NORWALK, Conn. – The future of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) is still undecided, state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) said Tueday. Meanwhile, the city of Norwalk is taking over electric bills formerly paid by the teetering South Norwalk anti-poverty agency.
NEON’s status up in the air
There is no board meeting planned as yet for NEON, Communications Director Scott Harris said. Although NEON board Chairman Mike Berkoff said after an aborted board meeting last month that NEON could continue under “emergency status,” Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) spokesperson David Dearborn said that didn’t quite ring true.
“In a nutshell, I believe that, in the case of business dealings with DSS, proper constitution of the board would be necessary. Otherwise, we would not have auspices over whether the chairman indicates that the organization is in emergency status and operating,” Dearborn wrote in an email.
NEON bylaws call for a board meeting at least every 10 weeks. There has been no board meeting since Dec. 21. The NEON website ha been taken down and replaced by a message saying it is under construction.
NEON officials are considering bankruptcy. Duff said Friday that nothing had been decided. “I think they’re doing their due diligence internally before any recommendation comes down through DSS to NEON,” he said.
Duff said Tuesday evening that there was no new word from DSS.
NEON’s status in a nutshell?
“Stable at the moment because people have been paid — at least paid to a certain extent. But challenges remain,” Duff said. “Stable with challenges.”
Ben Franklin sparks
A special appropriation is expected to be made to cover the electrical costs at the Ben Franklin center, Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.
“We have taken over the utilities effective Feb. 1, I believe,” Hamilton said last week at a Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting.
NEON was running Head Start in the city-owned building before the federal government took the program away and installed Community Development Inc. (CDI) as Head Start manager.
“It was a problem for a number of months because of operations in there. … NEON was the one paying the bill under our lease with NEON, except the bill wasn’t getting paid. We had multiple shut-off notices, where we were within hours of having the electricity shut off in that building. Which was a problem because it’s not just their programs, it’s also a problem for the city programs,” Hamilton said.
The Crystal Theater also has space in the Ben Franklin center. There is a church using the building and a school readiness program run by the Norwalk Housing Authority.
The Housing Authority has since been awarded the new contract to run Head Start in the fall.
The electricity bill is now in the city’s name, Hamilton said.
“We may or may not be charging the Housing Authority,” he said. “That deal is still being negotiated and finalized, if you will, but at this point we’ve assumed the gross expense needs to be in here.”
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