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Firm to review capital expenditures in New Canaan under Walker administration

Published 12:27 pm, Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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  • New Canaan CFO Dawn Norton explains more than $1.5 million that was previously spent but never appropriated by the last administration at the Board of Finance meeting on Nov. 13, 2012 at the New Canaan Nature Center. Photo: Tyler Woods
    New Canaan CFO Dawn Norton explains more than $1.5 million that was previously spent but never appropriated by the last administration at the Board of Finance meeting on Nov. 13, 2012 at the New Canaan Nature Center. Photo: Tyler Woods

 

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Amid the controversy surrounding former First Selectman Jeb Walker's excess pension payments and a possible criminal investigation, the Board of Selectmen approved a review of all capital and non-recurring expenditures during his administration from 2007 to 2011.

"We have to take another review," First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said at Tuesday's meeting. "I want to find it all now. I want to get to the bottom of it."

Mallozzi expects the review to cost between $25,000 and $50,000.

The decision stems from the discovery of more than $1.55 million that was spent, but never appropriated, during the arbitration process surrounding the Lakeview Avenue Bridge project.

"There was an arbitration case," CFO Dawn Norton said at Tuesday night's Board of Finance meeting, where Mallozzi presented the selectmen's decision. "None of the legal bills were ever appropriated, and some of the building costs never came back through the town bodies. This is what I found had been not appropriated."

The $1.5 million revelation follows the August discovery of more than $4,000 in excess pension payments to Walker that former DFO Gary Conrad signed off on, and the September uncovering of more than $250,000 used for a chiller machine for the East School, which was never properly appropriated by town bodies.

Mallozzi said he fears there may be more examples of fiscal impropriety that simply haven't surfaced yet. He said a cursory look at the books raised questions about a $50,000 water tower field project, but he didn't go into specifics.

"I don't want to be surprised anymore and I think the taxpayer doesn't want to be surprised anymore," he said at the BOF meeting. At one point during the three-hour meeting, he said in disbelief, "Legal bills were paid out of capital non-recurring. How could that be? But it was."

Hiring an outside firm was necessary, Mallozzi said, because he wants an independent review and that the town does not have the manpower to devote to such an undertaking.

"I can't afford Dawn [Norton] to do this; we have a budget to create," he said, referring to the upcoming budget season.

BOF member Mary Cody asked why the $1.5 million expenditure wasn't noticed by the town's auditors.

"How come it wasn't addressed at that point? That's part of their job," she said. "They reported on it."

"Yes, they put numbers in," Norton replied.

While the request passed unanimously through the Board of Selectmen and the announcement to the BOF was well-received, some people expressed reservations.

Selectman Beth Jones said she felt the review may offer too much emphasis on the past, whereas people would like to move on from the seemingly endless bad news.

"We saw there were a lot of mistakes made and a lot of sloppiness and we're correcting that," she said at the selectmen meeting. "I'm curious because it seems that this is not so much the going-forward philosophy as it is a going-backward [philosophy]."

BOF member Neil Budnick expressed doubts that even an outside firm would be able to cut through the thicket of transfers and ignored procedure to follow the expenditures and various approvals.

"It's a serious problem," he said. "You can't not have a track record of your money. I'm afraid even a forensic review is not going to be able to find money that's just taken out of a pot."

But the plan also met with much enthusiasm. Selectman Nick Williams said it was something the town should, and has to do.

"Unfortunately, I think we have to do this, we have a fiduciary duty to our townspeople," Williams said at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews