Town Council authorizes spending for AC at Wallingford animal shelter

reporter photo

WALLINGFORD — A crowd of about two dozen people broke into applause after the Town Council unanimously passed a resolution this week authorizing spending for air conditioning and heating improvements in the municipal animal shelter.

Councilor Christina Tatta, who drafted the resolution, said via email Thursday that while she’s “not 100 percent” sure the resolution will result in the purchase and installation of air conditioning, “I do think this was the strongest action that we as the Town Council could take at this point.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. didn’t return a request for comment Thursday, but has said he wants to wait until he has a chance to talk to new Animal Control Officer Parris Mitchell Gibbs, who started on the job last month, before making any decisions about the shelter’s air conditioning system.

Dickinson said during the meeting Tuesday night that he relies on the “people with expertise” the town hires to advise him on departmental issues, including spending.

“At the point (when) I spend any public money without the proper, appropriate protocols, in my opinion I shouldn't be in office,” Dickinson said. “My views are mine, and where we have people with greater expertise, they should be listened to. Maybe they're not always right, but they need to be listened to.”

The bipartisan resolution — proposed by Tatta, a Republican, and Democratic councilor Vincent Testa — relies on an interpretation of the Town Charter section on general powers and duties of the Town Council.

The charter states that the council has the power to accept monetary gifts, to hold the money in a trust for public use and to administer the funds.

Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small said Thursday that the council, by resolution, has approved the use of the Susan Juul estate fund to address the state of the building’s air conditioning and heat.

“The Town Council decides what is an authorized expense under the gift,” Small said via email. “In the past, the council has authorized the mayor to approve requests from the animal control officer to use the money for a particular purpose … That is within their powers.”

Juul, a nurse who died in November 2004, left a $691,980 donation, which the town received from her estate in 2007. She intended the money to be used to benefit the Wallingford animal shelter, its animals and the physical structure, according to her will.

The trust fund currently has approximately $737,000 including accrued interest.

Charter question

Tatta said the goal of the resolution was to “force an action on the topic, rather than just continuing to talk about it with no result.”

“Per the charter,” Tatta said, “gifts are treated differently than budgeted items, with the council having the authority to accept and administer gift money. The wording of the Susan Juul gift was clear that the money was to be spent for the comfort and well-being of the animals and for upgrades to the facility.”

Tatta said she showed Testa a copy of the resolution before submitting it, since Testa was the one who brought the matter to the council’s ordinance committee Aug. 3, and that she “very briefly discussed the idea of the resolution” with Small before drafting it, but Small “did not see anything in writing prior to my submitting it to the council.”

She asked to amend the resolution Tuesday after the public comment period to include heating as well as air conditioning in the animal shelter.

The resolution doesn’t stipulate a dollar amount. How much to spend would be determined through the town’s bidding and purchasing protocols, the resolution states.

Tatta said there are differing opinions on whether Dickinson now must spend the money.

“Some say that we simply ‘freed up’ the gift money for (Dickinson) to use,” Tatta said. “Others say that our resolution forces the expenditure, as the council is granted the authority to spend gift money, per the charter.”

The council requested that Gibbs, the animal control officer, give a report at the next council meeting, scheduled for Sept. 14.

Gibbs did not return a call for comment Thursday.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

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