Guilford may create board before charter change vote

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 22, 2008

GUILFORD — Voters will decide in November whether to amend the town charter to create a public works commission, but the town may set up the commission before the official vote.

The Board of Selectmen agreed this week to continue work on an ordinance to establish a five-member public works commission, rather than waiting to see whether voters approve it as part of the charter.

The creation of the public works board was one of five recommendations recently put forward by the Charter Revision Commission, all of which will go to voters in November.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that the Public Works Department has seen a lot of growth in recent years and the selectmen “just want to get this (commission) in place as soon as possible.”

“In Guilford, public works does major work” like building roads and bridges, Balestracci said. “Because it gets involved with some major responsibilities like that and it’s only going to continue to grow, we just feel it needs the support of a commission to help with the long-range planning, to help with the policy making, to help advocate for it when it comes time for budgets.”

Balestracci added that it’s important to make commissions part of the charter because it creates more stability.

“When a commission is established by ordinance, it can always be disbanded by some future Board of Selectmen, but once it’s part of the charter, then there’s a great deal more permanence to it,” he said.

Fred Trotta, the chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, said the public works commission would be in charge of oversight issues, like budgets, personnel, union grievances and equipment purchases.

“In terms of the size of the budget, it’s certainly one of the larger departments. … Something like that probably should be looked at by a commission,” Trotta said. “The day-to-day running (of the department would be) left to the professionals.”

He added that he thinks it is a good idea to go ahead with the ordinance before the vote in November.

“I think we should have had a public works commission a while ago, so the sooner the better,” he said. “By doing it now, it helps to get these people in place to help craft the budget for the next fiscal year.”

The Public Works Department has 19 employees and its operating budget for the current year is about $1.8 million, officials said.

Most of the towns in Greater New Haven do not have public works commissions.

John Volpe, Guilford’s public works director, said he has not worked with a commission in his 30-year career, and he is waiting to see what decision the Board of Selectmen makes.

“If the members are people that have the department in mind and not their own private agenda, then it could work to the benefit of the department and the town,” Volpe said.

The selectmen will hold one public hearing on the public works commission, the date for which has not been set. After that, the board would approve or reject the ordinance and, if approved, appoint the five commissioners and two alternates.

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