WALLINGFORD — An effort to create a Town Council committee focused on infrastructure and municipal buildings has stalled over limited support on the council’s ordinance committee.
“At the council meeting there seemed to be some level of interest in at least discussing it...but once I got it over to (the ordinance committee) it kind of seemed to fall out of favor,” said Councilor Jason Zandri, who pushed for the creation of the committee in response to concerns over the state of town sidewalks, roads and Town Hall.
Establishing an infrastructure maintenance committee was discussed during an April 5 ordinance committee meeting, however, no action was taken. Councilor Vincent Testa raised the possibility of restarting discussions on the committee last month, but without further support on the ordinance committee the measure cannot advance. The creation of a committee would require five votes of the ordinance panel, which is made up of all nine council members.
Zandri said the lack of interest related to not wanting to micromanage departments and a lack of jurisdiction, given municipal staff acts under the direction of the mayor’s office.
Zandri said the maintenance committee could be an additional place for residents to bring concerns about issues like blight or sidewalks. The committee would also provide town staff with a way to share concerns about the condition of their workplace outside of the management chain.
Zandri said over the past year he’s had conversations with several town employees about the condition of Town Hall. Zandri said the employees felt uncomfortable with bringing the issues up to administrators. The concerns included plaster falling off of the walls in hallways, leaks, discolored tiles and an odor employees felt could indicate mold.
“I definitely believe that in the situation where it's an employee bringing up a security concern, a damage concern or a safety concern … that they would be much more inclined and much more comfortable going outside their management chain,” he said.
Council Vice Chair Thomas Laffin said he understands the desire among councilors to have more of a say on infrastructure, however, he believes the current structures are adequate.
“I don’t understand the authority we’d have over it and I fear it’ll become a political tool by members of the community for their preferences and pet projects,” he said. “When I have an issue or one is brought to me specifically, I discuss it with the mayor and relevant department leaders and I’ve never had a problem understanding why the questioned status is as it is, where it is coming from, or starting the ball rolling on getting more attention brought to it. Communication is key,” he said.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said the council’s authority is limited to oversight over funding projects, while his office manages departmental staff. Given the building’s age, repairs to Town Hall are to be expected and are handled by the Public Works Department, he said.
“The Town Hall is constantly being repaired. We just had all the stairs being repaired in the southwest stairwell...there was a leak at an earlier time and that was repaired,” he said.
The next major project is replacing the Town Hall roof, which has been a source of leaks.
“The leaks as far as I know were identified and repaired but the roof is old and has been patched and we need to replace it,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson said he feels the Public Works Department is responsive, particularly with the number of buildings under town management.
“The buildings are in a sound and reasonable condition,” he said. “ … There’s always more work to be done than there’s time, but that’s generally the condition throughout life. That’s what keeps us all busy.”
Testa, who has announced he is running for mayor, said he supports Zandri’s proposal for a council infrastructure committee and that part of his platform will be the creation of a town staff committee on maintenance.
“I think we’ve fallen far behind and that’s not an indictment of our Public Works Department or any employees of the town, but the administration,” he said.
He’s heard similar complaints about leaks and mold in Town Hall, which he said indicates issues are not prioritized until absolutely necessary.
“I think it just indicates a lack of oversight and interest in the general condition of our infrastructure. In other words, unless something is visibly falling down .. . like the gazebo got to, the mayor tends to let it go. It's just a management philosophy I suppose,” he said.
Building Official Justin Rossetti said his department is not required to conduct regular inspections of municipal buildings, however, if there’s a concern about safety, his department would do an inspection. He said he’s not aware of any complaints brought before the Building Department.
“To the best of my knowledge there hasn't been anything brought to the Building Department's attention about building concerns,” he said.
Rossetti said that if an issue is related to fire code, the fire marshal’s office would be responsible for responding, while the town risk management department would be responsible for mold issues. Concerns about aesthetic issues, such as damage to the plaster in hallways, would be managed by the Public Works Department.
Resident William Comerford said he’s also had conversations with municipal employees who are worried about retaliation if they bring their safety concerns about the town building to their managers. In particular, he said he’s heard that there may be leaks in the roof which could create an issue with mold.
Comerford said a maintenance committee the council formed around a decade ago was effective in pushing for work to be done and he believes it should be re-established.