DUI checkpoint snares 6 suspects

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Police made six arrests last weekend in the second of three planned drunken-driving checkpoints during the summer.

The Police Department recently received a $12,200 federal grant, administered by the state Department of Transportation, to put toward overtime pay to combat driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The department has a checkpoint planned for late summer, Lt. David D’Ancicco said.

The checkpoint took place between 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 a.m. Sunday on Foxon Road between Cedar Lake and Twin Lakes roads.

“We had the DUI checkpoint on Saturday night to Sunday morning and we made some really good arrests here,” D’Ancicco said.

Most of the arrests, D’Ancicco said, were on drug charges, not for driving under the influence. Of the one DUI arrest made, he said, the blood alcohol level of the person arrested was allegedly more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.

Bryan Tulski, 27, of East Hartford, was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, D’Ancicco said.

The others arrested were:

– Alicia Colavolpe, 21, of East Haven. She was charged with possession of narcotics, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to keep drugs in the original container.

– Steven Godiksen, 20, of Madison. He was charged with operating with a suspended license, possession of narcotics, use of drug paraphernalia and possession of alcohol by a minor.

– Wayne Kopylec, 20, of North Branford, who was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor.

– John Pierlioni, 20, of Wallingford, who also was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor.

– Jennifer Napolitano, 24, of New Haven. She faces charges of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Advertisements

Madison, Guilford officials seek probate court merger

Saturday, June 27, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Officials in Guilford and Madison are recommending that a planned reorganization of the state probate court system merge the two towns’ courts.

The Guilford Board of Selectmen Thursday unanimously approved a recommendation to the state probate judge assembly to combine the Guilford and Madison probate courts. The new court would be located in the current site of the Guilford Probate Court, in Town Hall.

Madison’s Board of Selectmen approved a similar recommendation earlier this week.

The votes came in the wake of newly enacted legislation that would reduce the total number of probate courts in the state to between 44 and 50, from the current level of 117. The move is projected to save the financially insolvent probate court system millions of dollars a year.

The assembly of all probate court judges has been meeting to draw up recommendations for a special redistricting commission that will redraw the lines for probate court districts.

Each district must now cover at least 40,000 people; Madison and Guilford have a combined population of about 41,000, according to the U.S. Census.

The recommendation from the two boards of selectmen, however, does not guarantee that the final reorganization will result in a combined Guilford and Madison probate court.

“This is our recommendation to the (state Probate Court) administrator, but they in fact could do something different,” Guilford Selectman Sal Catardi said Thursday.

The redistricting commission is due to make recommendations to the state legislature by September, and the reorganized districts would go into effect in 2011.

Guilford First Selectman Carl Balestracci said Thursday that Guilford was chosen for the location of the recommended combined district because it has more available space than the current site of the Madison Probate Court.

“We want to keep the districts as small as possible to give the most personal service to the citizens,” he said. “Guilford and Madison seem like a perfect fit.”

Remodeling some areas of the Guilford court to handle the larger caseload and create chambers for the probate judge is expected to cost about $10,000, Balestracci said.

Probate courts handle issues ranging from trusts and estates, to appointing guardians for children or the mentally retarded, terminating parental rights and granting adoptions. Many people appear in probate court without legal representation, and most towns currently have their own court.

The redistricting has raised concerns among some officials that town residents will lose the local service they have had in the past.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, selectmen voted to amend the minutes of their Feb. 9 meeting in order to resolve a Freedom of Information complaint brought by the New Haven Register.

The complaint alleged that the board had violated the Freedom of Information Act by declaring the first few minutes of the meeting, at which members discussed the Board of Education’s budget request, “off the record” and not keeping minutes for that portion. The addition to the minutes approved Thursday reflects the content of the entire meeting, indicating that members of the Board of Selectmen said that they thought the Board of Education’s budget request was too high.

‘This was not the year’ for sick-leave bill

Saturday, June 20, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

When a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to workers passed the state House of Representatives in late May, supporters were optimistic it would become law.

In 2007 and 2008, similar legislation had passed the state Senate, but the House failed to take it up. After speaking with senators, members of the Working Families Party, which was backing the bill, thought they had lined up the 19 votes necessary for passage.

But in the final days of the regular session, House Bill 6187 did not make it to the Senate floor. It died when the session ended at midnight June 3.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said he decided not to support the bill because of the economic climate. Meyer voted in favor of paid sick leave in 2007 and 2008.

“To some of us, this was not the year to put another cost on business,” he said. “I felt that this year, when we have more than 4,000 businesses closing in Connecticut and 65,000 people have lost their jobs, that the last thing we should do is impose an additional cost on our Connecticut employers.”

Proponents of the bill — which would have allowed employees to accrue paid sick days for every 40 hours worked — argued it could save employers money by avoiding the costs of “presenteeism,” a term for employees coming to work sick. The bill would have applied to companies with more than 50 employees, who would have to be 18 years or older and work at least 10 hours a week.

Jon Green, the executive director of Working Families Party, said that after speaking with Meyer about the bill he thought the senator would support it. But, when the Senate Democrats caucused the last week of the session, it became apparent Meyer would vote no.

“He said he thought it was a good bill and something he supported in the past, and wanted to talk about pushing the implementation date back and that was something he thought could get him back on board with it,” Green said. “We met in the Capitol and talked about a mechanism to do that.”

Green said the House’s amended version of the bill had the effect of pushing back the implementation date because no one would be able to use the sick days until they had clocked 1,040 hours of work after Jan. 1. With those amendments, Green said he believed Meyer would vote for the bill.

“That’s what we talked about, and he said that he thought that sounds good and gave every indication that based on that change that he felt he would support the policy,” Green said.

Green noted Sens. Bob Duff, D-25, and Jonathan Harris, D-5, also voted for the bill in the past, but were not supporting it this year. He said the Working Families Party knew in advance not to count on those votes. Last year, the bill passed the Senate by a 20-16 vote.

Meyer pointed out he voted against the bill in the Judiciary Committee in April. He added he did not say he would vote for the bill, and that he thought the effective date should have been in fall 2010.

“I don’t think we got specific enough when we talked with (the Working Families Party),” he said. “I did meet with a representative of that party and we did talk about getting the postponement of the effective date, but we didn’t get into the specifics unfortunately because I was looking, again, at the fall of next year and not at the beginning of the year.”

The original bill would have allowed employees to earn 52 hours, or 6 1/2 days, of paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for each for 40 hours worked, effective Jan. 1 for people who had already been employed for at least six months. The House amended the legislation to limit the amount of sick leave to 32 hours in 2010 and 40 hours in 2011 and subsequent years, and to start the clock for accruing leave Jan. 1 for all employees.

“The outcome of that would be to say that no employee could use their paid sick time until July of 2010,” Green said.

Meyer said he spoke with a number of employers in his district, particularly restaurant owners, who said the bill would hurt them because they would have to pay both the sick employee and a replacement. State Department of Labor statistics show restaurant workers are among the least likely to receive paid sick leave.

NOT ENOUGH VOTES

When it became apparent to supporters and opponents of the legislation that it did not have the votes to pass, it was not called for discussion in the Senate.

Kia Murrell, associate counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said she was pleased with the results. The CBIA had lobbied against the bill.

“The bill ultimately was not called because it would have died on a vote of 18-18,” she said.

Murrell said the bill would have put state businesses at a disadvantage because Connecticut would be the only state with the requirement.

“The current state economy doesn’t lend itself to enacting new legislative mandates on business at a time when so many are struggling,” she said.

Bruce Deegan, a U.S. Postal Service worker from North Branford who supported the bill, said he was disappointed with the outcome. Deegan said he spoke to Meyer at a meeting in Killingworth in May and believed Meyer would vote in favor of paid sick leave.

“Based on things he said at the meeting and then the fact that it did end up having a later starting date, like he said he favored, I expected that we would have his support and I was extremely disappointed,” Deegan said.

He added that he became an advocate for paid sick leave after seeing a family member go to work while sick.

“I’ve known people with everything from the flu to Lyme disease who have gone into work when they would have been better staying home, so I think it really is about human decency,” he said.

Meyer said he expects to support paid sick leave legislation again in the future.

“When we get back to a reasonable economic time I will be taking a very different look at this bill indeed,” Meyer said.

N. Branford council shelves blight ordinance

Friday, June 19, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — After discussing the possibility of implementing a blight ordinance in town at several recent meetings, the Town Council decided this week not to pursue the issue.

Council members raised the issue some months ago, and asked Town Manager Richard Branigan and Town Attorney Timothy Yolen to report on the town’s current response to properties with potential health and safety issues, and other aspects of implementing a blight ordinance.

Right now, Branigan said, the town’s zoning enforcement officer will send notices, work with property owners and issue a cease-and-desist order if necessary. If the violation continues, the town could take a property owner to court, Branigan said.

He added that situations involving the court system are infrequent.

“It’s not common — we’re talking about less than a dozen cases a year, hopefully,” he said. “Most people are responsive on the first instance or the second instance.”

Branigan said that complaints about properties with overgrown grass or other aesthetic issues tend to rise in the spring and summer. But he added that he does not think there are many areas that pose a problem.

“You really have to stretch the definition to find blight here in North Branford, and that’s not a bad thing at all,” he said.

After discussing the ways that nearby towns deal with blighted properties, Town Council members decided to stick with North Branford’s current system for now.

‘Green’ heating system gains in No. Branford

Monday, June 15, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — The plans for the renovation and expansion of the Atwater Memorial Library are set to include a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Town officials have been discussing the possibility of installing a “green” heating system at the library for months. Town Manager Richard Branigan said it initially appeared that the system would be too expensive for the project’s budget, but a new design could allow the town to recoup the additional costs in about five years.

The current construction estimate for the project, which will nearly double the library ’s size to 12,500 square feet, is about $2.9 million. The town is planning to go out to bid for construction on Friday, and officials hope that work will begin in early August.

The total budget for the renovation of Atwater and the Edward Smith Library, which reopened in February after a year of construction, is $9.5 million.

The Smith library does not include alternative energy sources.

Branigan said that a test well at the Atwater library, at 1720 Foxon Rd., showed that the site can support a geothermal heating and cooling system.

The system would include some electric pumps and other parts, but most of the energy would be provided by a series of wells.

The total cost of the geothermal system is estimated at about $550,000, Branigan said, $150,000 more than electric heating and cooling.

“Five to seven years from now we would have paid back the differential cost in construction, and then after that we have no costs, which is just amazing,” he said, adding that a state energy efficiency grant of $66,000 could cut the payback time to one or two years.

Estimates for the entire cost of construction also came in about $200,000 under budget, Branigan told the Town Council last week, allowing officials to pursue geothermal heating and air-conditioning.

An early design for the geothermal system included one main well providing energy for the entire system, Branigan said. With a new design utilizing about a dozen wells, the architects were able to reduce the cost.

“When they looked at this alternate approach and then we started looking at the cost of this versus traditional sources, it made a lot of sense,” Branigan said.

Atwater is currently closed in preparation for the start of construction.

Mazza to seek Guilford’s top seat

Monday, June 15, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Selectman Joseph Mazza has announced he plans to run for first selectman, potentially setting the stage for a primary this fall.

Republican Kenneth Wilson, who ran unsuccessfully for first selectman in 2007, announced last month he wants to run again.

Mazza, a Republican who has been a selectman for six years, said people have asked him for several years about running for first selectman, and this year he decided that it was the “right time.”

An accountant with his own practice in Guilford, Mazza, 64, served on the Board of Finance for 10 years before being elected to the Board of Selectmen.

“I think if you take the experience I’ve had as an elected official from the Board of Finance and being on the Board of Selectmen, take my professional experience as an accountant, I think I can really kind of steer the town government in a new direction,” he said.

“I think I have a lot to offer in being more creative in the way we do things, look for more efficiencies, bring in technologies.”

Mazza said he thought the town government had lost some community trust during the most recent budget cycle, when voters first rejected a 2009-10 budget proposal before approving a reduced package. He said he would initiate a “top-to-bottom review” of town finances to look for areas of potential savings.

“Basically, I’ve been, I believe, a fiscal conservative, fiscally responsible selectman,” he said.

He pointed to the creation of the Elderly Tax Relief Program and the Public Works Commission as two important accomplishments as a selectman.

Mazza was chairman of the Elderly Tax Abatement Commission, which came up with a plan for the program.

“I’m eager to continue to serve the town of Guilford — I’ve said all along that my first concern is the town and its citizens, and party politics is second,” he said. “I think some of the things that I’ve done show my experience and my determination to help people.”

Wilson said Mazza has “served the community well,” as a selectman, but all the encouragement he receives from residents who want a change in administration “validates my desire to run for first selectman.”

Wilson said he gets correspondence daily from people in town looking for significant change and Mazza may be perceived by voters as being “more of the same.”

The Republican Town Committee is currently interviewing candidates for all elected positions, Chairman Jim O’Keefe said.

The Town Committee caucus, at which members will approve a slate of candidates for the fall election, is scheduled for July 28, O’Keefe said. Any necessary primary elections would take place Sept. 15, he said.

Incumbent First Selectman Carl Balestracci did not return a call for comment about whether he plans to seek re-election. He said when questioned by a member of the public at a Board of Selectmen meeting last week that he was not ready to make an announcement.

The November election will mark the first time that members of the Board of Selectmen are elected to four-year terms, following a charter revision last year.

The first selectman is the only full-time employee on the five-member Board of Selectmen. The position pays about $95,000 a year.

Mazza, who is originally from the Bronx, N.Y., has lived in Guilford for 22 years. He served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1968 to 1970. He is married, and he and his wife have five adult sons from previous marriages.

School door buzzer system a hit

Monday, June 15, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — A door buzzer system of the type tried at Abraham Baldwin Middle School may be used at other schools, school officials said recently.

The school district just completed a pilot program using the buzzers at Baldwin. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella told the Board of Education last week that school officials had received positive feedback from parents and staff at Baldwin since installing the buzzers earlier this spring. The system will stay in place at the middle school, Forcella said.

The buzzer system requires visitors to ring a bell at the front door and front-office employees to allow them to enter the building. It is part of an overall upgrade of security technology at the district’s schools, including multiple security cameras in place at each school.

Forcella said the buzzer system could be useful at Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School or Guilford High School, where officials have long said they were concerned about the main doors not being visible from the front offices. Adams now has nearly 20 security cameras in place, Forcella said.

“One of the schools we’re most concerned about is Adams, because there’s absolutely no visibility at the entrance,” he said. “Anyone could walk in and be anywhere in the building without being noticed.”

Voters recently approved spending $998,750 on various health and safety improvements at Adams, money that could be used for security upgrades, Forcella said. The previous work had been paid for with $50,000 in the 2008-09 budget and a $12,000 state grant.

Security concerns came to the forefront this school year when six laptops were stolen from three district schools. A parent has been charged with the crime.

“It really gave us cause to think about how easy it is to access some of our buildings,” Forcella said.

While the system at Baldwin required a few adjustments on the part of front-office staff at first, Forcella said it proved “quite simple.” He said that the school had also asked parents to fill out responses, which were mainly positive.

“It is about keeping our students safe,” he said.