Stamford officials authorized and allocated dizzying sums of money in two special board meetings Monday.
One reason was to fulfill a Dec. 1 application deadline for state reimbursements for school building projects. Another reason was to correct budget errors that emerged during a conversion to new accounting technology.
The day began with a morning meeting of the Board of Finance at which members learned about a glitch in the Enterprise Resource Planning project — a $12 million update of the 25-year-old software that runs the city’s financial system.
The goal of the project is to improve Stamford’s business processes. The problem is that the new system is doing just that.
As city employees were converting the old system, HTE, to the new system, Oracle, they began to find “a significant volume of budget errors,” the project manager, Chuck Williams, told the finance board. “We were fixing things by overwriting the errors without figuring out how we would deal with them. I got nervous about the conversion so I proposed a restart.”
The launch of the new system now is delayed from Jan. 1 to March 1, Williams said. The glitch involves $7.5 million worth of purchase orders, he said.
His boss, Director of Administration Sandy Dennies, gave an example.
The police department last fiscal year put in a purchase order for ammunition but, because of backlogs in the supply chain and “not enough workers to get the invoices out in a timely manner,” the ammunition did not arrive until this fiscal year, Dennies said.
Under the old HTE system, the cost of the ammunition would be “held in a separate bucket,” as having been incurred in the previous fiscal year, which it was, Dennies said. Under the old system, once the ammunition is delivered, the purchase order would be closed, with no effect on this year’s budget.
But, under the new Oracle system, the cost is “rolled over” to the next fiscal year, since that is when the ammunition would be delivered and the purchase order closed. Under Oracle, the cost of the ammunition would be charged to this year’s budget even though it was already accounted for in last year’s budget.
Dennies said that if the long-awaited conversion from the city’s antiquated accounting technology is to happen, she must be able to move $7.5 million in “open” purchase orders from the last fiscal year to this one.
“But I don’t have the authority to move that money,” Dennies told the finance board. “You do.”
The board passed her request.
That evening, Dennies had to bring the same request before the Board of Representatives’ Fiscal Committee and explain it all again. The committee also approved her request. That puts it on the agenda for consideration by the full board, which meets Dec. 5.
Like the Board of Finance, the full Board of Representatives also met in a special session Monday. Its agenda included 10 projects involving heating, ventilation and air-conditioning work in school buildings.
“About six weeks ago the state let it be known that they are offering a grant program to address HVAC projects,” Dennies told city representatives. “It applies to projects that took place between March 2020 and June 2022, and new projects after that. We would like to submit projects that have been completed, partly completed, or are brand new.”
All the applications are due Thursday, Dennies said.
HVAC projects “usually are not reimbursable,” schools Superintendent Tamu Lucero told representatives.
“This is a unique opportunity for funding that probably will never be available again,” Lucero said. “To take a chance that we could get back 60 percent of the cost – it seemed inappropriate to not apply.”
Grants Officer Anita Carpenter said the state is offering a total of $150 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding. ARP, one of the largest stimulus packages in U.S. history, was created to help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including by improving air flow in public buildings.
Carpenter said Connecticut school districts that have project plans in place will compete for the money.
“This is unprecedented for us,” Carpenter told the board. “There is no guarantee we will be reimbursed 60 percent for these projects, but we think we have a good shot, which is why we want to submit as much as we can.”
The city is seeking reimbursement for HVAC projects already completed at Stamford High School, Cloonan and Rippowam middle schools, and Davenport, Northeast, Stark and Westover elementary schools that cost the city a total of $10.6 million. The potential state reimbursement would be nearly $6.4 million.
The city also is seeking 60 percent reimbursement for three new HVAC projects at Newfield, Rippowam and Stamford High that would cost a total of $15 million. The potential for state reimbursement then would be $9 million.
The Board of Representatives passed all the school measures, as did the Board of Finance, though there were questions about what would happen to the projects if the state rejects the city’s reimbursement requests.
Finance Chairman Richard Freedman said the money for the projects would have to come out of the Board of Education’s capital budget.
The amount of the school board’s capital budget will depend on how much the Board of Finance allows the school board to bond in 2023, Dennies said.
“We would go back to the Board of Ed and have them prioritize the projects they would like to do, given the amount of bonding they have,” Dennies said.
The city should hear from the state about its reimbursement requests in January, Dennies said.
The Board of Representatives’ Fiscal Committee also met Monday night, passing school funding measures and Dennies’ request concerning purchase-order closeouts, so the full board will consider them at next week’s meeting.
The Fiscal Committee passed a number of other allocations, including $2.5 million to replace the West Glenn Drive bridge over the Mianis River. City Engineer Lou Casolo said $2 million will come from a federal grant and the city will cover the remaining $500,000.
Committee members also passed a request for $800,000 for electronic safety equipment for school doors. The city and the school board are splitting the cost, said former Stamford police Sgt. Joe Kennedy, who handles security for the school system. “We’re trying to get control … of people coming into buildings and doors being left open and unsecured,” Kennedy told the committee. “Stamford is lacking compared to neighboring districts and compared to the industry in general.”