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CT officials vote to increase state control over West Haven’s finances

West-Haven-Mayor CTMirror Screen Grab.jpg
Andrew Brown
West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi recorded a three-minute video on Oct. 8, 2021, informing the public that an audit had found problems with the way the city spent federal coronavirus relief money.

A state oversight board plans to increase its control over West Haven’s finances after a critical audit that found the city misspent federal relief funds and failed to protect taxpayer money from potential fraud.

The 10 members of Connecticut’s Municipal Accountability Review Board, or MARB, voted to tighten their grip over West Haven’s spending even as the city’s leaders objected to the move.

West Haven, a city of roughly 55,000 residents, has been subject to MARB review for more than four years, but Thursday’s vote will substantially increase the board’s powers moving forward.

Under what is known as a Tier IV designation, MARB will now have the ability to approve or reject West Haven’s annual budget. It will have more power to review city contracts and spending. And it will have authority over the collective bargaining agreements with the city’s public employee unions.

West Haven is the first municipality to be subject to that level of state scrutiny since the MARB was formed by the legislature in 2017. Several MARB members recognized the historic nature of the vote, calling it an “extraordinary intervention.”

The concerns over West Haven’s finances are not new, but they are coming to a head because of a growing financial scandal in the city.

MARB members and West Haven’s auditors warned the city’s leaders for several years that they didn’t have the proper controls in place to protect taxpayer money and catch potential fraud.

Those warnings largely went unheeded, however, as the city failed to enact better purchasing rules or increase the staffing within its finance department.