New London council was left adrift

Republican City Councilor Martin T. Olsen Jr. is right, New London Mayor Michael Passero should not have allowed the scope and the cost of a public works project on Pequot Avenue, adjacent to Greens Harbor Beach, to dramatically expand without returning to the council for approval.

True, Olsen is campaigning to oust the incumbent Democrat. Hollering about the high-cost project is politically opportune, but that makes the councilor’s points no less valid.

As noted in a prior editorial, the project is an important one. It is intended to stop the frequent flooding of the road, improve an adjoining park, stop beach erosion, and reduce the flushing of contaminants into the swimming area that has forced numerous beach closings. Greens Harbor is the only free beach in the city.

But also as previously noted, we were concerned with the high projected cost. Now the price has further expanded.

A final cost tally released to the council this week — $5.15 million — is far in excess of the almost $2 million the council had authorized nearly a year ago, using a combination of $1.5 million in federal grant money and $493,000 in city funds.

The mayor said some of the costs were not anticipated — including the need to create a temporary bypass road, dealing with utility lines that were not where old blueprints showed them to be and having to do more work in the neighboring public park and playground than expected.

Passero has taken the position that it was OK to redirect $2.3 million from previously approved infrastructure funds — for road, drainage and sidewalk repairs — to fill the funding gap. We disagree. The administration should have returned to the council to authorize where the money would come from.

The mayor’s office is working to find additional state funds to fully close the fiscal gap and Passero may yet have to return to the council.

The City Charter is straight-forward about such matters: “When it becomes necessary in the opinion of the mayor to make alterations or modifications in a contract for any public work or improvement such alterations or modifications shall be made only when authorized by the council upon the written recommendations of the mayor.”

The mayor handed his Republican opponent an issue. Whoever wins the Nov. 5 election should never again allow a project to so dramatically expand without bringing it back to the council.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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