State Board wants more control over West Haven finances – NBC Connecticut
Members of a state board of supervisors decided Thursday they needed greater control over the finances of West Haven, Connecticut. The city has been under the microscope after a former state official and others were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds given to the municipality.
The Municipal Accountability Review Board voted to recommend that West Haven, which is currently under a level of state oversight known as Tier III, be upgraded to Tier IV. This means the state board would have additional management tools, including the ability to hire a chief financial officer for the city.
It will ultimately be up to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to decide whether or not to approve the enhanced surveillance, after a 30-day public comment period.
City officials, including the mayor, opposed the move. They argued that West Haven, which has a long history of financial struggles, has made progress in recent years since working with the state board.
Michael Last, the city treasurer, said he did not believe the city of more than 55,000 people met the criteria for such a harsh measure.
“We had a state (representative) that stole a lot of money and that state representative was also responsible for administering the CARES Act funding, and that was unfortunate,” Last said. “There is no turning back. But our balance sheet is certainly much stronger today than it was four years ago.
Council members countered that the alleged theft by former Democratic Rep. Michael DiMassa, a West Haven City Council aide at the time, and others, would not have happened if the appropriate financial guarantees recommended by the council had been put in place.
A recent external audit commissioned by the Office of State Policy and Management found ‘numerous instances’ where the city lacked ‘sufficient controls and safeguards to ensure proper accounting and reporting’ of relief funds COVID-19, as well as a lack of internal controls and “other weaknesses” that went beyond pandemic funds and affected the city’s overall financial management.
“If the city had followed our recommendations, it would not have been possible for them to do so,” said board member Sal Luciano, referring to DiMassa, who pleaded not guilty to federal wire fraud charges.