The Town Council made a special appropriation of $256,866 at its Sept. 19 meeting to settle outstanding invoices for an air conditioning unit called a "chiller" installed in East School, which appears not to have gone through the proper appropriation process.
At the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Dawn Norton explained that funding for the East chiller had been removed from the $2.7 million bond that the Town Council had appropriated last year for improvements to New Canaan Public Schools, but it had been purchased and installed anyway.
Norton said that procedures have since been changed, and that with expected rebates from the state due to the cost-efficient nature of the improvements, the overall cost of the project would not exceed the amount budgeted.
However, for the short-term, contractors are waiting for payments which need to be appropriated by the council, she said at the meeting. Norton was not CFO at the time money for the work was budgeted; the position belonged to Gary Conrad.
Conrad declined to comment for this story.
When asked Tuesday night to confirm facts regarding the chiller, Norton refused additional comment for this story byond what she had said at the meeting.
Bob Willoughby, manager of the district's facilities operations, explained the issue to a frustrated the council, saying that money had been appropriated for a chiller at South School, but that upon inspection, the need for the chiller was much more apparent at East School.
According to members of council, Conrad reported at the council meeting in December the chiller at South School had been eliminated from the budget. Council Vice Chairman Steve Karl said that he did not understand how the project had been eliminated, but then reappeared.
"When Mr. Conrad presented, it was pretty clear that that chiller had been pulled from the contract, so how it got back in is a mystery. Now we have contractors that haven't been paid yet, after 120 days, and this is New Canaan, we can't be doing that," he said at the meeting.
Willoughby recalled a conversation with then-CFO Gary Conrad in which Conrad told him to go ahead with the installation of the chiller in East School instead of South School. This comment by Willoughby drew a collective sigh from the council.
Later, Willoughby added, "I like rules, and ignorance is no defense, but if the CFO of the town tells me to do something ... ."
He trailed off and Councilwoman Christine Hussey chimed in.
"That is the issue."
Karl said in an interview that he is worried about New Canaan's reputation with vendors who had not been paid prior to the appropriation.
"The thing that really made me concerned was that we've got vendors that have done the work and haven't gotten paid," Karl said. "You have vendors that haven't been paid and you can get blacklisted."
Willoughby said in an email that he noticed the discrepancy about five weeks ago, and started on the path for getting the problem fixed since then.
"I met with the CFO and the town attorney approximately 30 days ago and they advised me on the problem. Town protocols require the Town Council approval which was never presented to them."
Having broken the three-hour mark of the meeting, many council members declared that they did not want to shoot the messenger, and that they had no choice but to appropriate the money so that the bills could be paid.
The appropriation for $256,866 passed unanimously.