NEON’s lights may be shut off

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Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) has until Wednesday to come up with $18,000 to prevent the lights being turned off at 98 South Main St., board chairman Michael Berkhoff said. It remains to be seen how that might affect the South Norwalk Community Center, which occupies the first floor of the building.

Updated 11 p.m. with addition information and quotes.

NORWALK, Conn. – Unpaid electric bills may be making things even darker for Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) – literally.

The embattled South Norwalk anti-poverty agency, which announced layoffs of about 100 employees Wednesday, owes about $37,000 each to two electric companies, board Chairman Mike Berkhoff said. NEON has until Wednesday to come up with $18,000 for South Norwalk Electric & Water (SNEW), he said. He hadn’t heard anything from CL&P, he said.

SNEW provides service for 98 South Main St., while CL&P provides service for the Ben Franklin Center.

Berkhoff said NEON is trying come up with the money to keep the lights on in the South Main Street building. “We’re hoping that if we get money that is owed to NEON we will be able to do that,” he said, referring to grant money that he said NEON expects to receive.

NEON shares that building with the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC). The center has plans to renovate its space and has recently received the $100,000 in federal Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) funds that was approved by the city, but needs NEON to move out of the space it is using on the first floor in order to begin. The plans include a separate SNEW electric meter and an electrical contractor was at the center Wednesday looking at the schematics, SoNoCC Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino said.

So how will SoNoCC be affected by NEON’s potential loss of electricity?

“We don’t know,” he said. “SNEW has not informed us of anything, and to say that communications with NEON have been difficult would be an understatement.”

The Second Taxing District considered NEON’s unpaid electric bills in an executive session at its Tuesday meeting. Commissioners did not return emails requesting comments.

A source said they felt they were in a bind – cutting off electricity to an agency that provides services to disadvantaged people would be distasteful, but asking South Norwalk taxpayers to foot the bill would be unacceptable, the source said.

Wednesday evening, Berkhoff did not have exact figures for the amounts owed, but said NEON owes about $37,000 to SNEW and the CL&P figure is “very close” to the same.

He again blamed Mayor Richard Moccia for the problems, mentioning the $2.6 million in Norwalk funding that has been denied over the past two years.

“The mayor of Norwalk cut this thing off and that was it,” he said.


21 responses to “NEON’s lights may be shut off”

  1. BB

    It aint over until the husky lady sings, right?
    Or is it, last one out turn out the lights. Stay tuned..

  2. Joanne Romano

    This is a damn shame! A once thriving community organization, vital to so many is now nothing but a skeleton and pariah even to state and federal agencies who no longer want to help. How did all of this happen and who is responsible? Head Start closed, employees laid off, and can’t pay their electric bills and all while coming into a season where they are needed most. Did anyone think of tightening their belts before this mess occurred? And who is going to clean up the mess?

  3. Don’t Panic

    I am troubled by the continued use of the word owed with respect to grant monies. You are owed money for services provided. Non-compliance with grant obligations means you are no longer eligible for, and therefor not owed those dollars. Even the warning paperwork stayed that the available funds were to be used only for current bills, so the notion that these owed funds will be forthcoming is misleading. The calvary is not coming from that direction.

  4. Berkoff better understand that it is not the fault of Moccia –
    WE ALL KNOW THAT – it’s just a damn shame Bekoff just doesn’t get it.

  5. Dawn

    Once again I ask, would berkoff accept these types of excuses in his own business. He has been a successful businessman for some time. If his employees came to him with these types of excuses what would be say.
    It’s ok to be irresponsible with my tax dollars. I wish everyone would be as care with the tax dollars as they are with their own purse.

  6. Joanne Romano

    Maybe if all these high powered people were to actually need the services of an organization like NEON there would be better management. People who know the feeling of need know they must live within their means…Maybe someone can run this agency that actually knows what its like to have to ask for help, then and only then will there be accountability. High salaries etc. need to be curbed. The person who will be accountable for bringing this organization back on its feet should surround themselves with knowledgeable staff who have actual experience in what it takes to serve a community, someone who isn’t looking to line their pockets on the backs of others, someone willing to go the extra mile for those in need. You don’t need a rocket scientist to know what is needed and astronomical salaries are not needed in this economy….bring it down folks…live within your means and really care about those you are serving…they really need your help.

  7. M Allen

    How about we get some volunteers to move NEON out of the SoNoCC space at 98 South Main and get that situation rectified. While we’re at it, move NEON completely out of the Head Start location so CDI can be operational immediately. There is no reason NEON needs to keep dragging down everything it touches or being a roadblock to getting services back up and running in those groups capable of moving forward. How about a cease and desist order from the courts pushing NEON out of everything so they aren’t in the way anymore?

  8. TG

    Posted this on another article, but this is most current, and probably most viewed, so I’ll post here as well: Can someone direct me to a way to help the families dependent on the care provided by NEON in order to be able to go to work? Through no fault of their own, they are stuck with no care. Perhaps some have alternatives, perhaps others do not. Are there no churches or community agencies able to open their doors for emergency care? I will happily volunteer.

  9. Ergo

    I’m with TG. How can I help? The NEON mess is just that, a mess. However, we have to remember that there are countless families in need of their services that have been jerked around for weeks. They turned to NEON because there was no where else for them the turn. I don’t give a rats butt about their electricity woes, what about the families in need? What can we do to help? Forget politics for one and focus on our citizens!

  10. Jackie Espo

    Unfortunately it isn’t so simple. To provide childcare, you have to have a facilty that meets state and federal standards and you need to be licensed. Does anyone know of any churches or agencies that have licensed facilities that aren’t being used?
    The best thing that could happen is to put CDI into BenFranklin right away. I suspect that Neon is not in compliance with their lease with the City, so the City should figure out how to terminate their lease and quickly put together an agreement directly with CDI to re-open Head Start. Neon is bankrupt and should be taken out of the driver’s seat ASAP in the CDI negotiations and sent to a bankruptcy court to sort out the mess.

  11. Joanne Romano

    Start with your own churches etc…put the word out…I am sure there are many who will come out to help…most of these establishments have halls they use for other occasions but keep in mind, volunteers would need to be found and there are liabilities. The best answer is to go to places that are already established as daycare facilities etc. and have insurance that covers unexpected problems.

  12. Joanne Romano

    Politics should not factor into doing the right thing!

  13. Just Wondering..

    When “The mayor of Norwalk cut this thing off and that was it,” he said Weren’t others getting hefty and apparently undeserved raises?? I’m glad Mayor Moccia used common sense here and held off on $2.6 million of taxpayers money. All taxpayers should be glad he did regardless of party affiliation.

  14. TG

    My church is in Fairfield, or I would TOTALLY go to them. I understand there is the issue of liability and such; maybe I’m naïve in hoping there is some sort of emergency provision for situations like these – short term care in emergencies? Last year, I went to NY and did a few days of relief after Hurricane Sandy. The entire relief effort was mobilized by grassroots volunteers and it was pretty outstanding, if disorganized at times. I realize this is not a natural disaster, but this is certainly a crisis. It is a terrible financial crisis for those who have lost jobs, but at least they have hope of being rehired by CDI, or getting a job elsewhere. In the case of working families, some of them literally may not be able to work anywhere unless they have adequate child care. This is a terrible tragedy, IMO, when I know I have networks of available background-checked people who may not be licensed early childhood providers, but nonetheless have time, love and experience with children to allow families to return to their jobs (and alone, without a child in tow). That said, I really do understand the liability issues. So, I guess I brought up churches because I know that each week, in any given church, you will find Sunday School classrooms filled with kids, and I am assuming they do not have daycare licensing. Is that because the parents are technically in the building, though not in the same room? How are churches able to do this? How about Vacation Bible School? Most parents drop their kids off and go during the week. I am asking these questions because I don’t have the answers of the legalities and I am hoping someone here might know someone who does. I have sought answers elsewhere as well, but I keep butting up against the same issue. And so yes, I agree, the best thing is to get CDI in there as quickly as possible to get a real program up and running, but how long will that be? I have yet to ever see a large agency, government or not move in a manner that would be considered efficient to the people who need it. Anyway, sorry just brainstorming/thinking out loud and offering help if there’s someone out there who has the connections to see whether this is a possilibity anywhere. I know that Norwalk is a community that cares and there are many that would help if we were connected to those who needed it.

  15. The Norwalker

    I think that Headstart and the city of Norwalk should find some lesser amount to pay Neon for services provided. After all the children were left in the care of NEON and expenses were incurred to provide for the children.

  16. Joanne Romano

    TG, if a church has a hall/classrooms they have insurance to cover any and all persons on their property.

  17. Joanne Romano

    The truly sad thing is that these people paid for daycare so they can go to work and now are left scrambling and out the money they paid.

  18. Jackie Espo

    My church looked into providing daycare but it was cost prohibitive and required significant facilities investment. Daycare has different requirements than providing free babysitting for an hour or so during church services.

  19. EastNorwalkChick

    I would like to know if possible, how many months in arrears totals this $37K debt to SNEW. How long did they go without paying their bills, who else have they not paid? Were the executive staff paid their salaries during this time period?
    Please tell me if the CFO’s, (apparently there are three of them), have been terminated. Because they should have seen this coming last fiscal year.
    Mr. Berkhoff’s blaming Mayor Moccia for not giving them the $2.6 in funding has got to stop….he is starting to sound very much like Ms. Stephenson, blaming everyone but the themselves for this mess.
    It is good to see some posts from people who want to help those who are affected by this, my hope for humanity has been renewed. I too would like to help, so if anything comes up, Nancy/Mark please let us all know.

  20. Bamboozled

    It appears NO ONE has been paid!!! The question still remains: Where is the money? Where did it go? The funding streams paid this company until the end of the quarter so it seems that everyone: vendors, staff, and utilities were just ignored. They did what they wanted to without regards to their fiscal and fiduciary responsibilities and obligations to all people affected. Yes they got paid and no one else! Federal and state guidelines as to how to allocate the money and provide supporting documentation were ignored. To please the public only the CEO stepped down. Who still has input in this company to date!!! The whole team should have left or been asked to as well instead of penalizing uninformed staff and family members. Transparency is the word being thrown around all the time and it’s all LIES. They now have the good ole Rev pointing fingers too emphasizing on the mayors reluctance to give the dollars. All the funding sources are asking for is proof and back-up documentation of financial viability…if all guidelines are met, what is the problem with obliging….stay tuned folks and see this saga unfold!!!

  21. Bamboozled

    If someone is willing to get behind this company without a fresh start, and put their reputation on the line behind nonsense, one would wonder what is in it for them!! What kind of board members goes for this as well? Why do you think the others resigned? They didn’t want to be tied to this thing!!! What’s done in the dark eventually comes to light…almost always. It’s funny how the Rev is saying he wants to get money owed to NEON…what about what Neon owes to others!!!

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