MARB subcommittee recommends against Tier IV vote for West Haven ‘at this time’
The state Municipal Accountability Review Board’s West Haven Subcommittee voted unanimously Thursday, Sept. 27, to recommend the full MARB “take no action at this time” to move the city to the tighter oversight of Tier IV.
That doesn’t mean the MARB can’t take that step at some point in the future.
At the same meeting, the subcommittee unanimously recommended approval of a wage reopener agreement between the Board of Education and the West Haven Federation of Teachers.
The reopener will provide teachers with no salary increase for fiscal 2019-20 and a 1 percent increase for fiscal 2020-21.
MARB member Patrick Egan, a former New Haven Fire Department assistant chief and executive officer, made the motion to approve it.
The wage reopener, which also will provide no step advancement, applies to the final two years of an existing labor contract. It was approved earlier this month by both the Board of Education and the City Council.
The full MARB will consider it on Oct. 4.
Nothing else in the labor contract will change.
All of the MARB members who spoke at the subcommitee meeting felt that West Haven — which has been working for months on a five-year fiscal plan that the MARB must approve before West Haven can receive the first of two rounds of annual $8 million state emergency funding — should not go to Tier IV at this point.
Tier 4, which several MARB members have said they hope to avoid, is a higher level of supervision under which the MARB would have the power to pass and implement an interim budget, raise the city’s tax rate or impose mid-year spending cuts and have greater latitude to approve or disapprove new labor contracts.
Bart Shuldman, the MARB member who earlier this month asked that a possible move to Tier IV be placed on the next MARB agenda, is not a subcommittee member and did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
“I don’t personally think that it’s timely for us to move West Haven into Tier IV when they’re making progress on their five-year plan,” said MARB Chairman Ben Barnes, commissioner of the State Office of Policy and Management.
“I would be hesitant to undo what the full MARB agreed to,” said member David Walker. But “my personal view is that we’re not ready to have a vote.”
Deputy State Treasurer Lawrence Wilson made the motion to recommend the full MARB not take up Tier IV “at this time.”
MARB member Tom Hamilton, chief financial officer for the Norwalk Public Schools, said, “I do agree that it’s premature to have that discussion.” But he said the MARB does have a responsibility to discuss it.
West Haven and Hartford are the only two municipalities in the state under MARB supervision.
Both are in that position by virtue of being on “Tier 3,” a distinction that West Haven earned when the City Council voted to issue $17.35 million in deficit bonds last year to finance the city’s accumulated deficit.
While Egan didn’t rule out the possibility of some future move to Tier IV, he said, “I think if we’re going to have that discussion ... we need more than 15 minutes.” Either way, he said he didn’t believe it had to be done immediately.
The City Council approved the teachers’ wage reopener Monday night by a 10-1 vote with Councilman Richard DePalma, R-at-large, voting no and Councilwoman Robbin Watt Hamilton, D-5, abstaining.
Councilman Nick Ruickholdt, D-2, was absent.
The MARB subcommittee approved the wage reopener after Superintendent of Schools Neil Cavallaro told members with the contract that’s now in effect, “the teachers union was the first bargaining unit to go to the high-deductible insurance plan, and our cost share next year will be going to 20 percent.”
The step increases that teachers will not take as part of the agreement would have cost the Board of Education and the city $1.4 million, he said.
Barnes said “the 20 percent cost share, coming in the same year as the move to the high-deductible health plan, is one of the mosts aggressive moves” to keep costs under control he had seen this year.
“I also strongly support Pat’s motion because I think it’s a good deal,” Barnes said. “I don’t think we would do any better in arbitration.”
MARB members, who have had many questions about possible fire department consolidation, peppered city Corporation Council Lee Tiernan with questions after he briefed them on law related to fire districts.
No recommendations were made or action taken with regard to consolidation.