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Anti-blight panel airs frustration with Meriden City Council

MERIDEN — The City Council is moving forward with plans to empower the city’s Neighborhood Rehabilitation Board. This follows a unanimous showing by board members during the last council meeting, expressing dissatisfaction with the lack of action on their input to city officials and feeling as if their time on the volunteer board is not being respected.

According to the three members of the board who appeared during the meeting, city representatives are not listening to their input in addressing trash and blighted property concerns that they field to the city’s differing departments — the central charge of the board, which seeks to keep all properties up to city code.

Additionally, the board is meant to have five members, though currently only consists of three. Despite two others being appointed by Mayor Kevin Scarpati earlier this year, according to the board members they’ve never once attended meetings. This means, if one of the three members can’t attend an NRAB meeting, it will automatically be canceled due to a lack of quorum.

“We’ve had some issues on our agenda for 18 to 24 months and they have gone unanswered. This is where things get discouraging,” said board Secretary Heidi Boyd, a longtime member. “We volunteer our time, and we’re ignored. We’ve had the garbage and recycling cans on our agenda for the better part of two years. We were finally told it was a health department issue, the health department got in touch with the board and said they don’t have time to enforce it. I suggest the council should put a moratorium on future ordinances until existing ordinances can be enforced by the departments they involve … If things don’t change, maybe you should disband the board.”

“I think it’s fairly obvious the reason why they’re talking to you tonight, and that is that (members are) frustrated,” said board Chair Rick Macri before the council. “They’re frustrated with the lack of action and follow-through that’s been taken by the city on issues and concerns that are raised in our meetings. … These items are generally focused on making Meriden neighborhoods safer and more attractive to residents, property owners, and new businesses. Many of these items have gone unaddressed for months, and that’s with consistent follow-through requests.

“The people on the board work hard, they’re committed to improving the neighborhoods throughout Meriden. Unfortunately, they’re beginning to feel like their time may be better spent elsewhere,” Macri added.

After hearing the complaints of the NRAB members, the City Council put forward a motion to have a council representative on the board so that member can monitor business and more directly convey issues between the City Council and other departments within the city.

Councilor Ray R. Ouellet put forward the motion and volunteered to be the representative if need be, seeing the board as fulfilling an important function in combating blight in the city — which he feels is not being effectively combated with the city’s current resources.

“I believe we have not been taking our blight issues more seriously. If I’m the guy that’s gonna be assigned to it, then so be it. I hope so,” Ouellet said. “There’s just so many houses that are in violation of city codes. I mean, we need to start enforcing some of this stuff. I think it’s important. … our taxpayers work hard and they’re just looking for their money’s worth.”

Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella cited a program run through the Economic Development Office called the Neighborhood Preservation Program which loans residents money to fix their houses — with full forgiveness on the loan if they remain residents in the building for five years.

The fund has enough to distribute to 15 homes across Meriden, but according to Fontanella, over the last two fiscal years the program has only given funds to two residents.

With significant funding unspent, he advocated that the NRAB should be empowered to direct the city where to utilize the money to make those improvements.

“I was one of the counselors that didn’t even know about that committee. It is a committee though, that I think attention should be given, because that’s what we want to do in Meriden is clean up the neighborhoods. And we have money available to clean up the neighborhoods through the economic development office that hasn’t been and should be dispersed,” said Fontanella.

As for the two seats on the board filled by inactive members, Scarpati said as of Wednesday his office had reached out to them and informed them that they’re part of the board, uncertain if there was a communication error. He said that if they couldn’t any longer be part of it, he would begin the month-long process of finding new appointees to fill the roles.

“I appreciate all the work that NRAB does. I think it is needed, from a quality of life standpoint, from a public safety standpoint. I think a lot of the issues that they act on each month are critical to the stabilization and revitalization of our neighborhoods,” Scarpati said. “So I think having a council liaison for them to express their concerns, for them to inform the council and keep them up to date as to what issues are outstanding is important,” said Scarpati.

“I value their input and the work that they’ve been giving to the city of Meriden and our residents for better quality of life. And we need to acknowledge that and start to act on these issues accordingly,” Scarpati added. “And hopefully, we’ll do that with the council liaison position, with staff attending meetings more regularly and getting more members involved.”

According to Boyd, the board’s reporting of a makeshift skate park students built on the old tennis courts at John Barry Elementary went unaddressed for eight months.

The city manager is supposed to attend NRAB meetings quarterly, but this has never occurred, said board members.

According to Boyd, when the board chair approached City Manager Tim Coon about attending a year ago he said that he wouldn’t be doing so. Boyd added, however, that since being appointed in 2001, not a single city manager has ever attended their meetings.

Coon could not immediately be reached for comment.

She did thank Police Chief Roberto Rosado for attending board meetings over the last eight months.

Boyd said she remained hopeful that airing their concerns would result in the necessary changes.

“We feel as though what we’re doing is important. They want the city to look nice and, and we’re giving them ways to improve it so hopefully they will listen. And I hate to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway, being an election year, we probably will get some action finally,” Boyd said.

The resolution is expected to be put forward during the next council meeting on Monday, Oct. 2.


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