Bethany town study group suggests stronger fiscal control

BETHANY - A town government study committee has unanimously recommended new budget procedures as well as increasing the first selectman's position to full time.

At its Jan. 23 meeting, the Government Study Committee, comprised of Board of Selectmen member Dr. Steven Thornquist, Republican Town Chairman Walter Briggs, Democratic Town Chairwoman Carol Goldberg, Board Of Finance Member Steve Squinto and June Riley, Member-At-Large who assists with budget preparation and has worked with three different selectmen, voted to recommend to the Board of Selectmen to formulate and standardize budget procedures for the Board of Finance, formulate and standardize investment policies and custodianship of town money, separate the auditor from the internal accountant and compensate the office of first selectman as full time.

Currently the books are monitored on a monthly basis by an auditor who also does the annual audit; there is no written policy.

The recommendations were subsequently discussed at the Jan. 28 Board of Selectmen meeting.

According to the draft minutes of that meeting, Briggs "now questioned No. 5 (first selectman fulltime) of this report suggesting that the town possibly hire a town manager and make the position of first selectman a very part-time position." Briggs was reminded that the study group had dismissed that suggestion as being cost prohibitive.

The BOS voted unanimously to send the recommendations to the Board of Finance.

Briggs said that he did not necessarily vote in favor of the recommendation as a member of the study group but instead voted to send the recommendation to the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

He said his alternative idea of a town manager decreasing the position of first selectman to a true part-time status which would eliminate benefits and a modest salary could work.

Briggs said in his capacity as Republican Town Committee Chairman "I do not support making the first selectman a full-time position."

This is not the first time the issue of a full-time town leader has been suggested.

In 2003 former First Selectman Craig Stahl in his own first selectman's budget changed the position from part time to full time increasing his salary to $51,000. The BOF approved the increase.

At the subsequent budget meeting following the May elections when Gorski first won election she stood up at the budget meeting and turned down the increase.

"The recommendation to make the salary of the first selectman to be compensated as full time is a recommendation by a bipartisan committee to look at the town government. In fact, issues facing municipalities have grown increasingly complex - from what is required by the federal government to what is required by the state government to what the people of the town of Bethany expect from their chief elected official."Gorski said.

Gorski makes $39,000 and averages 30 plus hours a week, during certain times of the year that goes up to 70 hours a week she explained when asked about her schedule.

Riley, who has seen the town evolve for more than two decades said she supports the increase.

"I feel that the 22 years I have been here I have seen the job of first selectman grow and grow with more demands," Riley said. "I supported the increase five years ago and I support it even more now. To do it well you need to be full time," Riley said.

"Any first selectman who does their job and advocates for their town puts in these kind of hours," Gorski said.

Gorski explained that in a small town the first selectman has other responsibilities such as risk manager, chief fiscal officer, chief executive officer, personnel director and purchasing agent.

"You can't possibly perform all these duties in a part-time position," she said.

Gorski takes her job of looking out for the residents seriously.

She regularly attends morning conference meetings, nighttime meetings in addition to being in Town Hall.

"In order for Bethany's voice to be heard at regional meetings you have to be at the meetings. Even though we're the smallest town we still have one vote like the other towns," Gorski explained.

"I found out that to really do this job well - to get money and grants and services for this town - all of which benefit Bethany - the first selectman has to be present and an active part of the regional meetings and organizations," Gorski said.

"The town has benefited from my relationship by grants. You can't tap into these programs if you're sitting at Town Hall part time. You have to go out and find the grants. It is competitive," Gorski said.

Gorski was referring to the million ($953,900) she has brought to the town during her tenure. That includes $300,000 Housing Rehabilitation grant; $400,000 STEAP grant that was used for enhancing the recreational area at Veterans Memorial Park; $49,900 Agricultural Grant; $10,000 grant from the Department of Public Health; approximately $14,000 from the State Department of Transportation which paid for the Greater New Haven Transit District; $150,000 Public Safety grant (Bethany has received a Public Safety grant in the past); Approximately $5,000 Emergency Management grant from Homeland Security.

Additionally, Gorski worked with legislators to secure $10,000 for the recreational fields behind Town Hall and $15,000 for the playground behind Town Hall.