Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council seeks $92,611 in cuts from WPCA budget

By Max Bakke
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 10:40 AM EDT

VERNON — In response to the local Water Pollution Control Authority’s refusal to eliminate $20,000 from its contingency account, Town Council Republicans are looking to empty the authority’s budget for overtime and part-time wages.

Majority Republicans sent the authority’s $5.7 million budget back to the authority at its meeting last night, recommending that it cut the $86,765 and $5,846 in its overtime and part-time wage accounts — calling the department’s refusal to remove the original request, “arrogant.”

“You guys just don’t get it,” Republican Councilman Bill Campbell told David Ignatowicz, the department’s director. “You don’t get what’s going on in town, you don’t get what’s going on in other budgets, you don’t get what’s going on in other departments.”

Ignatowicz told the council the contingency funds were in place to cover possible wage increases associated with pending labor negotiations. The authority unanimously declined to remove the funds at a special meeting last week, he said.

“The consensus of the WPCA is that since they are charged with the responsibility to review the needs of the department and to recommend a budget that supports the efficient operation of the waste treatment plant, that if the original request was not warranted, it would not have been requested in the first place,” Ignatowicz continued.

Those comments ruffled council Republicans and Mayor Jason L. McCoy, who vowed not to support any open or future labor contracts that carry wage increases.

“I won’t support any raises that go above zero for any people that come before this council,” said Campbell.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to reduce the authority’s budget, but failed when they couldn’t reach a two-thirds majority to pass any cuts. Republicans Sean O’Shea and Nancy Herold were absent Tuesday night, and Council Democrats blocked the cuts arguing that it could harm potential negotiations if the funds were drained.

McCoy refused to comment to councilors last night regarding possible wage freezes or union concessions, and only said that some local labor contracts were open for negotiations.

He declined to name the bargaining units.

Ignatowicz refused to comment further today and a woman at his department directed all calls to McCoy, based on the mayor’s longstanding gag order barring all town employees from speaking to the press.

Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, said the union presently represents about 100 employees in five bargaining units, including WPCA employees.

Four of its contracts are expiring this year, Dorman said, including one for the department’s staff. The chapter’s largest bargaining unit, which represents about 49 public works employees, does not expire until 2010.

He declined to comment Wednesday on the status of those negotiations, but stressed the important local services the unit’s members provide.

“Our concerns are similar to what they are throughout the state, our members care about the quality of the public services,” Dorman said. “We all realize the economic climate is challenging … but the overriding concern our members have is the quality of services they provide to the town … and to make sure we are properly staffed and equipped to handle that.”

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