Before waiving fees for rebuilding homes destroyed or damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, the Board of Aldermen engaged in heated arguments at its Monday meeting at City Hall.
Bernard “Bob” Joy (R-2nd D) -- the Republican candidate for mayor of Milford -- had initiated an ordinance that would grant a waiver of permit fees for rebuilding due to damage caused by Hurricane Irene.
During discussion, Benjamin “Ben” Blake (D-5th D) – the Democratic candiate for mayor of Milford -- argued that waiving these fees would not help the injured homeowner, but would rather, give relief to the insurance companies.
“What should concern us here, is that it [the ordinance exempting injured homeowners from permit fees] doesn’t necessarily focus on distressed property owners as [much as] it does provide relief for insurance companies,” said Blake.
Blake cited an email from the director of the Permit Board that he said listed 11 reasons as to why the proposed waiver should not be approved.
“According to the permit director [Jocelyn Mathiasen],” said Blake, “she speculates that people may confuse the need for no permit fees with no permits.”
“Would I be correct in saying that the memo you are referring to is an email that you received, and that you were the only one that received that email?” asked Republican Chair of the Board of Aldermen Greg Smith.
Blake claimed that Republican Mayor James Richetelli had also seen the email, and Smith called a five-minute recess to look at the email.
This was the first of three recesses called during discussion of the ordinances that would waive fees for homeowners affected by Irene.
Following the first recess, Blake said, “I applaud the efforts of the proposal, but I don’t necessarily think that the way that it’s drafted is going to fulfill the interests that we’re looking for.”
But Smith argued heatedly, “The City of Milford shouldn’t be making a profit off of Hurricane Irene.”
Joining Smith, Joy said, “These are fees we would never have collected were it not for Hurricane Irene…It’s just not right.”
Arguing continued, sometimes quite heatedly.
Alderman Raymond Vitali (R-5th D) sided with Joy, saying, “These are people who need help.”
Alderman Nick Veccharelli, Jr. (D-2nd D) asked to see the email, and the “eleven points” made by the permit director.
Blake blamed Richetelli for not circulating the email or having Mathiasen come speak to the Board of Aldermen regarding the issue of permit fee waivers.
Veccharelli went on to say that the city could use the approximately half a million in fees, and said that if, in fact, the insurance companies pay the fees, the money should go to the City of Milford. Still, Veccharelli emphasized that injured parties shouldn’t have to pay for permits.
The mayor said, “This is not an easy process for the homeowners… They’re hurting right now. …If you waive the fees, that’ll be one less expense these homeowners have to pay.”
Alderman Paula Smith (R-3rd D) was outraged at the suggestion that permit fees would be great income for the city, or that homeowners in need would consider this waiver a windfall, as had been suggested by the opposition.
“I don’t even know where to begin here,” Smith said. “My family, my neighbors, none of them is going to say, ‘Yeah, this is a windfall’ [if they don’t have to pay permit fees to rebuild]. … We shouldn’t even be having this discussion. To the people of Milford, I am so sorry that we’re even having this conversation.”
But Alderman Philip Vetro (D-4th D) argued on Blake’s side, and from his own point of view as a licensed contractor. According to Vetro, permit fees are part of the estimate he debates with insurance companies over, along with other fees such as Dumpsters and trucks.
“I’ve never had a situation where I’ve left a homeowner dry [to pay their own permit fees],” said Vetro.
The argument went on for more than an hour, with one side arguing that waiving permit fees would hurt the City of Milford not only in lost revenue, but in confusion over the permit process.
The other side argued, in the words of Alderman Pamela Staneski (R-5th D), "(We need to be) focusing on what we can do about making these people whole.”
In the end, all ordinances to waive fees incurred during the rebuilding effort of homeowners were passed by a 10 to 4 majority of the aldermen. These ordinances include waivers for: permit fees, Planning and Zoning Board application fees, and Zoning Board of Appeals application fees and filing fees.
In regard to the lengthy arguments among the aldermen over the ordinances, Alderman Bill Bevan (R-4th-D) put it this way: “I’ve been listening to this conversation and wondering, 'Would we even have it if this weren’t an election year?' ”
In the end, however, despite the different opinions of the aldermen, the focus returned to the homeowners.
“One way or another, we’re going to do the work to get the homeowners the help that they need,” Richetelli said.