The thank-you letters from troops serving overseas are what the Town Clerk’s office will miss the most. Every few weeks, a grateful service member will write to let Trumbull know that residents’ spare change has made a difference.
“Anything sent from home that can bring a smile and relieve some stress is truly priceless,” wrote Sgt. Major John Ugarte from Afghanistan. “Keep up the great job supporting our fine soldiers.”
Captain David Spooner, an Army chaplain stationed in Kandahar was similarly thankful.
“Your care package made its way to my office,” he wrote. “It blessed the day of at least five soldiers. Whether it was the energy bars, sweet treats, or clothing, soldiers smiled when they picked up part of your package.”
The thank you notes are due to a “Care Packages For Soldiers” program that Town Clerk Suzanne Burr-Monaco and the office staff have been running for the past nine years. Town Hall staff and residents who come into the office have donated about $7,300 over the years, placing their coins or the $1 and $2 they had left after licensing their dogs into a collection jar on the counter.
“We always get the most donations at dog licensing time,” Monaco said. “Because people almost always get change from the $8 and $19 license fee, and they put it in the jar.”
Once a month Monaco or one of the other staff members will empty the jar, then walk across the street and get a money order from the Peoples United Bank. The donation then gets mailed to Fairfield-based Project From the Heart. The funds are used to pay the postage on care packages sent from home to troops serving overseas.
“I feel badly because those [service members] are the people who look out for us and we want them to know that we’re thinking about them,” Monaco said.
The reason the program appears headed for its end is that the Town Clerk’s Office recently underwent a routine audit by Internal Auditor Therese Keegan. In her report, which she submitted to the Board of Finance at its May 9 meeting, Keegan noted that the donations bypass the town’s accounting practice. After inspecting the receipts from the donations, Keegan concluded that the office had made nine separate donations, totalling $795, to Project From the Heart in 2018. This year the staff had donated $100 March 1, and another $100 April 4.
“These are not Town funds,” Keegan wrote.
But even if the donations are not town funds and were not collected for town services, cash is still coming into the office, said Board of Finance Chairman Elaine Hammers.
“It’s a program people support, and we would like to see it continue, but even if these are donations for a good cause, it’s still cash coming into the town, and there are procedures to follow,” Hammers said.
Among the options Keegan suggested were to have the money go into a locked box that could only be opened by the bank, and having one employee open the jar and count the money and then give the money to another employee to purchase the money order.
But both of those options would take up staff time and, since donating to a troop support organization is not part of the staff’s job responsibilities, were rejected by Monaco.
A third option, doing away with the donation jar entirely, appears the most likely outcome. Keegan noted in her report that Monaco had agreed to take the remaining money in the jar, plus some additional funds from a similar program that former Town Clerk Rose Lodice had run, and make one final donation before discontinuing the collections.
“I don’t see the need to make a federal case out of people donating their change to a program that benefits the troops,” Monaco said. “But the last thing my staff needs is more work.”