Editor’s note: At the end of each year, The Sun provides an opportunity for area school superintendents and town leaders to reflect on the year and, if they wish, discuss plans for the new year.
A year ago, we celebrated the swearing-in ceremony of myself and Selectwoman Kate Rotella, after we were re-elected to our second two-year terms. And we welcomed Selectman John Prue from Pawcatuck Village, who began his first term on the board replacing former Selectman Mike Spellman.
All three of us pledged to work together for the benefit of the town in the coming two years, which was good news. The bad news was that serving in municipal government in Connecticut was like riding a roller coaster.
The biggest challenge we faced in the past year was dealing with a state that is virtually broke and unable to meet its obligations to the state’s 169 towns and cities — Stonington included. This situation was certain to continue. And it has.
But in the past year all three of us have been gung-ho about working together, and we have done so. Most of our votes on the Board of Selectmen have been unanimous, and we have worked in a bipartisan fashion with the town’s boards, commissions and authorities to achieve good results in bad times.
One of our goals has been to grow the grand list, and the good news is that the Perkins Farm project has been moving forward, with apartment plans, townhouses and the Hartford Health Care Medical Center. Incorporating a new three-story plan for aggregating multiple medical disciplines under one roof, the center promises to bring a new level of health care to the region while, at the same time, preserving almost 30 acres of the property along scenic Jerry Browne Road.
In Pawcatuck Village, the new PV-5 planning zone will enhance development, and demolition of the Campbell Grain Building opens up exciting new opportunities for that property. As well, Spruce Ridge will join Spruce Meadows as an affordable-housing project that allows young professionals to live in the town they serve.
On the education front, the West Vine Street School and Deans Mill School are nearing completion and will open as PreK-5 facilities in the fall of 2019. Meanwhile, town residents voted to centralize grades six through eight at the former Mystic Middle School — which will be renamed Stonington Middle School by the students. The schools’ Central Office will move to the former Pawcatuck Middle School.
In Mystic, the Boathouse Park Committee has developed a Master Plan for the property that has been sent forward to Planning and Zoning with several important aspects still to be decided. Although the project is complicated and involves the participation of multiple state agencies, progress has been made since the Mystic firm of Kent and Frost was hired as project manager in October 2017. And a recent editorial stated “the fundamental vision for the site remains worthy.” We agree.
Looking forward to 2019, we understand that the state’s fiscal problems will remain following the departure of Gov. Dannel Malloy and the arrival of the Lamont-Bysiewicz team. We also know that the transition from one administration to another always has its challenges. Nonetheless, Governor-elect Lamont’s decision to incorporate Democrat, Republican and unaffiliated voters into 15 transition teams is a hopeful sign that they, too, will be “gung-ho” about working together.
One item on our wish list for the new year is that the Connecticut Department of Housing will get bonding approval for a grant of $500,000 for the Pawcatuck Village’s Streetscape Route 1 Corridor — a state road. Key to the project is sidewalks, providing safe pedestrian passage for high school students, the elderly, disabled and citizens who walk along the busy highway.
We also need to look for opportunities for shared services with other towns and the state. For example, the police department recently saved the town millions of dollars through collaboration with the Connecticut State Telecommunications System. And we saved them $800,000 off the purchase of a new tower. For this we received the 2018 CCM Municipal Excellence Award.
Currently the town of Stonington has over 450 employees working for the town and numerous others volunteering for our fire departments and emergency services. We have a grand list of $2.6 billion, an annual budget of over $70 million and bonding in the tens of millions. This is a town with many moving parts, and the skill of our public employees and volunteers plays a critical role in controlling the cost of government and promoting our quality of life.
When times are tough, we need to be “gung-ho” and work together as a team to make decisions that are in the best interest of all the residents who call Stonington home. This is our promise for the new year.
Rob Simmons is the first selectman of Stonington.