Hartford Hasn't Billed Property Owners For Blight Cleanups
By JENNA CARLESSO
July 27, 2012
HARTFORD —— The city is owed thousands of dollars for private-property cleanups — some that occurred as far back as six months ago — but it hasn't billed any of the property owners.
The public works department has cleaned 37 private properties whose owners violated the city's blight ordinances and failed to correct the problems when notified, said David Panagore, Hartford's chief operating officer.
But the city's license and inspection department, which is responsible for tallying up the work and billing the owners, only has records for 13 of the properties cleaned. Edison Silva, operations manager for the department, said he has not received information about the other 24 properties from the department of public works or the city's livable and sustainable neighborhoods initiative, LSNI.
He said his office has not sent out bills to the 13 property owners on record because of issues with the city's computer system, which generates the invoices. Panagore said that in addition to the glitches, officials must redraft language on the invoices to reflect updates to city legal references.
Work on the 13 properties cost $16,936.42, according to license and inspection records. But when asked by The Courant why some of the properties were charged the same amount for different work, Silva said Friday that the numbers had been miscalculated, and that the total cost should be $28,159.26. The work on the 13 properties was performed in January, February and March.
The city could not produce information about the 24 other properties. Panagore said information for 12 of the 24 cleanups is stored through the public works department, and that it hadn't yet been forwarded to officials at license and inspection.
The city cannot find work orders for the other 12 properties, Panagore said.
Panagore said he would review LSNI operations and make improvements if necessary.
"It's not whether on day one we invent the perfect system, it's getting the system up and running," he said.
Kevin Burnham, the public works director, and Rhonda Moniz Carroll, a department employee, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The livable and sustainable neighborhoods initiative is an anti-blight effort started by Mayor Pedro Segarra and Panagore six months ago.
Emails sent between members of the LSNI staff show that employees raised concerns about a lack of progress in billing the property owners. Sources familiar with LSNI operations said work on the 24 properties could have totaled more than $100,000, for which bills have not been generated.
One of the initiative's four team captains, Natalie Pertoso, has recently resigned and no longer works for the city, Panagore said. Another, Gabriel Engeland, has submitted a letter of resignation, but has not yet left his position, sources said. Engeland declined to comment.
Addresses for five of the 24 properties cleaned are not documented, sources said. Others were listed in internal city documents as "no authorization paperwork, no approval to clean, no bill generated," "cleaned but no bill generated," or "property cleaned on multiple occasions, no second bill generated."
Silva said he planned to send out bills for the 13 properties on file as early as next week. Any unpaid bills will be certified to the property owners' tax bills in January, he added.
City Tax Collector Marc Nelson said he has not received billing information on any of the 37 properties, but added that he has been contacted about the possibility of adding the penalties to the owners' January tax bills.
A review of the 13 properties on file at license and inspection shows that three properties were charged the same amount — to the cent — for different services.
Cleanups at 83 Earle St., 81 Green St. and 78 Martin St. each cost $1,536.32, even though the work performed at each location differed.
At 83 Earle St., city workers removed two loads of branches and a half-load of garbage and debris, according to documents.
At 81 Green St., workers removed one load of branches and one load of debris, and at 78 Martin St., workers removed two loads of branches, two loads of debris and used a 40-yard, roll-off dumpster to haul away materials.
City sources familiar with the cleanups said the cost of work at 78 Martin St. was grossly underestimated.
In addition, work on three other sets of properties cost the same amounts, records show:
•185 Affleck St. and 193 Homestead Ave. both cost $1,344.28. The work on Affleck Street involved the removal of 1 ½ loads of branches and one load of garbage and debris, while the work on Homestead Avenue involved the removal of one load of branches and one load of debris.
•58 Earle St. and 56 W. Morningside St. both cost $1,152.24. At 58 Earle St., workers removed one load of branches and a half-load of garbage and debris, while they removed two loads of branches and one load of debris from 56 W. Morningside St.
1180 Broad St. and 21 Elmer St. both cost $1,728.36. Work performed on Broad Street involved the removal of three loads of debris, while work on Elmer Street involved the removal of two loads of debris and two loads of branches.
Panagore said Friday that he did not know why the properties had identical costs, but added: "I'll be instituting a formal review first thing Monday morning of these bills. It clearly warrants a deeper review and I will be talking to the staff about it. If we discover fraud, waste or abuse we're going to take action on it."
Asked Friday why the properties were billed the same amounts, Silva said his department had miscalculated the costs.
"We had one field missing in the formula, so the numbers are different," he said, adding that officials forgot to tally administrative costs. Though documents show that the total cost of work performed on the 13 properties is $16,936.42, he said, it should be $28,159.26.
Senior information specialist Christina Lender contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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