Minutes Adopted as Presented 02/17/09
ENFIELD TOWN COUNCIL
MINUTES OF A SPECIAL MEETING
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2009
A Special Meeting of the Enfield Town Council was called to order by Chairman Kaupin in the Enfield Room of the Enfield Town Hall, 820 Enfield Street, Enfield, Connecticut on Monday, February 2, 2009. The meeting was called to order at 5:42 p.m.
ROLL CALL – Present were Councilmen Bosco, Dumont, Edgar, Jones, Kaupin, Kiner, Lee, Mangini, Nelson and Ragno. Councilman Crowley entered at 6:25 p.m. Also present were Town Manager, Matthew Coppler; Assistant Town Manager, Daniel Vindigni; Town Clerk, Suzanne Olechnicki; Director of Social Services, Pamela Brown; Chief of Police, Carl Sferrazza.
REPORT FROM STATE OFFICIALS
Present for this discussion were Senator John Kissel and Representatives Karen Jarmoc and Kathy Tallarita.
Representative Tallarita stated they are waiting to hear more at the Governor’s budget address on Wednesday. She noted it’s too early in the session to provide any concrete information. She noted they are looking at a lot of creative ways not to increase taxes, while at the same time not cut too many services. She stated they are looking to the Council for direction as to what is needed to keep the town running properly.
Representative Jarmoc stated they heard a presentation today about results-based accountability, which is a different way of budgeting. She noted the presenter pointed out the Governor’s budget is done, therefore, it’s almost too late to implement this method this year. She went on to note the consistent message she hears has to do with deep cuts and the possibility of taxes. She stated she has heard that the Governor will try to make it a priority not to harm municipalities, however, they are hearing a 10% reduction in state aid.
Representative Jarmoc stated it’s hoped the Legislature might have an impact by relieving municipalities of some unfunded mandates. She noted they would like to hear from the Town Council as to what unfunded mandates are impacting Enfield’s budget.
Chairman Kaupin stated the Town Manager is putting together a list of unfunded mandates on the Town side. Mr. Coppler stated the Board of Education also gave him a list.
Chairman Kaupin stated they would like to know the cost implication if they moved forward with a mandate and also what the repercussions would be if the Town decided not to move on certain mandates.
Representatives Jarmoc and Tallarita recommended the Council forward that list to them as soon as possible.
Councilman Mangini stated a big mandate for the Town relates to in-school suspension. Representative Jarmoc noted they are looking at that item.
Councilman Mangini stated she heard rumors that there might be a half percent sales increase, and she questioned if that happens, might it be possible municipalities receive an extra half percent. Representative Tallarita stated the Finance Committee discussed that proposal last year, and she believes that’s a proposal that will come forward again.
Councilman Mangini noted some other taxes that could be imposed might be on businesses, and that extra cash could be filtered directly to municipalities.
Senator Kissel stated the Office of Fiscal Analysis released new figures this afternoon, and they’re now projecting for fiscal year 2009 a $1.35 billion dollar deficit. He noted for fiscal year 2010, they’re projecting a $3.97 billion dollar deficit and for fiscal year 2011 they’re projecting a $4.71 billion dollar deficit. He stated for 2009 that amount equals 7.9% of their total General Fund budget; for fiscal year 2010, the deficit equals 21.4% of the budget; for fiscal year 2011, the deficit equals 24.2% of the budget.
Senator Kissel stated the current fiscal deficit for this year is significant because the “rainy day” fund projected at $1.53 billion is currently $1.38 billion. He pointed out they have incredibly difficult decisions to make.
Councilman Jones agreed with Councilman Mangini about taxes, except he hopes care will be taken about what’s done with tax increases because many businesses in town are just on the cusp, and they don’t want to do anything that will force them over the edge and make things worse for both the town and state. He went on to state the earlier the Town’s representatives can get more information, the better it will be for the Town because there are difficult decisions to make. He went on to note he has a list of mandate items from the School Department which he can forward to the representatives. He noted the in-school suspension and juvenile offender items have a huge impact on the town. He went on to state he spoke with Representative Tallarita and Senator Kissel about the prevailing wage issue. He noted binding arbitration is another issue.
As concerns increasing the sales tax, Councilman Nelson pointed out they need to encourage people to spend money not stifle them. He noted taxing hotels, taxis, etc. won’t gain much money since Connecticut isn’t a big tourist state.
Councilman Nelson stated Enfield is one of the poorest towns in the State of Connecticut, and there is a big foreclosure problem in this town. He noted a lot of people are in
trouble at this time because their mortgages went from a fixed mortgage to a variable rate, and those people are struggling and barely hanging on. He stated it’s a matter of time before these people lose their homes. He noted something could be done whereby CHFA could refinance anyone with a variable or interest-only rate mortgage, regardless of credit scores or how far behind people are on their payments. He pointed out there are instances where people haven’t been able to make a mortgage payment in a year, and the banks can’t foreclose because they’re so backlogged. He acknowledged Connecticut is billions of dollars in the hole, but suggests adding a little more and putting it into a bank account and leave it there and instruct all local banks to refinance people and provide the current interest rate of 6%, and this will make mortgages affordable. He noted if half of the people are able to save their homes, they’ve just cut the problem in half in Connecticut. He added those people who saved their homes now have additional money each month to live and spend at local businesses. He suggested taking the lead and help people save their homes. He stated his belief this will stimulate economic growth in Connecticut and will be an example to other states.
Representative Tallarita questioned what the foreclosure rate is in Enfield, and Councilman Nelson estimated 260 homes in Enfield are in foreclosure and another 200+ are for sale. He noted about 75% of those homes for sale are a short sale whereby people are in trouble and they owe more money than they can sell the house for. He stated negotiations can go on five or six months with banks to get them to agree to a purchase price, and they’ll say no, or the bank says it’s a CHFA or FHA loan, and it’s guaranteed they’ll get paid, therefore, they won’t take one cent less because the State of Connecticut will give them all their money back plus foreclosure money, carrying costs, legal fees and everything. Councilman Nelson questioned why the law doesn’t simply say banks will fund the remaining balance that they don’t get. He noted if CHFA decided to negotiate a short sale and fund the bank the balance, the State of Connecticut wouldn’t have to go through the foreclosure, the auction and the maintenance of the property. He estimated about a hundred homes in Enfield have no heat and are freezing solid. He stated these are CHFA homes, and the State of Connecticut will end up with homes that were once valued at $200,000, but are now worth $75,000 because the ceilings have fallen due to frozen pipes bursting. He stated his belief the Town’s representatives have to get involved in this to correct this problem.
Councilman Nelson pointed out if a person is late on one mortgage payment, a credit score is very impacted. He noted they have to forget the credit to give people a chance because everyone is in trouble.
Chairman Kaupin requested the Town Manager provide an update on Enfield’s financial picture and where he is going on the budget.
Mr. Coppler stated the biggest issue he sees in the budget process is the unknown. He noted the sooner the State can come up with what their budget is, the better Enfield’s ability will be to make good decisions for the next year. He stated his belief it will be five plus years before Enfield can get back to where they were last year. He noted if that’s the case, there has to be a total restructuring of how they provide services. He pointed out restructuring takes time. He spoke about regionalization and noted Enfield eliminated its CDBG Housing Coordinator, and that will save $87,000 in next year’s budget. He noted at the time they made this decision, Enfield was contacted by the Town of Windsor about partnering with this position. He pointed out DECD decided Enfield has to go out and do a request for qualifications and proposals to any community that might be interested in providing that service to Enfield. He noted this is an example of barriers placed by the State which should be knocked down.
Mr. Coppler referred to large projects, i.e., Post Office Road, Town Farm Road, the South Maple Street Bridge, the Cranbrook/Freshwater intersection and noted any project for which Enfield is receiving federal money is going through the State. He pointed out that money that Enfield is getting from the federal government is reduced by the oversight of the State, i.e., the administrative fee for DOT. He noted that could be $100,000 to $200,000. He stated the State is doing nothing more than what the feds already do, therefore, Enfield isn’t only dealing with the State level but also the federal level, and those are two different processes which tend to slow things down.
He referred to the stimulus package and stated if money is coming from the feds and is going through DOT and DEP for most of the projects Enfield has to do, that can mean 18 to 24 months minimum. He pointed out he has to submit only those projects that can be constructed in six months.
Mr. Coppler stated the Council is going to have a lot of very difficult decisions because of the state revenue cuts. He noted the grand list will be level if they’re lucky, however, it’s more likely there will be a decrease. He went on to note that Enfield has a good tax collection rate, however, they have not seen times like this and it will present a lot of challenges.
He stated three issues before them are as follows:
- The unknown
- Rules and regulations that act as barriers in moving forward
- Looking at ways to do things differently – technology advantages
Chairman Kaupin stated the Town Manager has asked department directors to produce two budget scenarios – level and minus one. He noted the Board of Education has already met with the Teachers’ and Administrators’ union, and they’re open to discussions.
Chairman Kaupin stated if Enfield gets $3.1 million dollars in Enfield for education through the stimulus package, that would be a one-shot, one-time revenue source that corrects a small problem this year, however, it would not address future years. He stated his hope stimulus money coming in will not be used for operational expenses. Representative Tallarita stated it was hoped the money coming from the federal government wouldn’t necessarily be dictated by the Governor.
Representative Tallarita stated her belief this year they’re definitely taking steps to make regionalization more of a realization.
As concerns Fermi remediation money, Representative Tallarita stated she spoke with DEP this morning about the $1.7 million dollars. She noted the ball was dropped and has now been picked up, and the Town should be receiving the contracts from the State within the next few weeks. She questioned if Enfield has paid the bills, and Mr. Coppler responded they’re paid.
Councilman Nelson stated if a person is late one day on a credit card payment, the rate can go up to 29%. He stated his belief it would make more sense to freeze the credit line, rather than increasing the rate.
Representative Tallarita stated her understanding the feds did something about not being able to raise the rate with just one day late payments, but rather it had to be thirty or sixty days late before they could raise the rate.
Councilman Crowley stated Enfield received a magnet school bill in the amount of $250,000, and this was unexpected. Chairman Kaupin stated this is due to open enrollment that was passed by the Education Committee. He noted there used to be a deadline cutoff, and legislation was passed that kept it open. He stated after everyone had set their budgets, students kept getting accepted into magnet schools, and the town has to pay the bill.
Councilman Crowley raised the possibility of tolls on the highway. Senator Kissel stated there was a study committee to see what could be done concerning tolls for a revenue stream which would be dedicated toward transportation.
Discussion followed regarding the North Central Health District.
Councilman Nelson noted East Windsor has shown interest in joining with Enfield if it was decided Enfield was going to form its own health district. He pointed out Enfield could hire its own sanitarians and generate the revenue that the Health Department makes.
Chairman Kaupin and Mr. Coppler stated Enfield does not have to be part of the North Central Health District.
Councilman Crowley stated Enfield puts $150,000 into the Health District, however, he feels Enfield doesn’t get top-notch service. He feels these are the kinds of things that hurt the town.
Mr. Coppler stated a lot of towns are concerned about recisions. He pointed out Enfield has not yet received all the payments from the State for the different pilots. He noted they need information regarding this as soon as possible. Senator Kissel stated in speaking with the Governor in December, she said this would not be pulled back. He noted they will know more on Wednesday.
There was no Executive Session.
MOTION #216 by Councilman Jones, seconded by Councilman Lee to adjourn.
Upon a SHOW-OF-HANDS vote being taken, the Chair declared MOTION #216 adopted 11-0-0, and the meeting stood adjourned at 6:55 p.m.