Blumenthal ‘appalled’ over audit
  Patrick Whittle, Register Staff     October 11, 2000

SEYMOUR — State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal blasted the O’Toole administration Tuesday, saying he is "appalled" at the slipshod financial practices that led to a flood of red ink.

In his review of the special audit by Checkers International Inc. of Fairfield, Blumenthal found flaws in the financial management, budgeting and spending practices of former First Selectman John O’Toole and his top administrators. 

O’Toole, who has denied any mismanagement, was not available for comment Tuesday. 

Early this year, town officials found out that a $4.5 million surplus sank to a $186,000 deficit in fiscal 1998-99, and the town faced a $3.5 million deficit in 1999-2000. 

First Selectman Scott Barton took steps to restore the town’s financial health, including imposing a 3.75-mill special tax. The Board of Finance hired Checkers to determine what happened. 

"The Checkers report demonstrates a failure by local officials to follow town ordinances and procedures established to ensure that the town is managed in an efficient and economical manner," Blumenthal said. "I am appalled and astonished that such improper financial controls continued for several years and eventually led to a tremendous loss of town funds." 

Blumenthal said Tuesday he has asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority handles state Clean Water Act Fund grants properly in the future. The Checkers report identified WPCA mismanagement as the town’s biggest financial problem. 

The WPCA is more than $500,000 in debt and recently raised sewer fees by 85 percent, from $1.55 per 100 cubic feet of wastewater to $2.85. The average bill will rise from $200 to $370 a year. 

Blumenthal also has asked the state Office of Policy and Management to ensure the town uses Local Capital Improvement Program funds properly, another problem detailed by Checkers. 

Blumenthal asked OPM to ensure that assessors are properly trained on a statewide basis. Assessors’ errors resulted in a $1.4 million mistake on the town’s grand list of taxable property, according to the Checkers report. 

Blumenthal said he plans to ask the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee to review the Checkers report to determine if more state oversight of municipal finances is needed. 

Blumenthal has asked for a meeting with Barton to discuss his findings. Barton did not return phone calls Tuesday. 

Chief State’s Attorney John Bailey is also looking at the audit to see if any of the actions documented constitute criminal violations of state statutes. Barton asked Bailey to review the audit last month. 

A spokesman from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said Bailey has not completed his review. 

The audit, which was released Aug. 31, includes several recommendations on how the town should improve its financial management practices. 

Town boards plan to meet in the coming weeks to determine how to implement the recommendations.