Borough boards get update on long-term plan


From left, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, Mayor Robert Mezzo and Board of Education Chairman David Heller discuss a long-term strategic plan for the borough during a meeting of the Tri-Board Nov. 26 at City Hill Middle School. –LUKE MARSHALL
From left, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, Mayor Robert Mezzo and Board of Education Chairman David Heller discuss a long-term strategic plan for the borough during a meeting of the Tri-Board Nov. 26 at City Hill Middle School. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The borough is working to keep its strategic plan on track.

The Tri-Board of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, Board of Finance and Board of Education met on Nov. 26 to discuss and update the progress on a long-term strategic plan.

The borough hired the consulting firm Blum, Shapiro & Co. last November for $62,000 to develop the plan on the operations of borough government. The firm unveiled its report in July. The Nov. 26 meeting was the second time the Tri-Board has met since then to discuss the plan.

Among the most controversial suggestions of the plan is the privatization of services, including the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association, Youth and Family Services and trash pickup.  

Mayor Robert Mezzo said as the borough looks into privatization for the VNA, it is considering three main priorities for any agency that would be coming into Naugatuck.

The first is to maintain the quality of care currently provided by the VNA, the second is to try to transition the staff as best as possible to another organization, and the third is to keep in mind the long history the VNA has had in the borough.

“The quality of care from our existing VNA has never been in question. It’s actually been received very highly by the customers who were served by it,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said he has met with both non-profit and for profit providers in the area that were interested in coming into the borough

“We’ve submitted a very lengthy questionnaire to several of those providers. We’ve kind of narrowed our focus down to a couple of organizations,” said Mezzo, who did not specify which organizations the borough has talked with.

Mezzo said the Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses have also questioned whether the VNA is something the borough should continue to fund.

“The easiest thing to do in this situation is for me to do nothing, allow us to go to the Joint Boards during budget time, and have the service defunded, which creates a very strange environment and certainly doesn’t achieve any of those three goals,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the borough is currently one of five municipalities in the state that has a VNA service that is owned by the municipality.

Mezzo said it may not be an equal transition because a lot of the things that the Naugatuck VNA does are not done anymore, such as using paper records instead of electronic records.

“There will be some change, but we will try to minimize that. We’ll try, with dignity and respect, to transition the employees to the best of our ability,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said that the Department of Public Works has issued a request for proposals to see what options are available for privatized trash and recycling collection.

“We are in no commitment to accept any of them. It basically allows us to see what the market is. We’re not considering privatization for the sake of doing it. We’re considering it because we believe it can make a better operation for us in the long run,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the borough is exploring the option of changing the focus of the Youth and Family Services rather than just privatizing it.

“The focus should shift to a more youth programming service agency rather than a counseling agency, which is really how it morphed into,” Mezzo said.

Currently the borough receives a $27,000 matching grant from the state for providing youth programming, Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the borough is still looking into the option of continuing the funding for Youth and Family Services and considering the impact it will have on the budget.

Board of Education Chairman David Heller recommended that students take a survey to determine what is most needed in the town for the department to work on.

The Tri-Boards also discussed sharing more services between the borough government and the Board of Education.

The borough and school board currently share a business manager and human resources director. However, there is no formal agreement to share insurance consultants or legal counsel.

“What’s recommended here is to create some institutional history between the Board of Education and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses that sharing services is something that has value, saves cost, and we’d like to continue,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said the borough attorney will draft a memorandum so there is something on the record about the boards’ commitment to cooperation.

Mezzo said that the long-term goal is to go beyond simply sharing personnel.

“We have shared services in that we share personnel. The key, and this is not something that will happen overnight, is to blend these business functions together from an institution perspective, from an employee perspective, from a physical location perspective, from a software utilization perspective. That will take some time,” Mezzo said.

Borough officials are also investigating the possibility of switching to self-funded insurance as recommended in the plan.

Mezzo said that self-funding workers’ compensation insurance would be a first step toward the switch if a cost-benefit analysis if favorable.

Self-insuring town employees could save the town money, but would also put the borough more at risk for fluctuations in claims.

“You have to be extremely disciplined to make sure you have proper catastrophic coverage and reserves,” Mezzo said.

Heller said the school board would be reluctant to switch after problems with self-insurance in the past.

The Tri-Board did not set another date to meet, but agreed to try to meet quarterly to discuss the progress of the plan.

The Republican American contributed to this article.