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State board wants more oversight of West Haven’s finances

April 14, 2022 GMT

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Members of a state oversight board decided Thursday they need greater control over the finances of West Haven, Connecticut. The city has been under the microscope after a former state representative and others were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds awarded to the municipality.

The Municipal Accountability Review Board voted to recommend that West Haven, which is currently under a level of state oversight known as Tier III, be upgraded to Tier IV. That means the state board would have additional management tools, including the ability to hire a financial manager for the city.

It will ultimately be up to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to decide whether to approve the stepped-up oversight, following a 30-day public comment period.

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City officials, including the mayor, opposed the move. They argued that West Haven, which has a long history of financial struggles, has made progress in recent years since working with the state board.

Michael Last, the city’s treasurer, said he didn’t think the city of more than 55,000 people met the criteria for such a severe step.

“We did have a state (representative) that stole a lot of money and that state rep was also in charge of administering the CARES Act funding, and it was unfortunate,” Last said. “There’s no going back from that. But our balance sheet is certainly a lot stronger today than it was four years ago.”

Board members countered that the alleged theft by former Democratic Rep. Michael DiMassa, an aide to the West Haven City Council at the time, and others, would not have occurred if proper financial safeguards recommended by the board were put in place.

A recent outside audit ordered by the state’s Office of Policy and Management found “numerous instances” where the city lacked “sufficient controls and safeguards to ensure the proper accounting and reporting” of COVID-19 relief funds, as well as a lack of internal controls and “other weaknesses” that went beyond the pandemic funds and affected the city’s overall financial management.

“Had the city followed our recommendations, it would not have been possible for him to have done so,” said board member Sal Luciano, referring to DiMassa, who has pleaded not guilty to federal wire fraud charges.