Candlewood Lake board wrangles over budget, bylaws
A proposed amendment to the Candlewood Lake Authority bylaws, which would prohibit town delegates from taking part in meetings if their home communities have not paid their dues, was rejected this week after months of often bitter argument.
The amendment was proposed in January after New Fairfield failed to pay $61,000 of its $76,800 share of the authority budget. It would have required towns to pay their share in full by July 31 each year or to be declared in “bad standing,” meaning its delegates would be frozen out of authority discussions and decision-making.
New Fairfield had decided last year to withhold part of its share until the authority corrected what town officials said was a mismanagement of Candlewood Lake Authority funds. The town paid its share in February.
Authority Chairwoman Phyllis Schaer said the proposed amendment was intended to ensure the authority, which is funded largely by town contributions and donations, would not have to cut services, as it was almost forced to do before New Fairfield finally paid. She said the town had taken advantage of the bylaws’ lack of specificity on the timing of contributions.
“The only reason we’re doing this is because we did have collections problems and there was no due date on our bill,” she said. “We’re hoping it never comes to pass that it ever has to be acted upon, but only serves as just an encouragement. ... We rely on appropriations from towns to meet our budgetary responsibilities.”
Eight of 12 delegates voting at Wednesday night’s meeting favored the amendment, but it failed because 10 of the 15 delegates’ votes were needed to pass under authority rules. Three delegates were absent and did not vote; one absent delegate voted by proxy.
New Fairfield delegate John Hodge said the amendment was illegal, citing a letter submitted by fellow New Fairfield delegate Jack Keating, an attorney, who said the authority does not have the right to suspend or terminate a town’s membership.
“If this goes through tonight, it will still have no teeth,” Hodge said. “It has no meaning. You can’t back it up, and you don’t have the juice to be able to do this.”
“There is no proof that this conflicts,” she said. “That’s only your opinion.”
New Fairfield had objected to the authority’s handling of $56,000 in donations to be used for educational purposes, contending it had been used instead to pay other expenses — a charge authority officials disputed.
The town said the authority should handle its finances more like a municipality. The authority eventually agreed, hiring a municipal auditor to help set up clearer accounting procedures, including separation of grants and donations from other revenue.
Brookfield delegate Bill Brown said Wednesday that, although the town had the right to express its opinions, witholding funds was not the proper way for New Fairfield to make its point.
“If there’s one town that has a difference of opinion on this, that or the next thing — voice it,” Brown said. “But to hold your payments back, to take care of this resource, is wrong. It’s just not fair, it’s not right and it’s not for the betterment for our lake.”