Selectmen take steps to restore DOT funds
GREENWICH — Greenwich’s Board of Selectman has cleared the first step for state money to again come to the town to pay for bridge replacements and intersection improvements.
The money has been held up in recent months because Greenwich has not yet officially signed on to a new policy instituted by the state Department of Transportation. The selectmen approved the change Thursday, and now it will be up to the Representative Town Meeting.
Under the new CDOT policy, designed to streamline its agreement policy with municipalities for funding of projects, towns and the state have to enter into an agreement to indemnify all projects for the next 10 years. The policy covers all projects that get CDOT funding and requires the municipalities that agree to get their own indemnification in case something goes wrong.
Previously, individual agreements were made on how much money the town got and what the risk, liabilities and responsibilities were for both the town and state, according to Deputy Commissioner of Public Works James Michel.
But the town’s charter says the town cannot indemnify anyone and the town, therefore, was not able to sign the agreement, Michel said. That meant it would receive no money from the state for public works projects.
To work around the charter language, the town will obtain an insurance policy to cover the indemnification and, in addition, any contractor working on the projects would have to enter their own agreement to indemnify the town and the state during construction.
“For the bulk of this, the contractor will be on the hook during construction,” Michel said.
The final bid for the insurance policy was not in yet, but Michel said Thursday it would be about $25,000 annually. Michel said both the town’s legal department and its risk management department were on board with the solution.
The town had been working on reaching a compromise with the state since 2012, he said. The solution was finally settled upon in May, when the state told the town that 165 of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut had signed on to the agreement.
“They told us if the town of Greenwich does not enter into the agreement, the ability to obtain grant funding would be eliminated,” Michel said. “That is a fairly significant amount of money. It includes all our bridges. It includes some of our traffic signal projects, transportation projects and roadway projects.”
By agreeing to the new policy, state funding can now move forward again for projects such as the Arch Street traffic signal improvements at Interstate 95’s Exit 3, the train bridge over Sound Beach Avenue and several bridge replacements in town.
First Selectmen Peter Tesei said the insurance agreement was “a constructive way to address the issue in the short term” and said the town could look at a longer-term fix within its own charter language.
“I know how important the monies are to these projects,” Tesei said. “Sitting on the Council of Governments for Greenwich, believe me, the other towns are salivating about having our money if we were to forfeit it. I don’t want to see us forfeit it.”
The selectmen approved the language of the agreement. If the RTM approves it, the matter would then go back to the selectmen for them to finalize with their signatures. The RTM is expected to consider the matter at its September meeting.
Town Attorney Wayne Fox told the selectmen, “In this case the state of Connecticut has made it clear to us that it’s their way or the highway.”
Selectman Sandy Litvack asked Fox if he meant that as a “bad pun,” and Fox laughed but noted it was an accurate one.
Litvack joined with Tesei and Selectman John Toner in supporting sending the agreement to the RTM. But first he expressed reservations about it potentially being in violation of the town’s charter’s mandate for the town to never over indemnification.
Fox said it was similar to ones that had been done in the past and had been agreed to by the RTM.
“We do not feel, having done this in the past, that it is a violation of the charter,” Fox said.
The board should not to interpret the town’s charter “too literally or you will never accomplish anything,” Fox said. Litvack agreed, but said he wanted to be cautious.
Fox said that changing the language would likely require a public referendum, which Litvack said the board was eager to avoid. But both the selectmen and Fox agreed to explore ways to possibly narrowly amend the charter language.
“There’s no reason not to,” Litvack said, and Fox agreed.