Democrats say Stratford’s COVID-19 recovery plan ‘about as transparent as drywall’

STRATFORD — The town is in line to receive a total of nearly $26 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

But how and when most of money will be used remains to be seen. And those charged with spending it haven’t asked for any public input yet, in contrast to neighboring communities and others throughout the state.

Asked about the issue Wednesday after a Town Council candidate publicly criticized the administration, the mayor’s chief of staff said more information and an opportunity for residents to offer their recommendations will be coming at a meeting this month.

The town is set to receive a total of $25,928,479 will be coming to the town this year and next via the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

A little over $10 million of that has already been earmarked in the town’s five-year capital improvement plan, with roughly $3 million to be spent in the current fiscal year, according to the plan. (see box)

But the town hasn’t conducted any outreach specific to the windfall thus far, while school officials made two informational presentations on the school district’s spending priorities in July, offering parents the chance to weigh in with their thoughts.

The approach, or lack thereof, differs from the town’s neighbors to the west and east, Bridgeport and Milford, which set up special web pages with information on the money and soliciting proposals for how to spend it.

More Information

Federal COVID-19 relief funds earmarked in Stratford

Description

Amount

Field house and field renovation at Deluca Field

$ 50,000

Police equipment, installation and safety gear

$ 1,222,000

Fire apparatus

$ 750,000

Fire safety gear and equipment

$ 750,000

Vehicle equipment and replacement townwide

$ 4,600,000

IT and communication equipment townwide

$ 375,000

Town buildings -- controls/battery management systems/laptops

$ 320,000

Various school equipment

$ 875,000

School technology infrastructure

$ 1,300,000

TOTAL

$ 10,242,000

Source: Town of Stratford Capital Improvement and Equipment Plan 2022-2026

Bridgeport’s City Council also had a public hearing dedicated the issue.

The lack of outreach in Stratford was noted by Kathleen Callahan, a Democrat running for the 10th District Town Council seat.

“A healthy town includes the voice of the community in decision-making,” Callahan wrote in a Facebook post last week. “There has been no communication from Stratford’s administration regarding the spending priorities of the close to $26 million allocated to our town from the American Rescue Plan Act.”

In an email Wednesday, she noted how “other municipalities are making a concerted effort to gather the needs ahead of such a huge influx of money, which can be difficult to absorb and spend properly.”

“Community input is important for many reasons but I’ll mention two: Diverse voices provide a new perspective and information that decision-makers won’t have if they are not intimately involved with the many neighborhoods and communities; and ownership, investment, cooperation, and commitment come from an engaged citizenry,” Callahan said.

Callahan’s opponent this November, incumbent Republican Laura Dancho, did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The Democrats’ nominee for mayor, Immacula Cann, said in a prepared statement Wednesday that Mayor Laura Hoydick “has been about as transparent as drywall on how we’re going to spend this money.”

“As mayor, I’ll work hand-in-hand with the council and hold as many public hearings as it takes for Stratford residents to get the input they deserve,” she said. “ While the current mayor seems to find public input inconvenient, I find it invaluable. Infrastructure, certainly, is on my list of priorities, as is investing in Stratford’s future to get us off of the state’s ‘Economically Distressed’ list.”

Though the Democratic candidates offered criticism of the administration, the party’s representatives on the Town Council have not brought up the lack of outreach at any recent meetings.

On Wednesday the mayor’s chief of staff, Michael Downes, pointed to the town’s capital improvement plan, which has information about how the town plans to spend 40 percent of the money over the next five years.

He said more information on the spending plan would be coming at the Town Council’s meeting this month.

“The council has been deliberating since before the budget was approved and the item will be on the Sept. 13 council agenda to provide additional information,” Downes said. “The agenda for these meetings usually comes out the Thursday ahead of the meeting. The regularly scheduled public hearing ahead of the council meeting will be the opportunity for the public to be heard.”