New London to investigate rebuilding of animal shelter

New London - The city is investigating the way more than $160,000 was spent rebuilding the city's animal shelter after a tree fell through it during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Monday he has ordered the city law department to investigate all the contracts that were signed for the reconstruction after City Councilor Michael Passero said earlier this month he wanted the state attorney general to look into the project finances.

"I'm not certain when the full process will be completed," Finizio said, adding that he ordered it to be a priority. "Once it is concluded and all documents are reviewed, and any action, if any action proves necessary, is done, it will all be made available to the public."

The project is eligible for 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA, according to Finance Director Jeff Smith.

Last week the proposal for an AG investigation died when just three of seven city councilors supported it. Passero, Martin T. Olsen and Michael Tranchida were in favor of the review. Council President Wade Hyslop and Councilors Erica Richardson, Efrain Dominguez and Anthony Nolan were opposed.

The dog kennels are not yet finished but the offices are complete and ready for staff to move in, Public Works Director Tim Hanser said Monday. The public works department has turned over all purchase orders and contracts pertaining to the project to the law director's office, including about 6,000 city emails that were found by searching for key words such as "dog pound" and "animal shelter," Finizio said.

Passero and Olsen called for the state investigation during a Public Works Committee meeting Jan. 13. Passero questioned the way contractors for the project were found and hired, and why the City Council was not asked to approve any contracts. The city has ordinances that requires it to obtain a minimum of three bids for any contract more than $3,000, and council approval for any work more than $20,000.

The city has spent $162,900 repairing the shelter. Passero said he has been asking for details of the project and how it was funded since last August, and only recently received documentation.

"The ordinances are there to protect the taxpayer from favoritism and collusion, and guarantees the taxpayer gets good value because of competitive quotes," Passero said.

The city was the general contractor for the job, Hanser said, a move that saved the city money. No contract was worth more than $20,000. But according to purchase orders, several contractors received more than one job, including one that was reimbursed for $60,000 of work.

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy sent a tree crashing through the dog pound, barely missing the animal control officer who was on duty and seven dogs that were sheltered there.

The reconstruction project includes addressing violations that had been identified by the state Animal Control Division, including inadequate storage and animal washing areas. The building size was increased from 1,295 square feet to 1,715 square feet.

Because of the extent of the storm damage, the rebuilt structure also had to meet all building and fire codes.

Smith said if technical errors were made in the handling of the project, he will make sure they are corrected so they won't happen again.


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