Questions remain on jurisdiction, scope

By Frank Luongo

The town Maintenance Study Committee will explore the possibility of extending its advisory role on the upkeep of buildings in town to include the residential properties operated by the Westport Housing Authority (WHA).

Gavin Anderson, the committee's chairman and the town's newly elected selectman, agreed to have WHA housing on the agenda of a future meeting, in response to a request to do so by committee member Stephen Rubin.

The committee, which reports to the first selectman, does not have the authority to require that its services be utilized or that its recommendations be followed, but it has been working closely with town departments and the school system in planning corrective and preventative maintenance projects.

Engagement with the housing authority would significantly increase the number of buildings to be addressed by the committee, which Anderson said would require adding members to the committee.

The authority currently contracts with a private management company -- Rocky Hill-based Millenium Real Estate Services -- for the upkeep of WHA rental housing at Canal Park, built in the early 1980s, Hales Court, 1952, Hidden Brook, 2004, and Sasco Creek Village, a prexisting trailer park that the WHA took ownership of in 1989. In all, the WHA operates 164 units.

Committee member Dewey Loselle said the first task of the committee would be to "find out about jurisdiction. Whose responsibility is the maintenance?" he asked.

Rubin, who lives at the Hidden Brook complex on the Post Road, said that the question of jurisdiction is tied in with questions about the ownership of the land on which the housing is located.

Reached for comment after the meeting, Rubin said that land maps have the Town of Westport named on those sites.

Regardless of who owns the properties, he said, the town needs assurance that the properties are being well maintained.

As a Representative Town Meeting member for the district in which Hidden Brook and Sasco Creek Village are located, No. 7, Rubin said he feels a special responsibility for helping provide that assurance, which is why he made his request to the committee.

Carol Martin, the executive director of the housing authority, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that, although its board is appointed by the first selectman, the WHA functions under state statute separately from town government.

"All of our assets are held in the name of the authority, or in the name of an entity created and controlled by the WHA, as required by the statute for receiving tax credits," said Martin.

She said that the WHA does interface with municipal departments in providing client services and that there could be "inter-governmental agreements to partner for other purposes."

Martin said she is familiar with collaborative practices involving small authorities in the procurement contracts of large cities, mostly for purchasing supplies to take advantage of municipal buying power.

In principle, Martin said, the WHA could enter into a consulting agreement with the town Maintenance Study Committee, although she said she is not familiar with such arrangements.