The state Bond Commission’s tie vote Tuesday was enough to delay construction plans for a new state-of-the-art public health laboratory in Rocky Hill. The Bond Commission’s Democratic lawmakers and constitutional officers voted against the plan due to concerns raised by Rocky Hill legislators. Election year politics?
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who chairs the Bond Commission said she was “frustrated and angry” with those who voted against the $69.4 million project.
“I’m not running for re-election, but I am the governor of this state,” Rell said in answering a question about whether election year politics were at play.
“I going to tell you that I am extremely disappointed in today’s vote,” Rell said.
Even though she was aware she may not have enough support to get approval for the new lab she felt it was important to put it on the agenda because a bid to build the lab came in $12 million lower than expected. That bid runs out on April 15th and there are no Bond Commission meetings currently scheduled between now and then.
During the Bond Commission meeting Dr. Robert Galvin, commissioner of Public Health, talked about how “antiquated” conditions are at the current Hartford lab. To sum it up “it’s beat” Galvin said.
He said there are heating and cooling problems and his biggest fear is that organisms can not be handled properly. The lab does newborn screenings, tests for West Nile virus, rabies, and influenza. It also tests biohazards to determine public health risks. He said if the lab continues to deteriorate sending the samples out to privately run labs will cost the state much more money.
But Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Cam Staples of New Haven said concerns about the project have been raised by the Rocky Hill delegation.
“That’s the problem with the Bond Commission’s agenda,” Staples said. “It doesn’t go through the legislative process and it can be off the radar for years.”
Then a community gets a few days notice before it ends up on the Bond Commission agenda.
Staples admitted the project may have merit, but asked the commission to table it until local officials and lawmakers can get more information. The vote to table the item also ended in a tie, which means it failed.
Office of Policy and Management Budget Secretary Robert Genuario said local Rocky Hill officials have been involved in the process and were aware of the project as early as April 2005. In November 2008 a local Rocky Hill newspaper ran an article on it. He said he doesn’t doubt that with the crush of business some people may have forgotten about it, but it’s gone through several environmental studies and public meetings.
He said the move to vote against the project “rings a little hollow.”
Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, said for all that thoroughness some things slip through the cracks. She said the Bond Commission should allow the local community to get up to speed on the project.
State Comptroller Nancy Wyman suggested the Bond Commission meet again in another two weeks to consider the project so it doesn’t miss out on the lower bid.
“We’ve been working on this for five years,” Rell said following the meeting. “The first time we heard about any problem was on Friday.”
This is the second Bond Commission project which has run into problems over the past few months. The first was the Bridgeport juvenile detention center for girls, which was pulled off the agenda once the Rell administration learned it did not have the votes.