Debt costs expected to boost tax rate

Published: Friday, March 27, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — The town is proposing a 2009-10 budget with a zero percent increase, but the tax rate is still projected to rise about 5.5 percent, due largely to debt incurred from several building projects.

The $11.8 million budget would cover town government operations. The school district is proposing a budget of $29.16 million, which is a roughly 2.8 percent increase from the 2008-09 budget.

The Town Council received the town and school budget proposals, totaling $45.71 million, last week and has not yet acted on them.

The council is scheduled to hold a workshop with a public input session April 6, as well as further workshops April 7 and 8.

The budget referendum this year is scheduled for May 12.

The budget for debt service is projected to increase to nearly $4.68 million in the next fiscal year, up from $3.76 million this year. That is due to construction work at North Branford Intermediate School, the town’s two libraries and on Reeds Gap Road, as well as open space acquisition and the installation of a new sewer at Stanley T. Williams and Totoket Valley elementary schools, Town Manager Richard Branigan said.

He noted that the cost of debt service is expected to increase again next year before leveling off at the higher rate for a few years and then decreasing.

North Branford Intermediate School is undergoing a “renovate as new” project, the Edward Smith Library recently reopened after an expansion and Atwater Memorial Library is due to undergo a similar renovation and expansion in the coming year.

“Debt service is kind of the key number — that’s a fixed cost,” Branigan said. “We’ve known that (was going to increase) for a while.”

With the current budget proposal, the property tax rate is expected to increase to $26.34 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Branigan said there were no major reductions in town services in the budget proposal. In order to keep funding at a steady level, he said, certain empty positions will not be filled, part-time positions have been reduced or eliminated and discretionary or travel expenses are being limited.

But the budget does rely on assumptions about levels of state funding, he added. The General Assembly is continuing to consider Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget proposal.

“There’s some fundamental hope and reliance that the state budget, the governor’s budget which includes a leveling of (Educational Cost Sharing) funding, that will continue and stay in place,” Branigan said. “If that doesn’t, then we have a new ball game.”

The April 6 budget workshop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. More information on the proposed budget is available on the town’s Web site at http://www.townofnorthbranfordct.com.

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Earmark funds may help town’s 1st responders stay linked

Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Between Totoket Mountain and the Farm River, North Branford’s topography can make it difficult to receive radio signals in all areas of town.

Fire Chief William Seward III said that emergency personnel, including police officers and volunteer firefighters, sometimes do not receive messages on their pagers because they are in one of the area’s “dead zones.”

“There have been times where alarms haven’t been received,” Seward said. “Personnel didn’t receive the information over their pagers or in their vehicles.”

In the coming year, with the help of $500,000 in federal funding, the town is hoping to rectify the situation by installing a simulcast system using microwave technology that would allow multiple towers to send signals at the same time, eliminating many of the areas with poor reception.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, visited police headquarters Monday to announce the earmark funding. The money was part of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which President Obama signed into law earlier this month.

“You’ve got a beautiful town here in terms of hills and valleys, but it creates mayhem for communications,” DeLauro said. “Now their personnel will be able to really not be at a disadvantage.”

North Branford officials submitted the application for the new equipment to DeLauro’s office last year.

The funding would implement a broadcast system that officials hope will cover 95 percent of the town. By broadcasting signals from several towers at once, the system could fill in the “dead zones.” It would also replace copper wire with microwave transmission, reducing the possibility that a tower could be knocked out due to problems with the wire.

Seward said it could take up to a year for the system to be operational, as the funding will become available in October. In the long term, he said, he is hoping that the equipment could improve regional cooperation by making it easier for departments to communicate with each other.

Town Manager Richard Branigan said the next step will be issuing a request for proposals for a company to set up and maintain the system. He added that the federal money will allow the town to address the problem sooner than with other funding sources, but it would have had to implement the upgrades even without the appropriation.

“Eventually the town would have to do something about this,” Branigan said. “How long it took would be a function of other budgetary priorities in town. … If you’re a volunteer firefighter and you can’t hear the signal at your house, that’s a problem.”

Hair salon offering jobless a kinder cut on Tuesdays

Published: Monday, March 16, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — With a recession in full swing, many local families have been scrimping on luxuries, perhaps cooking at home more, or swapping a night out at the movies for a rental.

Christina Pepe, co-owner of La Bella Hair Salons on Branford Road, said she has noticed another symptom: clients going longer between haircuts or skipping them altogether.

Pepe and her mother, Bernadette, with whom she owns the salon, decided to create a promotion for unemployed residents.

On Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., they are offering what are normally $55 haircuts for $5 each.

“We started noticing it a lot — people not coming to get their hair done,” Pepe said. “People are waiting months to get haircuts.”

Pepe said the salon will be asking customers for some proof that they are unemployed, but the discount can extend to family members as well.

The promotion has been going on for about two weeks already, and Pepe said that about 10 people have taken advantage of it.

Hairdressers at the salon have heard from some customers who have lost their jobs, and have also noticed fewer people coming through the doors. But Pepe said that people who are not already clients at the salon are also welcome to take advantage of the $5 haircuts.

“We’re really trying to help, so even if these people don’t come back, we want to help them,” she said.

She added that the salon could provide a relaxing environment for people dealing with economic stresses.

“We honestly feel so bad, so that’s why (we’re doing this) — at least haircuts still make you feel good and look better,” she said. “Just to get away from the stressful environment and come in for a $5 haircut.”

The salon, in the Central Shopping Plaza at 280 Branford Road, will be offering the promotion every Tuesday.

Its normal hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Investigation continues in Sound plunge

Published: Friday, March 13, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

BRANFORD — Police are still investigating an accident that killed a Guilford man when a Jeep he was riding in plunged into Long Island Sound early Wednesday, although they said the incident does not appear to have involved foul play.

Investigators are waiting to conduct an in-depth interview of the driver, who survived the accident. Autopsy results and blood tests on the driver are considered crucial in the ongoing investigation, according to police.

Mark Albo, 34, died at Yale-New Haven Hospital Wednesday after the SUV in which he was a passenger — and which was driven by his half-brother, Daniel Fleischauer, 22 — entered the water at the end of Flying Point Road. Fleischauer was taken by ambulance to the hospital and later released, police said.

Deputy Police Chief Thomas Fowler said that investigators are waiting for autopsy results from the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, as well as blood tests for the driver, a standard procedure in fatal accidents, he said.

“We’re still following up all the usual stuff in a fatal accident,” he said.

Fowler said that no Breathalyzer tests were done at the scene, as emergency personnel took Fleischauer to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Police did an initial interview with Fleischauer Wednesday, Fowler said, and will most likely speak with him again in coming days.

On Wednesday, investigators said they were unsure how the brothers, both of Guilford, ended up at the bottom of a ramp at the end of a private stretch of the road. But Fowler said Thursday the events appear to have been accidental.

“There’s nothing that’s leading us to believe at this point that it’s anything but a tragic accident,” he said.

The results of an autopsy are still pending, an official with the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner said.

“Obviously, the victim’s cause of death will lend some information as to what exactly happened,” Fowler said.

7 students arrested in drug raid at SCSU

Published: Thursday, March 12, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King and William Kaempffer, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — A months-long police investigation into an alleged drug ring on the Southern Connecticut State University campus culminated Wednesday in the arrest of seven Southern students, authorities said.

All the students arrested were placed on interim suspension, according to the university.

SCSU police and officers from the Statewide Narcotics Task Force executed a search-and-seizure warrant on a university-owned townhouse at 188 Pine Rock Ave. in Hamden at about 7 a.m. Wednesday. Police said they seized 242 pills of a narcotic prescription painkiller, with an estimated street value of $12,000, along with about $3,500 worth of marijuana, $900 in cash, cutting agents and packaging materials.

The arrests took place at the back of a campus housing complex made up of blocks of two-bedroom townhouses. The area is mainly home to upperclassmen, students said Wednesday.

Mary Kate Sullivan and Jody Burns, both SCSU seniors who live across a parking lot from the townhouse, said they watched events unfold Wednesday morning as unmarked cars pulled up and officers with a drug-sniffing dog entered the apartment. They were both surprised, and had not suspected that any drug activity was taking place, they said.

One of the students, Terrance Cramer, is a community adviser in the complex, they said, a position that entails some supervisory duties. Sullivan said Cramer had previously done “room checks” in her apartment to make sure there were no illicit substances or large amounts of alcohol.

“He comes in to make sure everything’s legal; meanwhile, we should have gone to check his room,” she said.

Sullivan described the morning’s events as “really nerve-wracking.”

“You see three of your peers being taken out in handcuffs,” she said. “We’re in college; we’re not thinking that there’s no drug’s going on or drinking, but for something that massive to occur…”

Arrested Wednesday were Blaire Dawson, 18, of Trumbull; Patrick Benjamin, 22, of Hamden; Christopher Marullo, 19, of Greenwich; Connor Heney, 18, of Weymouth, Mass.; Donte Blackmon, 18, of Hamden; Odarius Turner, 23, of Teaneck, N.J.; and Cramer, 24, of New Haven.

Campus police began investigating alleged drug sales last October and asked for assistance from the State Police Narcotics Task Force. Detectives working undercover infiltrated the drug ring and made a series of controlled purchases, according to the state police.

Two additional arrest warrants have been issued, but have not been served yet, the state police said Wednesday.

University officials said the incident was serious.

“Ensuring that our campus remains a safe and healthy learning environment for all of our students is obviously an issue that we take extremely seriously,” SCSU President Cheryl J. Norton said. “We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding the sale and use of drugs on our campus.”

Guilford middle school to test buzzer access for visitors

Published: Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — School officials are planning to test-drive a system in the next month that would require buzzer access for people visiting Abraham Baldwin Middle School.

The district has been improving its security systems in recent months, installing cameras and key-card access to allow teachers to keep side doors locked during the school day. Although the upgrades had been in the works since last year, they come in the wake of the theft of six laptops from three schools in December.

The buzzer system, which district officials are considering implementing on a wider scale, would require visitors to ring a bell at the front door and front-office employees to buzz them into the building.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said that the district is planning to run a two-week test of the system in the next month. During the test, he said, parents visiting the school and the staff members operating the buzzer system will be asked to fill out a survey about the experience.

“One of the concerns was how much time this would take away from the secretaries’ work, and how the parents would feel about this entrance system, (possibly) making them feel not welcomed in the school,” he said.

The school district’s 2008-09 budget includes $50,000 for security upgrades, and the district also received a $12,000 state grant, Forcella said. With that funding, workers have installed security cameras and swipe-card access at all of the district’s elementary schools, as well as cameras and the buzzer access at Baldwin.

The school, which serves fifth- and sixth-graders, is one of the three where a parent allegedly stole teachers’ laptops in December.

“One of the problems at Baldwin and a couple of our schools (is that) the office is not one where, when people come into the building, you can see them, so it’s a blind entrance,” Forcella said. “What concerned us is the ease of access this person and how they were able to access the building without being noticed, so that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to install this particular security enhancement to Baldwin.”

Depending on the results of the two-week test of the door buzzers, Forcella said, the system could be expanded to other schools.

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said that the district will have to weigh factors of safety and parents’ and other visitors’ access to the school.

“On the one hand, you don’t want to have schools hard to get to for people who belong there; on the other hand, you don’t want to just allow anyone in the building who has the ability to open a door,” Bloss said. “We’re trying to balance that and we’ll see what the thoughts are of the (parent-teacher organization) at that school and the parents.”

Teacher takes pledge to heart, shaves head

Published: Monday, March 9, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — David Carpenter, physical education teacher at Totoket Valley Elementary School, has been feeling a little colder lately after he shaved his head in front of the entire school last week.

Carpenter told his students he would shave his head if they raised more than $10,000 in the school’s first Jump Rope for Heart event, which took place Feb. 2-13 and benefited the American Heart Association. The students surpassed his expectations — raising a total of $11,820 — and Carpenter held up his side of the bargain.

“We thought ($10,000) was unreachable, especially now in these times, so we were quite impressed,” he said. “The kids really got into it once they knew I was going to be shaving my head.”

Carpenter and fellow physical education teacher Nancy Gray coordinated the fundraiser, in which students participated in jump rope and other cardiovascular activities during physical education class. Students asked friends and family to sponsor them.

Principal Kris Lindsay said many students were excited about the project. The ability to sign up sponsors through the Web site made fundraising easier, she added.

“They’d say, ‘This is so much fun, we want to do this every day,’” Lindsay said. “They loved the sense of competing to see how well they could work together toward a common goal.”

Out of 500 students, Carpenter said, 224 students raised money. The top three fundraisers, who earned medals from the American Heart Association, raised from $375 to $445 each. The association also enters any student nationwide who raised $150 or more in a drawing to win a trip to Disney World.

The heart association returned $500 to the school toward the purchase of more physical education equipment. Lindsay said the school is “definitely” continuing the event next year.

“Our goal is to do it every year and we want to have banners from the American Heart Association that cover our gym,” she said.

The physical activities also raised students’ awareness about heart-healthy exercise, Lindsay said. The money they raised will go toward the American Heart Association’s CPR training program.

“Literally, the money is used to save lives because it’s used to train people (to respond to those) who have had heart attacks or other events,” she said.