of waste water treatment. We ask, why not? How dissimilar is it from solid waste management. Does that go next? How about fire protection, traffic control, crime, emergency medical services or education? Should municipal government be in those “businesses” either? Why do we need municipal government at all? According to Harkins, we don’t. We as residents will be much better off if private corporations sold us these services for profit. That way we could “vote” by refusing to “buy” these services. We could just let our houses burn down because Fire Department Inc., charges way too much. Or we could refuse to use Stratford EMS Corp because maybe the heart attack will just get better on its own.
An herein lies the problem. Once we sell off municipal services, in this case to the lowest bidder, there will be nothing like the competition that exists in a retail market. The rate we pay will be whatever the company says we pay.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 33 Comments
Calling All Volunteers!! VOLUNTEER RALLY
WHEN: Wednesday April 22nd, 7:30-9:00pm
WHERE: Baldwin Center
WHO FOR: For all fully engaged and all who want to be part of the action
WHAT WILL I GET: Volunteer training, information sharing and networking
WHY SHOULD I COME: So many of you have been so successful in just 4 days. Learn all the best practices, tips and techniques for maximizing your time in getting friends, neighbors and fellow citizen to sign the referendum petition.
This is a can’t miss event for all working to make this referendum petition drive a success. We had a huge weekend and expect the next two weeks to put us over the top and reach our goals.
As always, let us know how we can support you and your teams.
Let’s make it happen!!
It doesn’t get more basic than this. There is probably a good reason the right to petition the government is right up there in the very first amendment. Here’s a good reason; the seven councilmen who voted in favor selling our WPCA/Sewer Plant for no benefit to Stratford residents at all do not care anything about their constituents. This couldn’t be more obvious.
In case anyone has forgotten, these seven Councilmen are:
Gavin Forrester (R)
Joseph Kubic (R)
Peter Massey, (R)
Brian Dempsey, (R)
Ken Poisson (R)
James J. Connor, Jr. (R)
Jason W. Santi (D)
Signing the petition is a unique opportunity. It is a voter’s chance to make it clear that Stratford residents pay attention and care about what their municipal government does with our money. To be sure, all ten council members should have stood up to their Mayor and Town Committee Chairman and voted to put the sale of a $100 million asset and ongoing payments up to the voters and residents of Stratford. But they did not.
Now we must.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 17 Comments
In one of the worst financial deals imaginable, the Mayor and Council have sold out each and every Stratford resident and business. During one of the most important votes in the 375 year history of Stratford, some Councilmen could barely be heard mumbling “aye” to sell the WPCA/Sewer plant for peanuts. Thankfully, these votes are recorded so that we can identify precisely who sold us out.
John Harkins (R)
Gavin Forrester (R)
Joseph Kubic (R)
Peter Massey, (R)
Brian Dempsey, (R)
Ken Poisson (R)
James J. Connor, Jr. (R)
Jason W. Santi (D)
The refrain used most often by the mayor and these councilmen is that it would relieve $37 million of debt. It is not often that we have the opportunity to print something so definitively on these pages, but that statement is a lie. There simply is no other way to put it. A lie is a lie.
We are not relieved of anything. The $37 million will be paid by Stratford residents and businesses and by no one else. We assume there will be a large celebration at the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority since our mayor and council have voted to pretty much pay them to take our property.
We can’t guess what would motivate these eight people to sell us out so completely. It is certainly not the benefit of Stratford.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 41 Comments
“To regionalize is by far the best benefit for the taxpayers,” Harkins said.
We have to admit that it doesn’t sound like “abracadabra” or “voila!”, but it means the same thing.
Nothing, and we do mean nothing, Harkins has said or written contains the slightest hint of benefit for Stratford taxpayers and residents. In fact, his own numbers suggest an extremely negative impact of the future of Stratford.
But let’s review this just one more time. We will type this real slow so that even Council members can follow this.
We (you & me) own a sewer plant that is worth at least $61 million. We use this number because that was the actual cost of the upgrade of the plant. The plant, of course, is currently worth much more than that. Some suggest upwards of $100 million if it were to be built new. Possibly more.
So far, sewer users have paid off $24 million of the bond debt (plus interest). Stratford taxpayers have paid zero.
The sewer plant receives approximately $10 million per year in revenue. Actually a bit more than that.
The mayor and council siphon $2.5 million of that to pay Town-wide expenses like pensions or just deposit it in the General Fund to be used for “whatever”.
So, how much does the sewer plant cost the Stratford taxpayers? The answer is literally “nothing”. Stratford taxpayers actually benefit thanks to their neighbors who pay fees to use the sewer.
Which brings us to Harkins’ plan. He would like to sell the sewer plant for $11 million in cash as well as payments in lieu of taxes of between $200,000 and $420,000. That is more than a 100% differential. That means Harkins doesn’t know what the payments would be. And then there is the assumption of $37 million in existing debt (We’ll come back to this later).
On it’s face, this deal is crazy. We are going to sell something we’ve already paid $24 million for a measly $11 million? And instead of $2.5 million/year we’ll get some unknown amount between $200,000 and $420,000? In addition to this “deal” we lose control of whatever happens to the sewer plant as well as its necessary infrastructure. We’ll get 2 votes out of 13. Or is it 2 votes of of 11 on some board? Why does that sound better than 10 out of 10?
But wait! There’s more! If we act right now the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority will assume the remaining $37 million bond debt! Does anyone actually think they will write a check to the bond holder? Silly taxpayer. No, they will use our sewer fees to pay off the remaining balance. Just like we would have done. Plus they will need to make a profit for their members. This is done by raising our fees. Wait, you say? We have “influence on the Board”! The fees in Stratford will go up by a vote of 11 to 2.
Why, you might ask, would anyone question Harkins on any of this? To Harkins the answer is obvious: “…the people protesting the deal were part of “an organized moment” in the Democratic Party to make the proposal into an election issue.”
Wait! There are organized Democrats in Stratford? Where? You’re kidding, right?
And speaking of an election issue…what issue? Harkins is mayor for another 2.5 years. Or is he?
When we are talking about the sale of $100+ million in Taxpayer assets the only reasonable option is a Town-wide referendum to let the owners (us) decide.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 44 Comments
Both the Town and the BOE proposed budgets have been released.
As we will see in coming posts, no effort has been made by anyone to save the taxpayer anything. None at all. If you are looking for significant reductions you certainly won’t find them in either budget. You will have similar disappointment when you look for clear data or explanations. In fact, some of the explanations we’ve heard in the “press” are pretty funny. Well, they would be funny if they didn’t cost us so much. Recently the Mayor Harkins released a statement advising us that, due to revaluation, we’ve lost a significant amount of value in the properties we (you and me) own. But, according to the mayor, that’s okay. Don’t worry about that because he’ll raise the mill rate to adjust for that! Everyone that is not in a union and works for the Town or BOE can still get a raise.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 34 Comments
Tags: Harkins, Janet Robinson
The latest ploy by our Council Chairman and mayor was to conduct “Executive Sessions” of the Town Council/WPCA (They are the same thing, you know.) out of view of the public to decide whether to steal $5 million from the WPCA cash reserve or to just sell the most expensive asset the Town owns.
Both items raise serious questions about fiscal management. The first question is how did $5.2 million accumulate in a cash reserve? That seems like a whole lot of money for a $10 million operation. We can think of no business that keeps 52% of it’s entire budget in a “cash reserve”. Then there are the stories filtering out of Town Hall that the WPCA is losing money. Losing money? How can that be? There is certainly enough on hand to siphon $1 million of the WPCA budget to pay Town-wide pension obligations (which is totally illegal), subsidize Public Works (also illegal), pay the Town $600,000/year in “rent” (illegal as well) and oh yeah, fork over $300,000/year (really illegal) to the Town’s General Fund. Maybe that’s why the WPCA is “losing” money?
But the second item on the agenda is the sale of the whole thing to some random corporation which goes by the name of “regionalization”. A very conservative estimate of the actual sale value of such a facility would be well north of $100 million ($100,000,000). Why on Earth would we do that? Honestly, we have no idea. No one does except Harkins. The point here though is that the WPCA is not owned by John Harkins. The owners of the WPCA are you and me. Why are we not involved in this decision? If a For Sale sign appeared in your front yard, you would certainly want to know why it was put there and who did it. In “Executive Sessions” we are not entitled to participate or even know who voted yes or no.
We demand public hearings and a referendum on the matter.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 37 Comments
Tags: Harkins, Kubic
It seems that our Republican Town Committee dominated Council is poised to rubber stamp sale prices on whatever Harkins wants to sell. No matter that we (you and me) own it. Top prize on the list is the WPCA (Sewer Treatment Plant). It is hard to imagine anything else in Stratford that works as effectively and efficiently as our WPCA. After receiving large grants, subsidies and loans the WPCA is truly a state of the art facility benefiting not only Stratford, but the entire Long Island Sound as well as other communities. What’s more, it only takes 16 people to run the entire operation (not counting the 10 members of the WPCA Board/Council). Unfortunately for our politicians, the State of Connecticut requires that all “fees” collected for the use of the WPCA be used for the operation and maintenance of the WPCA and nothing else.
What does this mean? It means that the Sewer Use Fees that we have been paying cannot be used to subsidize Town-wide expenses like pensions, Public Works, the General Fund or shortages in the Town budget. You know, like Harkins has been doing for the last five years? Yes, since Harkins was elected mayor, sewer fees have steadily been going up. At first the flimsy excuse was to make the fees competitive with surrounding Towns. (AYFKM?) But we have been steadily increasing the “cash reserve” in the WPCA over the years of being overcharged (because the fees are more than necessary for the operation of the WPCA). After some exorbitant raises for non-union Town employees, large raises for BOE Administrators and a bunch of new toys for the boys (anyone seen the new 95 foot tower ladder yet?) it turns out the Budget is about $4.5 million short. How does the mayor make this shortage good? Well, there is $5.2 million in the cash reserve of the WPCA….
But we are not done yet. There is that Theater that is sitting on prime land right on the river. Prime enough to make any developer drool. So Republican Town Committee Chairman and sometimes Registrar of Voters Lou DeCilio wants to tear it down.
And then there is Eminent Domain. Rest assured, that will be back on the table before election day. We’ve already heard the the Colonial Square Shopping Center was a prime target of that one. But once Exit 33 starts construction…well, the sky is the limit.
And of course there is the coming budget…..
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 26 Comments
Tags: Harkins, Lou Decilio
Stratford looking to loosen eminent domain laws
By Stephanie Simoni, WTNH Reporter Published: January 12, 2015, 6:44 pm
“STRATFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– The Stratford Town Council is looking to loosen their eminent domain law at a meeting Monday night. Members are asking their constituents, “Right now, is economic development such a high priority that they want us to have that power, or would they rather not?”
Town Attorney Tim Bishop said the town had a knee-jerk reaction in 2006, after the owner of a little pink house took on New London at the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo vs. the City of New London. The Justices decided it was legal for a municipality to take private property for economic development purposes. In light of this, Stratford’s Town Council passed a statute.
“This statute basically told the public that here in Stratford we’ll never do that,” said Bishop.
Now, council member Jason Santi is exploring the idea of loosening the law. The town attorney didn’t detail which land they’re interested in, if any. http://wtnh.com/2015/01/12/stratford-looking-to-loosen-eminent-domain-laws/”
Remember the Woody Guthrie song, “This land is your land”? Well, not so fast there. It will be the Council’s land if this harebrained scheme goes through. What the proposal seeks to change are the restrictions (Yes, almost all of them.) placed on the Council’s power of Eminent Domain. So rather than seize land for the public good, any land (like yours) can be seized if there is a developer that has a couple of councilmen, a Registrar of Voters or a mayor in his pocket.
Perhaps we should contact Mr. Santi (email@example.com, 203-522-4220) and tell him it’s not that we don’t trust the Council or mayor…wait a minute! Actually, it is because we don’t trust the Council or the mayor.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 20 Comments
Tags: Jason Santi, Tim Bishop
Officials propose amphitheater to replace Shakespeare building
By Greg Reilly on January 7, 2015
“Three elected officials have come together to present an alternative plan for bringing a live entertainment venue to the town’s 14-acre Shakespeare Theatre park overlooking the Housatonic River. Jim Connor, 8th District town councilman and the Republican majority leader; Lou DeCilio, registrar of voters, arts commission alternate member and Republican Town Committee chairman; and Dave Fuller, zoning commission chairman,” http://www.stratfordstar.com/31828/officials-propose-amphitheater-to-replace-shakespeare-building/
Before we start, let us parse this a little bit. “Three elected officials”. Elected? Who ran against Lou Decilio? Who ran against David Fuller? That’s like saying Kim Jong-un is an elected official in North Korea. Now that that’s dispensed with let us move on.
So the “new” proposal, asked for by no one, is that the Shakespeare Theater be torn down and a what? Amphitheater? Be put up in it’s place? Seriously? Do these three “elected officials” realize that this is New England? An amphitheater? It gets kind of chilly here for well attended outdoor productions.
Now we must admit, we have never been a big fan of the Andy Hardy “Let’s put on a show” plans (Younger readers can google “Andy Hardy”) that seem to get submitted over and over again. But this plan makes no sense whatsoever. Tear it down and build an amphitheater that will sit empty for 6-8 months a year?
We are not theater experts by any means, but this is just ludicrous. Perhaps what bothers us the most is the circumvention of any procedure. We are all aware of the lengthy and laborious process a variety of groups have gone through just to submit proposals. These three “elected officials” can tell the Council to vote on their proposal ( Is there even a Powerpoint presentation?) just because it is from them? If you are King Louie and every member of the Republican Town Committee shakes in their boots at the thought of you, the answer is “yes”.
We suppose that during the last five years we have all been missing the target. We have been wasting our time with councilmen and mayors. We should have just asked King Louie.
Filed under: Stratford Political Theater | 26 Comments
Tags: Lou Decilio