Governor Ned Lamont (D) this week approved the Municipal Accountability Review Board’s (MARB) request to heighten state oversight of the city of West Haven which is alleged to have misspent COVID-19 relief money, but Republican lawmakers are arguing that the move falls short.

The state now deems West Haven a Tier IV municipality, subjecting it to the most rigorous financial scrutiny for which state law provides. This comes as a result of an audit MARB issued last month which detailed numerous fiscal management problems the city has incurred. Earlier in April, a separate review by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management found that the city misused nearly four-fifths of over $1 million in funds it received as part of COVID response efforts.

“There is an obvious lack of fiscal controls in West Haven and it is necessary for the state to step in and provide the oversight and accountability that the residents of the town and the state deserve,” Lamont said in a statement. “This decision is a direct result of the fiscal mismanagement in the city that has gone on for too long. Taxpayers deserve to have confidence that their money is well spent, and the stringent oversight that a Tier IV designation provides will allow the state to provide the tools necessary to address this situation.”

Among the problematic expenditures the state’s review of the city’s COVID spending uncovered included $7,675 for a 20-piece brass band, $2,500 in fees for a motivational speaker, $11,587 for various marketing items, and over $50,000 in “overtime” compensation for high-salaried city workers. 

While leaders of the State Senate’s Republican minority agreed with the governor that West Haven warrants greater scrutiny, Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) and Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) faulted Democrats for thus far failing to back comprehensive measures to strengthen oversight of all federal COVID relief money. 

“MARB has already been overseeing the town of West Haven during the time the alleged appalling abuse and mismanagement of pandemic relief funds occurred,” the Senate GOP leaders said in a joint statement. “Increasing MARB oversight appears to be a step forward, but it is far too late to reverse the alleged misspending that occurred while MARB was already providing oversight. If this could happen in one town, how do we know it isn’t happening in others?”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Connecticut Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].