Seymour residents wait, wonder, pay
  By Chris Thomas© 2000 Republican-American   
  Sunday,September 03, 2000

Next step -
The Board of Selectmen will discuss the Checkers International investigative audit in open
session Tuesday night at Town Hall. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and residents will have the
opportunity for public comment.

SEYMOUR Can Seymour residents move on to the future without someone, anyone, being disciplined for the town's $9 million crisis?

They have suffered through a special mid-year tax in April, major budget cuts to education and
the police department and a 14-percent tax increase in July.

The Water Pollution Control Authority will announce this week it wants to raise sewer rates by
90 percent. And no town official will deny that a tax increase likely is coming for fiscal 2001.

Yet no one is being held accountable.

Just 26 months ago, in June 1998, the town had a $4.5 million surplus.

As of 14 months ago, the surplus was gone, replaced by a shocking $185,560 deficit. That was
just the beginning.

By March of this year, officials had identified a $3.8 million shortfall for fiscal 1999 and a
potential $5.2 million shortfall for this year. 

In addition, the town's bond rating, which affects interest rates and could cost Seymour
hundreds of thousands of dollars, has been downgraded at a time when Seymour must pay for a
new $34 million middle school and other capital projects. And yet no one is being held
accountable.

The 248-page Checkers International audit, filed with the town last week and filled with findings
from eight months of investigation, spells out scenarios in which three former town officials failed
the town financially.

Former Finance Director Art Davies admits to authorizing expenditures without receiving proper
approval from the Board of Finance. The audit, in fact, mentions how the town needed to make
$1.1 million in year-end transfers for fiscal 1998 to cover unauthorized expenditures.

Former finance board Chairman Louis Zaccaro is listed as giving two very different explanations
for why he projected $506,000 in revenue for fiscal 1999 from new sewer hook-ups. Pending the
regular audit of fiscal 1999, due next month, it appears the $506,000 never materialized.

Former First Selectman John O'Toole, in actions detailed in the report, appears to allow cost
overruns to go unchecked on projects involving the Strand Theatre and renovations at Matthies
Park.

O'Toole also was ultimately responsible, as first selectman, for watching over the financial
welfare of the town. And he hand-picked Davies and Zaccaro for their positions.

To this point, however, none of the three has been found to have acted illegally or unethically.

And the audit does not focus on just those three. The selectmen, finance board members,
treasurers, tax collectors and assessors all appear to share blame for not watching over
Seymour's finances well enough.

The Checkers audit, for which taxpayers paid $45,000, may bring about formal charges. It may
not.

The Board of Selectmen will discuss the report in open session Tuesday night at Town Hall. The
Board of Finance is expected to call a special meeting for this week or next to do the same.

The state attorney general's office and the state Office of Policy and Management know the
report is in. At least one resident wants the state to review the audit and begin an investigation.

Yet, it is unclear what exactly will happen.

In fact, the only thing immediately clear from the Checker's audit is that the town needs to make
major improvements to its charter and its internal financial-management procedures.

The audit lists 15 pages of suggestions in that area. Proposed charter changes include:

  Designating approval of major contracts and contract extensions as a specific power of the
Board of Selectmen.

  Creating more stringent guidelines for departments submitting quarterly financial reports to the
selectmen and finance board.

  Requiring the first selectman to attend and deliver a report at monthly finance board meetings.

  Requiring appointments of major officials, such as finance director and town treasurer, to be
approved by a majority of the "full" Board of Selectmen.

  Requiring the finance director to submit a line-by-line budget report monthly to the finance
board.

  Requiring the finance department to immediately notify the finance board when any department
requests funds that exceed a budget line item.

The big unknown in the audit is what the 116 pages concerning Water Pollution Control
Authority finances will mean. Residents have not been affected yet by the fact the authority is in
deficit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They will be soon, if and when the authority enacts the 90 percent rate increase. A public
hearing on that matter will be held within the next two weeks.

For now, residents must wait and wonder.