Watertown Town Council: Council Appoints Acting Town Manager, Reviews Budgets

Watertown Police Chief John Gavallas has been appointed acting Town Manager.

WATERTOWN — The Town Council, meeting on Tuesday, February 18, discussed parts of the town’s budget and announced the hiring of an acting town manager. Under new business, the council approved Watertown Police Chief John Gavallas as the acting town manager. The approval had one opposition from council member Paul H. Rinaldi. Chairman Thomas Winn said in the past, if a town manager was unavailable or on vacation, Mr. Gavallas would fill in.

“It is not something that is new, it is something that the chief has been doing for a while,” said Mr. Winn.

He said Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger will take over for Mr. Gavallas until a town manager is hired.

Previously the town paid Finance Director and Assistant Town Manager Susan Zappone a 20 percent increase in salary.

Mr. Gavallas will not get a salary increase, he will continue on his current salary. Mr. Winn said they plan to have a town manger within six to eight weeks.

Susan Zappone said in her report that during upcoming meetings, departments will present their budgets to the council and she will put the budget online. 

Finance Subcommittee Chairman Mary Ann Rosa began the discussion of the 2019-2020 budgets. She said during these next few weeks, as the council reviews budgets proposed by different departments, they will take notes of changes for the final budget review, which is tentatively scheduled for Monday, April 6. 

The Council reviewed budget requests for the library, the Economic Development Commission, the Town Clerk’s Office, the Elections/Registrar of Voters Office, the Police Department and Communications Office, the Town Council, the Public Buildings Department, the Town Manager’s Office, the Finance Department, the Health Services Department, the Building Inspection Office, the Historic District and the Probate Department.

Each department’s representative went before the council to outline and justify their financial needs for the upcoming fiscal year.

Many budgets remained the same as previous budgets, however, there were some increases for some departments.

Brian J. Flaherty, treasurer for the Board of Trustees of the Watertown Library Association, said although there have been some complications, the library has two new facilities that will open soon.

The Woodward Atrium at the Main Street location and the Book Nook Bookstore at the Davis Street location in Oakville are tentatively scheduled to open within the next few weeks.

He said the library is seeking an increase of $30,000 to continue to fuel and fill resources the library provides, including a part-time professional library position.

Republican Registrar Robert Porter, on behalf of the Elections/Registrar of Voters, brought forth two proposals.

The first was a rate request for poll workers based on the state’s projected minimum wage which will increase until 2023. The second proposal would place the poll workers on a seasonal, part-time and temporary schedule.

Mr. Porter encouraged the council to choose proposal A because of the potential to lose workers. He said state laws have changed and now allow moderators and assistant registrars to work in other towns that have better pay.

Mr. Gavallas presented the Police Department and Communications Office proposal.

The Communications Office did not request any changes. The department has a need of an approximate 2.2 percent increase for several categories including administrative, patrol/detective, maintenance and support, traffic, animal control and communications.

He said the expenditures were specifically for new servers, a more robust firewall, an email upgrade, a Cloud retention subscription, a new call recorder, additional maintenance agreements, personnel salary increases, school security guards and training for police officers.

Mr. Gavallas said he did not put a request for funds in the budget for training although it is necessary and required for all officers, specifically recertification and mandated training.

During public participation, resident Joseph Masi told the council of a drainage issue on Tucker Extension in Oakville that has been ongoing for years.  He said there have been issues with emergency vehicles, plow trucks, flooding and damage to neighboring properties.

He was told that the engineering department was going to evaluate the property and asked for a formal answer from Mr. Rinaldi, a taskforce public works committee member.

Mr. Masi read a signed and notarized affidavit from Mr. Rinaldi into the record.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Rinaldi said the project was discontinued because Public Works Committee Chairman Katherine C. Duplissie said she was not going to help Mr. Masi develop his property. Mr. Rinaldi said he believes the project should be finished. Ms. Duplissie said she would bring it to her subcommittee. 

Mr. Masi asked the project to be funded and fixed. He said it is a town project, not a property owner’s project. 

He asked the project be studied again; however, he asked that Ms. Duplissie recuse herself and that he get updates on all discussion of the project.

Mr. Winn said he would talk with Director of Public Works Roy Cavanaugh and will reach out to Mr. Masi with further information.

Economic Development Coordinator Joseph Seacrist and Economic Development Commission Chairman Joseph McGrail went before the council for an appropriation of $15,000 from the general fund for a marketing plan for commercial/industrial vacant properties in town.

“The economic development commission is the life blood of town,” said Mr. Seacrist.

The marketing plan would be prepared by Advance CT, formerly known as the Connecticut Economic Resource Center.

Courtney Hendricson, vice president of partnerships from Advance CT, was present to explain the proposal.

If not approved for the upcoming budget, the EDC will ask to approve the plan in the following budget, but they recommend doing it now because there is already a CERC survey being completed for the Sealy property in town.

Ms. Hendricson said a main part of the plan would be to create and implement marketing strategies for key properties in town and find the best complementary businesses.

The commission decided to table the matter for further review.

The council approved $14,919.99 for tax reimbursements, authorized tax refunds and approved a $2,243.48 reimbursement to the police overtime account from the general fund.

The funds have been received from the state for the Click-It-Or-Ticket grant program.

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