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Selectmen OK $7.5M for Fairfield Metro Overruns

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Fairfield’s town boards have the price tag for finishing the town's third train station: $7.5 million. The Board of Selectmen approved that Wednesday night as the upper limit to cover the cost overruns on the Fairfield Metro station construction project.

“I do not want to vote for this,” Selectman James Walsh said before the unanimous decision. “But I’m having a hard time logically finding a way around it.”

The $7.5 million is the maximum the town will spend without another vote. The actual cost to Fairfield’s taxpayers could be as low as $3.5 million. Interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the state Department of Transportation agreed to give Fairfield up to $3 million in grants to finish the work. Another $1 million is only in the plan in case more problems come up.

The vote does not keep Fairfield from trying to get more money from Black Rock Realty, the developer that agreed to work with the state and the town on the project in 2003. But Tetreau said Black Rock so far has refused to contribute any more.

“When they needed help, they called us a partner, and we stepped up,” Tetreau said. “As of today, they stand to make millions, and they told us to go pound sand. … I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”

Before the vote, the selectmen heard a presentation from the Board of Finance Metro Station Subcommittee and its independent auditor, Joseph Centofanti. The subcommittee hired Centofanti to look into Fairfield's spending on the project so far. Although the audit did not find “fraud or malfeasance,” Centofanti pointed to one major problem: a lack of a central authority.

Centofanti said the town did not hire a construction manager until after the problems arose and said Chief Finance Officer Paul Hiller was kept out of the loop on the payments the town made to contractors. He said this meant, “Decisions were being made without complete information.”

Tetreau said the alternatives at this point would have been worse than the $7.5 million approved Wednesday. If Fairfield had decided to cancel the project entirely, it would have been required to give back the $19.5 million the state paid in 2010, the $4.4 million Black Rock Realty contributed and still pay for the work already done. Another option, stopping construction now and waiting to get more funding from the state or from Black Rock Realty, would have meant paying fees to its contractors for stalling the project on top of the final costs.

The $7.5 million must be approved by the Board of Finance this week and the Representative Town Meeting on Aug. 30. If both agree, the station will stay on schedule to open by the end of October.

What do you think about the cost to finish the Fairfield Metro station? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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