City settles with non-profit that operated warming center for two months

More than $32,000 from general fund used; Mayor Condrey says she’s ‘beyond livid.’

A “paperwork snafu” cost Middletown taxpayers nearly $32,000.

Last winter, City Council approved a contract with Freya’s Hen House, a non-profit, to provide a short-term warming center for the homeless during the cold months. The contract was for three months and the cost was not to exceed $95,000, or about $1,000 a night.

The contract called for the reimbursement of costs using Community Development Building Grant funds, but due to the urgency of trying to get a shelter opened at 1009 Grove St. during the peak of cold weather, the city did not competitively bid the contract, according to documents.

That meant the city couldn’t “satisfy certain federal requirements” that were a prerequisite for using the CDBG funds, the city said. So staff recommended the final payment of $31,824.90 to Freya’s Hen House should be made using unappropriated general funds.

Mayor Nicole Condrey said she was “beyond livid.”

She said Freya’s Hen House was paid for three months, while it closed the warming center after two months.

“It was a failure,” said Condrey, who added she never would have voted for the contract if she knew general funds would be used.

Council voted 4-0, with Tal Moon abstaining, to pass the emergency ordinance that authorized the execution of a settlement agreement. The parties will have no further obligation to one another with respect to the contract, the city said.

When the center closed at the beginning of April, Erica Norton, executive director of the Healing Center that contracted with the city of Middletown to operate the center, expressed frustration with how the warming center was being reimbursed for its expenses.

She has used some money from her for-profit business to pay some of the bills at the warming center, she told the Journal-News.

Acting City Manager Paul Lolli, who replaced City Manager Jim Palenick, who was employed when the contract with Freya’s Hen House was signed, said he’s meeting with other groups to discuss providing a warming center so it “won’t be a last-minute thing.”

Another plan will be in place by the fall, Lolli told council.

Police Chief David Birk was asked if homeless are still being dropped off in the city, a frequent complaint from downtown business owners. He said he was contacted by Hope House, a Middletown homeless shelter, about a resident from Hamilton. Birk said he called the Hamilton Police Department and the man was returned to Hamilton.

Councilman Rodney Muterspaw, a former police chief, said people shouldn’t be dropped off in Middletown like “stray” dogs and cats.

“It’s inhumane,” he said.

Vice Mayor Monica Nenni said while driving to the Middletown July 4 parade, she saw a fire coming from a homeless camp.

“It’s disheartening to see,” she said.

In other news: City Council voted to extend the time residents are allowed to speak during citizens comments from three minutes to four minutes. There is a digital clock in Council Chambers and after three minutes, Condrey tells the speaker their time is up.

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