December 23, 2014

Grant Application for Planned New Chester Library to be Ready for Aug. 29 Deadline

CHESTER— A grant application for up to $1 million in state funding for a planned new library at North Quarter Park will be ready for submission by an August. 29 deadline.  The town will learn by mid-November whether it has been awarded the funding.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said two volunteer committees working on the project, the North Quarter Park planning committee and the library building committee, have concurred on a plan to construct a two-story, 5,600 square-foot library building on the front section of the 22-acre park on the east side of Main Street. He said the board of selectmen should be ready to approve the plan, and sign-off on the grant application, at a special meeting on Aug. 26. The town’s application will be filed with the State Library Board by the Aug. 29 deadline.

Meehan said the successful completion of the grant application, which required decisions on a location and conceptual preliminary plans for the library building, required a focused effort by the two committees over the past three months. “The pieces of these two projects have really come together,” he said.

The North Quarter Park planning committee worked with landscape architects Richter & Cegan Inc. of Avon to prepare a master plan for the entire park that included a proposed library location. The master plan for the park was presented to residents at a July 9 public information meeting. The building committee worked with LLB Architects of Pawtucket, R.I. to prepare the preliminary building plans.

Meehan said approval of the grant funding would cover a significant portion, but not all, of the costs involved in building a new library that would replace the existing 108 year-old library building on West Main St. (Route 148). He said an up front appropriation of town funds would be needed to pay for completion of bid documents for the project by next spring, while additional town funding would also be needed for the total construction costs. He said a possible bonding authorization for the library project could go to the town voters for referendum approval in 2015.

Possible Development Proposal for Deep River Industrial Land Off Route 154

DEEP RIVER— There could be a development proposal for a 59-acre parcel on the east side of Route 154 that was rezoned industrial in 2006. If the plan proceeds, it could bring a new manufacturing building of up to 100,000 square feet to Deep River with the possibility of additional industrial buildings to follow.

First Selectman Richard Smith reported at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of selectmen that he has been in contact with owners of a manufacturing company in a nearby town that are considering acquiring the parcel to relocate and expand in Deep River. He said the name of the interested party would be announced in the coming weeks if the potential sale of the parcel proceeds.

The 59 acre parcel, located on the east side of Route 154 near the intersection with Kelsey Hill Road, was rezoned by the planning and zoning commission from residential to industrial in 2006 at the urging of the late local developer Walter Mislick. Mislick, who died soon after the rezoning, envisioned an access road that would service a new industrial park with up to five buildings.

Mislick, who began his business career as owner of an egg processing company, had developed an industrial park on the opposite side of Route 154 during the 1990’s. The land, which abuts the Canfield Woods Nature Preserve to the east and the Georgetown Apartments property to the north, is now being offered for sale by Mislick’s heirs for a current price of $1.5 million. The parcel has some frontage on Route 154, and would have access to water and sewer service if developed.
Smith said the interested party currently operates a 50,000 square-foot manufacturing facility with nearly 100 employees in a nearby town, but is unable to expand at the current location. He said development of the property, which includes some wetlands areas, would be costly, requiring a 1,000-foot access road and a crossing of the state-owned Valley Railroad tracks.

If the sale proceeds, Smith said he would recommend the town offer a tax abatement to help facilitate the development. State law allows a municipality to abate up to 50 percent of all local property taxes for a new industrial development or expansion for a period of up to seven years. Deep River has authorized similar tax abatements for industrial development or expansions previously, but for shorter time periods.

“I see it as a win even with an abatement if you’re not getting anything to begin with,” Smith said. The board urged Smith to continue his contacts with the unidentified interested party and the Mislick family. “It would be great to get some activity back there”, said Selectman Angus McDonald.

Mild 2.7 Earthquake Early Thursday was Centered in Deep River

DEEP RIVER— A mild earthquake early Thursday that registered at 2.7 on the Richter Scale was centered in Deep River. The earthquake, which was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey, occurred around 3:09 a.m. and caused no reports of damage.

State police and dispatchers at the Troop F Barracks in Westbrook reported receiving numerous calls immediately after the quake from residents reporting an explosion and or shaking of the ground around their homes. The quake was also felt in Chester, and as far away as Middletown, Durham, and East Hampton on the east side of the Connecticut River. The quake occurred between two to three miles underground. A similar mild earthquake that was centered around Chester occurred in March 2008 with no damage reported

Foley Carries Area Towns in Republican Gubernatorial Primary Win

AREAWIDE— Party-endorsed candidate Tom Foley of Greenwich carried Chester, Deep River, and Essex Tuesday on his way to a statewide Republican gubernatorial primary win over his challenger, State Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield. As was the case statewide, voter turnout was extremely low in the three area towns. The vote in Chester was Foley-41, McKinney-36. In Deep River, Foley 64, McKinney-53, and in Essex Foley 216, McKinney-121.

But tri-town Republicans showed a preference for challengers in the close three-way contest for the GOP Lt. Governor nomination, with Groton Councilwoman Heather Bond Somers carrying the towns over the convention-endorsed candidate, State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi of Stafford and David Walker of Bridgeport, who was running as a team with McKinney.

In Chester, Walker led with a vote of Walker- 34, Bacchiochi-26, and Somers-17. In Deep River, Somers led, with a vote of Somers-59, Bacchiochi-32, and Walker-24. Somers also carried Essex, with a vote of Somers-145, Bacchiochi-98, and Walker-88.
Party-endorsed candidate Sharon McClaughlin carried all three towns in her statewide win over challenger Angel Cadena for the Republican nomination for state comptroller. In Chester, the vote was McClaughlin-53, Cadena-18, in Deep River, McClaughlin-75, Cadena-28, and in Essex McClaughlin 237, Cadena-65.

Voter turnout was extremely low, particularly in Chester, where only 77 of 458 registered Republicans turned out Tuesday. In Deep River, the turnout was 117 of 600 registered Republicans. In Essex, turnout was 337 of 1,317 registered Republicans.

Sticker System for Essex Trash Compactor Site Effective Oct. 1

ESSEX— A new sticker system for residential users that is intended to eliminate cash transactions at the town solid waste transfer station will be effective on Wednesday Oct. 1

First Selectman Norman Needleman announced the new effective date for changes at the transfer station at a meeting of the board of selectmen last week. The selectmen had approved the new site rules and fees last winter, but the effective date for the changes has been pushed back as town personnel prepare to implement the new system.

As of Oct. 1, the current pay-per-bag system for residents using the site for disposal of household trash will end, along with all other cash transactions at the facility located off Route 154 near the Route 9 exit four interchange. Resident users will be required to purchase a use sticker for their vehicle at a cost of  $125 per year, with a reduced change of $75 per year for senior citizens. Occasional users will be allowed to purchase a book of stickers at a price of  $25 for ten trips to the compactor site.

All payments must be made by check or credit card, ending the need for site personnel to handle cash paid for use of the site. The plan also includes higher fees for disposal of bulky waste and demolition materials, but there will be no charge for disposal of recyclables, including bottles, cans, plastics, newspapers and magazines.

In other business last week, selectmen approved a transfer of funds remaining in a legal services account for the now defunct sanitary waste commission to the legal budget for the water pollution control authority. Voters at a town meeting in June approved a revised ordinance dissolving the sanitary waste commission, ending an arrangement dating to the early 1990s where the town maintained an appointed joint sanitary waste commission/water pollution control authority.
Under the previous ordinance, the sanitary waste commission helped supervise the solid waste transfer station and town recycling efforts, while the WPCA directed the town’s water pollution control and sewer avoidance efforts.

With the funds transfer, which also requires approval from the board of finance at an Aug. 21 meeting, $4,000 remaining in the sanitary waste commission legal account will be added to the $5,000 that is in the legal budget for the WPCA for a total legal account of $9,000 for the WPCA in the current fiscal year that began July 1.

State Police Apprehend Suspect in Saturday Essex Bank Robbery

ESSEX— State troopers quickly apprehended a suspect Saturday morning minutes after he allegedly robbed the Bank of America branch at the Bokum Center Shopping Plaza. Joshua Green, 33, of Niantic, was arrested on Route 153 (Plains Road) soon after the robbery was reported around 10 a.m. Saturday.

Green was northbound approaching the Route 9 exit 3 interchange when the Subaru station wagon he was driving was stopped by two troopers. He was arrested and charged with third degree robbery, first degree larceny, and operating a motor vehicle without a license. Police report a “large amount of stolen currency,” was recovered from the vehicle. Green was held over the weekend at the Troop F barracks in Westbrook for arrangement Monday at Middletown Superior Court.

Essex Capital Projects Could Total Over $6 Million

ESSEX— The board of selectmen is expected to receive a report in August detailing capital projects that could total over $6 million. The report is expected to set the stage for community debate on a bonding authorization resolution that could go to town voters before the end of the year.

Selectman Bruce Glowac said this week the five-member advisory capital projects committee is working to complete a final report for submission to the board of selectmen at its Aug 19 meeting, Glowac, a Republican and former first selectman, has chaired the capital projects committee since he assumed the minority party seat on the board of selectmen last November.

Glowac said the report would include specific cost estimates for each project. “We hope to have some pretty firm numbers to go forward with the various projects,” he said. But Glowac stressed the list of projects is subject to change as it is reviewed by the board of selectmen and board of finance in September. “We have not settled on any amounts yet,” he said.

Glowac said the top priority projects are replacement of most of the roof at Essex Elementary School, and replacement of town bridges on Ivory Street and Walnut Street in the Ivoryton section. Glowac said projects related to the elementary school and the two bridge projects would be eligible for state and federal grants that would reduce the final expense for the town.

Essex Elementary School: New Roof: a High Priority Capital Project

Essex Elementary School: New Roof: a High Priority Capital Project (photo courtesy of Jerome Wilson).

Glowac said the preliminary list includes other improvements at the elementary school, which was built in 1952 and last renovated and expanded in 2006. The possible improvements include air conditioning for a building that is now used year-round, repaving of the school driveway and some parking areas, and improvements to the school media center.

The library/media center was relocated to a former gymnasium after a renovation in the 1990s, but the floor under the media center contains final pockets of potentially hazardous asbestos material. Glowac said the asbestos must be removed before any other possible improvements to the media center are considered.

The list also includes improvements at town hall, including roof replacement, air conditioning, new energy efficient windows, and an upgraded fire and security alarm system. The town hall, built in 1892 as the former Pratt High School, has had some renovations in recent years. The list could also include improvements at the town public works garage located off Route 154, which was first constructed in the early 1990s. The building also needs roof replacement, along with an upgrade of the heating system.

Glowac said an initial cost estimate for the total list of projects came in at $6.5 million, a figure that could be reduced by $2-$3 million in state and federal grant funds. He added that some projects on the preliminary list could be removed from the final list of proposed projects that would be presented to town residents at a public hearing this fall. Glowac said it is too soon to predict when a bonding authorization resolution to fund capital projects would be presented to town voters for approval in a referendum.

Ivoryton Village Named to National Register of Historic Places

Rose Brother’s Store and village gathering spot, as it was almost a century ago

Rose Brother’s Store and village gathering spot, as it was almost a century ago

ESSEX— The Village of Ivoryton has been placed on the National Parks Service National Register of Historic Places in recognition of the number of historic structures in the village and it’s role as a “well preserved company town” from the Industrial era of New England.

The town’s planning commission played a key role in the village’s nomination and inclusion on the National Register, which includes hundreds of historic sites and structures in all parts of the United States. The commission established a subcommittee more than three years ago that surveyed and documented nearly 100 historic structures in the three villages of Essex, Centerbrook and Ivoryton with assistance from the State Office of Historic Preservation. The effort was aided by the work of the late former Town Historian Donald Malcarne, who wrote several books about the town’s historic in its historic structures.

Gather  today.  The building is practically unchanged from a century ago when it served as the location of the Rose Brother’s Store (photo by Jody Dole)

Gather today. The building is practically unchanged from a century ago when it served as the location of the Rose Brother’s Store (photo by Jody Dole)

With more then 200 identified “contributing” structures, the National  Register highlights an area roughly bounded by Main St., North Main St., Oak St., Blake St., Summit St. and Comstock Avenue. These streets include many structures tied to the village’s two major industries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the ivory import and manufacturers Comstock, Cheney & Co. and Pratt, Read & Co, Many of the houses in the area were home to immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy and Sweden that worked in the two ivory processing factories.

Between 1860 and the late 1930s, Ivoryton was a self-sufficient industrial center that was home for more than 600 workers. Both the Ivoryton Library and Ivoryton Playhouse buildings date back to this era.

The addition of Ivoryton village to the National Register represents a tribute to its continuing historic character and contributions to the Industrial Era in New England, but the honorary designation carries no regulatory burden and imposes no obligations on private property owners. There are no restrictions on the use, transfer or disposition of private property, though the designation could open the possibility of funding assistance for restoration of identified historic structures,.

Deep River Zoning Hearing on 444 Main Street Plans Continued to August 21

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has continued its public hearing on a special permit application for a used motor vehicle dealership at 444 Main St. to an Aug. 21 session. The public hearing, which was briefly opened at a July 17 meeting, was continued because the site plan requires review, and possible permit approval, from the inland-wetlands commission.

Local resident George Bartlett Jr. is seeking approval; for a used motor vehicle dealership at the former manufacturing site located on the west side of Main St. (Route 154) near the town’s southern border. Bartlett’s plans for the property have been the subject of zoning disputes, and two lawsuits, over the past two years. But the lawsuits involving both the commission and the zoning board of appeals could be settled as the commission moves to consider a new application for the property.

Essex lawyer John Bennet, representing Bartlett, requested continuation of the public hearing, citing both the need for an inland wetlands review and the absence of project engineer Donald Carlson. The commission continued the hearing after first reading a letter from Bennet that clarified elements of the application that call for motor vehicle repairs and service on the site.

Bennet advised that the proposed business would not be a full service vehicle repair shop, with any repair work limited to vehicles that are on the property for sale as part of the proposed used vehicle dealership.

The zoning board of appeals on July 8 approved two variances that were required for the new application, along with a location approval for the used motor vehicle dealership that is required under state law. The board approved a variance of a requirement in zoning regulations for a raised island in the paved parking area, and a 20-foot reduction in the 50-foot front yard setback rule to 30-feet. The Aug. 21 hearing on Bartlett’s new application will convene at 7 p.m. in town hall.

Essex Selectmen Hear Concerns About Ivoryton Village Parking Issues

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has received an appeal from business owners for renewed town efforts to increase the availability of free public parking in Ivoryton village. Members of the Ivoryton Village Alliance attended the board’s meeting last week to press their appeal for assistance with parking issues.

The group included Elizabeth Alvord, director of the Ivoryton Library, and owners of several businesses, including the Ivoryton Tavern, Blue Hound Restaurant, and Gather, a business located in the former Ivoryton Store building. Alford noted there is currently less than 30 designated free public parking spaces in the village.

Jim Crowell, owner of the Ivoryton Tavern, said businesses in the village have been doing well in recent months, though parking is “the one thing that is holding us back.” Deanna Pinette, owner of Gather, said visitors are confused about where to park,  particularly when there is a show at the Ivoryton Playhouse and the owner of a private lot charges a $5 fee for parking. The lot is owned by Carl Echtman of Deep River.

First Selectman Norman Neeleman said Echtman has shown no interest in selling the lot, dating back to 2006 when the town applied for a state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant to purchase it. The grant was not approved after the town planning commission declined to support the application. “There is no magic bullet when the property in question is private property,” he said. Needleman said he would work with the director of public works and business owners to “make the most out of what we have,” while continuing to explore ways to increase public parking.

Selectman Bruce Glowac said the selectmen understand the importance of the parking situation for business owners, visitors, and residents. “We all hear you loud and clear,” he said.

Essex Zoning Board of Appeals Continues Hearing on 33 Plains Road Cease and Desist Order

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals has continued its public hearing on an appeal of a town cease and desist order for a disputed structure at 33 Plains Road to an August 19 session. The board agreed to continue the hearing after a meeting Tuesday where it received new evidence about a structure that Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow maintains was constructed without permits and is being improperly used as a residential dwelling in the town’s limited industrial zone.

Budrow issued a cease and desist order in January to property owner John Finkeldey after an investigation that began following receipt of a complaint in the summer of 2013. Finkeldey is appealing the order, represented by local lawyer Terrance Lomme, who also serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine-town region.

The hearing began in May, and resumed at a June 17 session where Lomme requested a continuance because a current survey map of the two acre parcel was not completed. Lomme presented the survey map Tuesday, along with letters from a current and former “tenant” in the structure.  The survey map shows three buildings on the parcel, including the house where Finkeldey lives, another structure that is also used as a dwelling, and a third structure on the northwest corner of the property that is the subject of the zoning dispute.

Budrow, in the cease and desist order, maintains this structure was constructed without zoning, building, or health department permits from the town, and is being improperly used as a dwelling because it is located on the limited industrial zone where town zoning regulations prohibit residential dwellings.

Lomme said the letters from tenants support Finkeldey’s claim the structure has been in place for more than three years without enforcement action from the town, making it a legal structure under state law. David Burke reported in his letter that he lived in the structure from 2000-2004, and that it contained running water and plumbing facilities.  Jane Graham reported in a letter that she has lived in the structure since October 2009. Lomme also presented a letter from Finkeldey’s father, Robert Finkeldey of Old Saybrook, maintaining the structure was built in the 1950s, and has had people residing there in subsequent years.

Peter Sipples, attorney for the zoning commission, said the panel maintains the structure can not be used as a dwelling in the limited industrial zone, even if has been in place for more than three years. He said the structure would have to have been used continuously as a dwelling since before 1973, when the town adopted the regulations defining the limited industrial zone, to have legal non-conforming status. Sipples added the town has no records of permits being issued for the structure or any improvements to it.

In continuing the hearing from the June 17 session, the board asked Budrow to provide information on what town tax assessment records show for structures and improvements on the property. Budrow presented a letter from Assessor Jessica Sypher advising that personnel working on the townwide  property revaluation that was completed last year did not fully inspect the property because there were no trespassing signs and no one was home at the time of the inspection visit. The 2013 revaluation was to have included visual inspections of all properties, a process that is required every ten years under state law.

When board members asked to review records of previous revaluations that included inspections of all properties, Lomme agreed to request a continuation of the hearing for the additional research.

Essex Town Meeting Gives Unanimous Approval for $200,000 Contribution to Preserve Land Purchase

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday gave unanimous approval for a $200,000 appropriation as the town’s contribution for purchase of the 70-acre portion of the Preserve property in Essex. More than 100 residents turned out for the meeting in the town hall auditorium, with a round of applause following approval of the funding on a voice vote without discussion.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the $200,000 would come from an open space acquisition sinking fund available in the current town budget. The town meeting vote ends years of debate about the wooded property that includes the Essex acreage off Ingham Hill Road that had been the subject of a subdivision application  in 2011.

Paul Greenberg with the Essex Land Trust, said the non-profit group is expected to at least match the town contribution for purchase of the portion of the property in Essex. Greenberg said the Trust has applied for a state grant of up to $350,000 that is awarded in October. He said the Trust would also use private fundraising for the purchase.

Old Saybrook voters in a July 8 referendum approved $3 million in bonding for purchase of the much larger 930-acre section of the property in their town. State bond funds will also be used for the total $8 million purchase, which is being coordinated by the non-profit Trust For Public Land. The purchase of the total 1,000-acre property for preservation  as public open space is expected to close by the end of the year.

Greenberg said the Essex section of the property would be owned by the Essex Land Trust,  while the larger Old Saybrook portion would be co-owned by that town and the state. Greenberg said access to the property from Essex would be off Ingham Hill Road, with trails in to the property to be improved for greater public access next year.

Selectman Bruce Glowac, who lives on Ingham Hill Road, spoke for the crowd when he expressed appreciation for the public acquisition of the total property. “We look forward to having 1,000 acres in the town next to us and in our town,” he said.

Essex Zoning Commission has Monday Public Hearing on Plains Road Industrial Building Expansion

ESSEX— The zoning commission has a public hearing Monday on a special permit application for an 11,300 square-foot expansion of the Bell Power Systems LLC building at 34 Plains Road. The session begins at 7 p.m. in town hall.
The company, which refurbishes engines to make the equipment more environment-friendly, proposes the addition for the south side of its existing 33,871-square-foot building. The new addition would be used for engine storage. The total size of the building after expansion would be 45,172 square-feet.

The company, which currently has 61 employees, would add a handful of additional employees after the expansion is completed. Any new construction and equipment related to the expansion would add to the town’s grand list of taxable property, which has shown weak growth in recent years.

Deep River Selectmen Pick Three Firms to Build on Town-Owned Industrial Land

DEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen has picked three firms to be offered a chance to build on a town-owned parcel at the Plattwood Park Industrial Area off Route 80. The firms are Winthrop Tool LLC, Top Notch Electrical Services, and  Moyers Landscaping Services LLC.

The firms will be allowed to construct three new industrial buildings as part of an economic development plan endorsed by the selectmen last year. The town purchased a four-acre parcel located off Industrial Park Road from local resident Gary Mislick for $270,000 to be paid in three annual installments. To pay for the acquisition, it used income derived from rentals in two industrial buildings that were constructed using state grant funds in 1997 and 2004.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the town will sponsor construction of a 300-foot road that would open up the parcel for three new industrial buildings. Under preliminary plans, Winthrop Tool LLC would construct a 12,000 square-foot building, Moyers Landscaping a 9,600 square-foot building, with Top Notch Electrical Services to construct a 4,500 square-foot building. Contracts expected to be signed later this summer would require the firms to begin construction within six months. Smith said Monday all three firms are ready to begin construction this year.

Under the contracts, the town will receive property tax revenue for the land, even though it is the land owner, and all buildings, equipment, and machinery on the parcel. Each of the three firms is already involved in the Plattwood Park Industrial Area, with Winthrop Tool and Top Notch Electrical Services currently leasing space in the two existing town owned buildings. Smith said the two firms have “maxed out,” in their rental space and are looking to expand. Moyers Landscaping Services owns an abutting parcel that contains a 12,000 square-foot building.

Smith said new buildings for Winthrop Tool and Top Notch Electrical Services would free up space in the two town owned buildings for new tenants. Smith said the board of selectmen next year would consider selling the two existing buildings, with income from the sale to be placed in a separate fund for future economic development efforts.

Master Plan Suggests Library Site for Chester’s North Quarter Park

Chester Library Is Considering an Expansion

Chester Library Is Considering an Expansion (photo by Jerome Wilson)

CHESTER— A proposed master plan has identified a potential site for a new library and other possible improvements for the town’s North Quarter Park. The plan recommended by the town’s North Quarter Park committee was presented to about 25 residents at a public information meeting Wednesday.

The plan for the 22-acre park on the eastern end of Main Street was prepared over the past eight weeks by landscape architects Richter & Cegan Inc. of Avon. A key component of the plan suggests locating a two-story, 8,000-square foot library on the front section of the parcel, with the main entrance from a proposed 50 space parking area in back of the building.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the plan would help guide the efforts of a separate library building committee that is currently working to develop preliminary plans for a new library building in time to meet an August 29 deadline for submitting an application for a state library construction grant of up to $1 million. “The committees are working together to do sufficient work to be positioned well for the grant application,” he said. The library building committee has recommended hiring LLB Architects (Lerner, Lads & Bartells) of Pawtucket, R.I. to prepare preliminary design plans for the library building.

Landscape architect Mike Cegan outlined other possible improvements for the park, including a pavilion and lawn area, a multi-purpose improved recreation field and trails that would provide access to the northern section of the park that has views of tidal wetlands and Chester Creek. The existing children’s playground would be relocated, with the site of the former community center building that has frontage on Route 154 recommended as the location for a parks and recreation storage shed. There would be no improvements in wetlands areas.

The proposed master plan drew a generally positive response from residents at the meeting, though two residents continued to question the decision made earlier this year by the board of selectmen and library board of trustees to abandon plans for a renovation and expansion of the existing 1907 library building on West Main Street (Route 148).

Joe Cohen contended there are “too many moving parts” to the library/park project and a separate plan to reconstruct a section of Main Street from the intersection with Route 154 to the entrance of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. Cohen also questioned the total cost of the library project and possible park improvements.

Meehan said securing the state grant that is awarded in November would be a major step in lining up funding for construction of a new library, though a bonding authorization would also be required to pay for construction of the new building. Meehan said the town could pursue completion of other improvements at the park “over time” by setting aside funds in the annual town budget’s capital improvements plan, and seeking other grant funding.

Old Saybrook Gives Overwhelming Approval for $3 Million Preserve Land Purchase

Polling taking place at the Old Saybrook High School (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Polling taking place at the Old Saybrook High School (photo by Jerome Wilson)

OLD SAYBROOK— Voters Tuesday gave overwhelming approval for $3 million in bonding for the town’s share of a planned $8 million purchase of the Preserve property, described as the “1,000 acre forest.” The bonding for the 930 acres located in Old Saybrook was approved on a 2,002-242 vote in an eight-hour referendum.

About 20 percent of the town’s 7,361 registered voters turned out for the referendum, with 115 property owners who are not registered voters in Old Saybrook also casting ballots. The bonding approval is the key element in a combination of funding sources that is expected to lead to a closing on the property by the end of the year.

First Selectman Carl Fortuna said he was not surprised by the huge margin of support. “This has been a generational issue in this town and it’s finally being put to bed,” Fortuna said, adding that he was aware of no organized opposition to the bonding authorization while “there was certainly organized support.”

The parcel, which includes 70 acres in Essex and four acres in Westbrook, is located off Bokum Road and Ingham Hill Road in Old Saybrook and Ingham Hill Road in Essex. The property had been the subject of development proposals dating back to 1999 that once called for over 200 homes and a golf course. It is currently owned by River Sound Development/Lehman Brothers, with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers setting the stage for negotiations that led to a purchase plan earlier this year. The purchase negotiations were coordinated by the non-profit Trust For Public Land.

Along with the Old Saybrook contribution, the plan calls for about $3.3 million in state funding and about $1.9 million from the Trust For Public Land. Essex voters will be asked at a July 16 town meeting to approve a $200,000 town funding contribution, with the Essex Land Conservation Trust also contributing through private fund raising. The Essex town meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.at town hall.

Fortuna said the acreage in Old Saybrook would be co-owned by the town and the state. The Essex Land Conservation Trust will own the section of the property in Essex. Fortuna said trails through the vast property should be improved and ready for public use by the summer of 2015.

Supporters of the referendum near the polling station (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Supporters of the referendum near the polling station (photo by Jerome Wilson)

 

New Application for 444 Main Street Requires Variances from Deep River Zoning Board

DEEP RIVER— The new special permit application to allow a used motor vehicle dealership at 444 Main Street will require approval of variances from the zoning board of appeals before it can proceed to a scheduled July 17 public hearing before the planning and zoning commission. A public hearing on the variance requests is scheduled for July 8 at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.

Local resident George Bartlett Jr. is seeking approvals for a used motor vehicle sales and service operation at the site of the former manufacturing building he purchased in 2012. The effort has led to two years of zoning disputes, and two lawsuits involving the planning and zoning commission and the ZBA.

An initial proposal in June 2012 led to a lawsuit with the ZBA that is now headed for a settlement to clarify exactly what variances the board approved after a June 19, 2012 public hearing.   The planning and zoning commission in May approved revised regulations governing motor vehicle dealerships and gasoline stations that eliminated one of the issues that forced Bartlett to apply for a variance in 2012, a requirement  that such uses have at least 150-feet of road frontage in the turnpike industrial zone.

But Bartlett, represented by Essex lawyer John Bennet, objected, and later filed a lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court challenging the zoning amendments approved by the commission on May 15. Bennet contends two other amendments that were approved, requiring that entrances be at least 30-feet wide with a 30-foot setback from adjoining lot lines and for paving of areas where vehicles are stored, would make it “virtually impossible” for Bartlett to develop the property as a motor vehicle dealership. Bennet also alleges in the lawsuit that commission members are prejudiced against Bartlett and his plans for the property.

But Bartlett has also filed a new special permit application for the vehicle dealership that will be considered by the planning and zoning commission under the previous regulations that were in place before the approval of the amendments. The application is scheduled for a July 17 public hearing with the PZC.

Under the new site plan, Bartlett is requesting variances of the requirements for an island for the parking area at the rear of the property, and to reduce the requirement for a 50-foot front yard setback to 30-feet. He is also seeking location approval for the motor vehicle dealership under a state law that requires approval from zoning appeals boards before a state license can be approved for a motor vehicle dealership.

Cathy Jefferson, zoning enforcement officer, said Monday she has not been instructed by the commission to appear at the July 8 ZBA hearing and speak in opposition to the variances, as was the case in 2012. Jefferson said the commission is ready to proceed with the July 17 public hearing on the new application. “If he gets the variances, we’ll take the next step,” she said.

Deep River Historical Society Exhibit Marks World War I Centennial

Arthur Winschel and Alice Johnson. Winschel's father was the parent of World War I veteran, William Winschel

Arthur Winschel and Alice Johnson stand in the new World War I exhibition at the Stone House Museum in Deep River. Winschel and Johnson’s father was World War I veteran, Pte. William Winschel. (Photos by Jerome Wilson.)

DEEP RIVER— The Deep River Historical Society is hosting an exhibit highlighting the role of town residents in World War I, which began as a conflict among the great powers of Europe in August 1914. The exhibit, at the society’s Stone House Museum on Main Street, opens Saturday and continues through the end of October.

America entered the war in May 1917 in the wake of German submarine attacks on ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Records show a total of 112 Deep River residents served during the 18 months of United States involvement in the conflict that ended with the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. The date that is now marked as the Veteran’s Day holiday.

Kathy Schultz, assistant curator at the Stone House, said the society reviewed its collection, and received several new donations and loans to prepare for the exhibit. The exhibit has uniforms and equipment, including helmets and gas masks, used by town residents during the war. There are also photographs and century-old postcards brought home from France, where most of the town residents served.

Uniform of World War I Sergeant Harry Mavin, who war the first Commander of American Legion Post 61 in Deep River

Uniform of World War I Sergeant Harry Mavin, who war the first Commander of American Legion Post 61 in Deep River

While the last of the town’s World War I veterans died in the 1970s and 1980s, there are several residents whose fathers served in the war that some called “the war to end all wars.” Siblings Arthur Winschel and Alice Johnson are the children of Private Willam Winschel, who entered the war at age 21 in the fall of 1917 as part of the New York-based 305th Infantry regiment. Winschel was wounded during fighting in France in November 1918, and returned to Deep River several months later.

Arthur Winschel said his father survived a German mustard gas attack that damaged his lungs. Despite the injury, William Winschel later worked at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and died in 1974 at age 77. The Winschel siblings, who were not yet born when their father was in the war, have donated several items to the exhibit, including his uniform.

Schultz said society members are hoping other residents from Deep River or nearby towns with relatives who served in World War I will visit the exhibit, and possibly provide information or photographs of area residents that served in the war. “We want it to be an ongoing exhibit,” she said.

The Stone House hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m., with the exception of Saturday, July 19, when Main Street hosts the annual Deep River Fife and Drum Muster.

Six Firms Express Interest in Building on Deep River Industrial Land

DEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen is expected to decide next month on three firms that would be given an opportunity to construct industrial buildings on a recently acquired town-owned industrial parcel on the western side of the Plattwood Park Industrial Area.

Six firms submitted letters on interest for use of the industrial land last month. The firms are Top Notch Electrical Services LLC, Winthrop Toll and Tackle LLC, Interpro, Colaner Inc., and Olsen Sanitation Co., all of Deep River, and Moyers Landscaping Services LLC of Killingworth.

The town purchased the four-acre parcel earlier this year from local resident Gary Mislick at a appraised price of $270,000. The land is to be paid for in three installments, using revenue generated from the two town-owned small business incubator buildings on Industrial Park Road. The buildings, which are usually fully occupied with tenants, were constructed using Small Cities Program grant funds, with the first building completed in the late 1990s, and the second about a decade ago.

Smith said engineers with the Chester firm Nathan Jacobson Associates have determined up to three new industrial buildings could be constructed on the parcel, two larger buildings of up to 12,00 square-feet, and a small 5,000 square-foot building. He said contracts would require a start of construction within six months of signing.

The new industrial buildings are expected to generate tax revenue on buildings, equipment and machinery, along with creating new jobs for area residents. Smith said the board would discuss, and possibly act, on the proposals at its July 8 meeting.

Robert Siegrist of Haddam is New Republican Candidate in 36th House District

AREAWIDE— Robert Siegrist of Haddam has been nominated as the Republican challenger in the 36th house District after the candidate nominated at the party convention last month, Chester Harris of Haddam Neck, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket.

Siegrist, 31, stepped forward and was nominated last week by a vacancy committee made up of delegates from the May 14convention. He will challenge incumbent Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex in the Nov. 4 election. The district is comprised of the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.

Delegates at the convention had nominated Harris, who had run unsuccessfully for state representative in the district in 2010. But earlier this month Harris decided to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Joseph Visconti of West Hartford. Visconti had run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination but failed to muster enough delegates at the May 17 GOP State Convention to qualify for the Aug. 12 primary. The Visconti-Harris ticket must file petitions signed by at least 7,200 registered voters by an Aug. 6 deadline to gain a spot on the statewide ballot.

Siegrist is the secretary of the Haddam Republican Town Committee. A 2001 graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School, he graduated from Quinnipiac University in Hamden with a degree in political science. Siegrist, who is single, currently works as a bartender at the Brush Mill Restaurant in Chester.

Siegrist said Tuesday he is planned to wage an active, “but positive,” campaign for the Nov. 4 vote. Miller, who served as Essex first selectman from 2003-2011, was elected as state representative in a Feb. 2011 special election. Miller was re-elected for a full two-year term in 2012.

Deep River P&Z has New Application and New Lawsuit for Main Street Property

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has a new special permit application for a used car dealership at the 444 Main St. property owned by local resident George Bartlett Jr., and also faces a new lawsuit filed by Bartlett over amendments to zoning regulations for motor vehicle dealerships that were approved by the commission last month.

The lawsuit and the permit application that is scheduled for a July 17 public hearing are the latest developments in two years of disputes over Bartlett’s plans for the former manufacturing site on the west side of Main St. (Route 154) that he purchased in February 2012.

A June 2012 zoning board of appeals approval of a six-foot variance of the 150-foot road frontage requirement for motor vehicle dealerships in the Turnpike Interchange Zone led to a split between the ZBA and the planning and zoning commission, and a subsequent lawsuit filed by Bartlett against the ZBA after it clarified the limits of the variance approval. The initial lawsuit is now the subject of settlement negotiations

But Bartlett, represented by Essex lawyer John Bennet, earlier this month filed a new lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court challenging the commission’s approval  in May of amendments to the town’s zoning regulations governing motor vehicle sales and repair operations, and also gasoline stations, in the Turnpike Interchange Zone. After presenting the changes at a May 1 public hearing, the commission on May 15 approved amendments that removed the 150-foot road frontage requirement for such uses, while also adding new setback and paving requirements for the uses.

Entrances to motor vehicle sales and service operations, and gasoline stations, would be required to be 30-feeet wide, and have a 30-foot setback from any adjoining property line. Paving would be required for areas where there would be outside storage of motor vehicles.

Bennet contends in the new lawsuit that zoning amendments would make development of the 444 Main St. parcel for a used car dealership “virtually impossible” due to the “extraordinary setback provisions.” of the amendment. The lawsuit also contends commission members and Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson have “personal animus and prejudice,” against Bartlett.

Jefferson said this week the commission was simply trying to update the regulations for vehicle dealerships and gasoline stations that had not been revised for more than a decade. She said removal of the road frontage requirement was actually an effort to help Bartlett, while also addressing concerns about safe access and paving to contain any possible leakage of motor fuels and other fluids.

Jefferson said Bartlett’s new application for a dealership on the 444 Main St. parcel would be considered under the earlier regulations, and will go forward to a public hearing on July 17 separate from the latest lawsuit over the amendments.

Essex Board of Appeals Continues Public Hearing on Cease and Desist Order for 33 Plains Road Property

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals has continued the public hearing on an appeal of a town cease and desist order for alleged zoning violations at 33 Plains Road. The hearing will resume at the board’s next meeting on July 15.

Property owner John Finkeldey is appealing a cease and desist order issued last January by Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow for a structure that Budrow maintains was constructed without zoning and building permits from the town. Budrow also maintains the structure is being used as a dwelling on a section  of the property that is located in the town’s limited industrial zone, where residential dwellings are not permitted under zoning regulations.

Tuesday’s session was continued from May 20 to allow for completion of a detailed current survey map of the property. But local attorney Terrance Lomme, representing Finkeldey, told the board he did not receive the survey in time for the meeting. Lomme said the survey map is “critical,” and asked for a continuation of the public hearing.
Lomme also serves as the elected judge of probate for a nine town region that includes Essex. Elected to the newly created position in 2010, Lomme, a Democrat, is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 4 election.

While granting the continuance, board members also asked Budrow to begin presenting his case for the order. Budrow said he learned of the structure in June 2013 based on information provided by a town police officer. Budrow said Finkeldey later maintained the structure had been in place for more than three years, which could make it a legal non-confirming use if there was no town enforcement action taken within that time.

Budrow said further investigation, including reviews of town records and aerial photos, confirmed the structure has not been in place on the property for more than three years.  “Clearly we have a second house on a property with another house,” he said.

Peter Sipples, lawyer for the zoning commission, said the panel is most concerned about use of the structure as a dwelling in the limited industrial zone. Sipples said the residential use would have to have been active before 1973, when the regulation on limited industrial zones was adopted, to have valid nonconforming status.

Michael Wells, lawyer for the ZBA, told Lomme he should be prepared to present documentary evidence the structure was built before January 2011, three years before the issuance of the cease and desist order, when the public hearing resumes next month.

Essex Sets July 16 Town Meeting for $200,000 Contribution to Preserve Land Purchase

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has scheduled a July 16 town meeting to vote on a $200,000 appropriation that would be the town’s contribution towards the planned $8.1 million purchased of the 1,000-acre Preserve property that includes 70 wooded acres in Essex. The town meeting vote in contingent on referendum approval in Old Saybrook of a $3 million bonding authorization that would be that town’s contribution to the total land purchase.

Under a plan announced earlier this spring by state and Old Saybrook officials, the $8.1 million for the purchase would be raised through a combination of state grant funds, municipal funds, and private donations raised by the land conservation trust organizations in Old Saybrook and Essex. State grants, including some state bonding, would account for $3 million of the purchase price. Old Saybrook voters will be asked to authorize $3 million in bonding for the purchase in a referendum expected during the first two weeks of July, possibly on July 8. In addition to the proposed $200,000 in town funding, the Essex Land Conservation Trust is expected to provide a matching $200,000, mostly from private donations.

The 1,000 acre forest, the subject of failed development proposals dating back to 1999, can be accessed from either Ingham Hill Road and Schoolhouse Road in Old Saybrook, and from Bokum Road that connects Essex and Old Saybrook. The property became a target for acquisition and preservation as open space after the fall 2008 financial crash that began the Great Recession.

Paul Greenberg, with the Essex Land Conservation Trust, told the selectmen at Wednesday’s meeting that Bokum Road would be the access point in to the property from Essex, with plans to construct a small parking area and trails that would connect to a larger network of trails in the vast Old Saybrook section of the parcel.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the $200,000 would come from the town’s open space sinking fund, which currently contains about $225,000. Needleman said he believes town voters will support making a contribution to the Preserve purchase project, even though only 70 acres of the property are in Essex. The 70 acres in Essex has been valued at about $700,000 in two appraisals.

Valley Regional High School Graduates 135 in the Class of 2014

DEEP RIVER— A 135 member Valley Regional High School Class of 2014 celebrated the conclusion of their high school yearsWednesday at the school’s 63rd annual commencement ceremony. A crowd of several hundred friends and family members from the Region 4 towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex watched the program in sunny but cool weather from a field on the southeast side of the school grounds off Kelsey Hill Road.

Principal Kristina Martineau welcomed the crowd by noting the retirement of six longtime district teachers, including high school English teacher Margaret Meehan and foreign language teacher Maria Tellechea. Martineau said members of the class had many accomplishments in academics, athletics, and arts during the past four years while also often serving as volunteers in the school system and the three district towns. “Achieving and living this balance- the pursuit of personal success and service to others, is what it means to be a Valley Regional High School Warrior,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy noted that school staff, parents, and family members have played a role in mentoring the graduates through their years in Region 4 schools, and urged them to also serve as mentors in their post-high school lives.  “As you, the Class of 2014, move on from Valley, and in to your adult lives, I encourage each of you to seek out your niche and live an amazing life. to be both a mentee and a mentor,” she said.

The three student speakers, all from Essex, looked back at their years at VRHS, and ahead to the future. Honors Essayist Kelly Carufe recalled the volunteer efforts of class members, noting that “it takes many individuals working together to achieve change.”

Valedictorian Phoebe Petrivic expressed appreciation to her teachers and other school staff. “Each of you has benefitted from a similarly essential relationship, whether a coach, a director, a teacher, or a friend. Other’s belief in us, and the resulting belief in ourselves, has helped fuel our growth,” she said.

Salutatorian Hannah VanBenschoten praised the school, and urged underclassmen to “know that each day is a rare gift, especially in such a safe and encouraging community.” She urged her classmates to “look back at your time at Valley with fondness and nostalgia,” because the past four years at the school had “given us the tools to accomplish great things.”

Members of the Class of 2014 are:

Erica    Alexander

Maxine Allen

Jenna Armenia

Linnea Barbour

Connor Barnes

Peter Barry

Mia Belval

Shelby Bersing

Cori Camire

Kelly Carufe

Daniel Caulfield

Christopher Chiappa

Alexandra Clymas

Matthew Cole

Tazmin Corbett

Alan Cote

Jake Cuccaro

Lindsey Cullinan

Sarah  Curran

Gabriel Cusack-Mercedez

McKenzie Davis

Kiernan Decker

Brandon Dole

Kelly Duggan

Dale Duguay

Amelia Dyson

Nicole  Eline

Dillon Eriksson

Connor Ewart

John Forsythe

Emily Fuentes

Luke Gagnon

Audrey Garden

Claudia Gates

Sara Giangrande

Brittany Gilbert

Stone Gilbert

Andrew Goehring

Jessica Grote

Bobby Hamblett

Ashton Harris

Evan Haston

Erin Hayes

Mary Helchowski

Alexandria Hollwedel

Alexander Hougrand

Tyler Jaynes

Ryan Johnson

Samuel Jones

Nathaniel Joyce

Wyatt Joyce

Aubrey Karg

Jakob Kasimir

Kara Kelly

Holden King

Madeline Kozlik

Dashiell Krempel

Robert Kuchyt

Angela LaMark

McClent Langellier

Robert Lanouette

Jill Larsen

Michaela Lavy

Emily LeGrand

Alexander Lewis

Jacob Luster

Scott Lynch

Chloe MacNeil

Caroline Madden

Cole Magee

Paige Malcarne

Jessica Markland

Katelynn Maxwell

Seamus McGinley

Brendan McGirr

Casey McKeon

Dustin Meadows

Naomi Menard

Jonathan Metsack

James Molyneux

Marcella Mosier

Katherine Mulligan

Heather  Negralle

Joseph Nevins V

Ryan Newman

Iestyn Norton

Cobi O’Connell

Beatrice O’Neil

Michelle Odekerken

Shelby Olson

Michaela Paholski

Fenna Palmieri

Marcia Pandolfi

Jordi Paredes

Hanna Partyka

August Pearson

Phoebe Petrovic

Sean Porter

Jean-Luc Poulard

Tiffani Ramcke

Eric Rannestad

Deidre Regan

Alexandra Riggio Clark

Zachary Robertson

Emily Roise

Samuel Rosenberg

Kyle Ruthstrom

Nicholas Schultz

Sarah Shepard

Owen Sheppard

Jack Simoneau

Colin Smith

Sena Spinella

Samuel Spitzschuh

Abigail Stempel

Jacqueline Stevens

Gabrielle Stratidis

Joshua Szachewicz

Angela Tabor

Julia Tackett

Liza  Thayer

Ethan Thompson

Bryanna Tobin

Emma Trabucchi

Oscar  Valera Rico

Hannah Van Benschoten

Clay Vernon

Seth Verry

Veronica Villafana

Whitney Wachtarz

Kristen Watson

Lauren Webb

Jack Wislocki

Destinee  Yenovich

 

Essex Zoning Board of Appeals Public Hearing on Appeal of Cease and Desist Order

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals will hold a public hearing Tuesday on an appeal of a town cease and desist order for alleged zoning violations on a property at 33 Plains Road. The hearing begins at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.

John Finkeldey, the property owner, is appealing an order issued in January by Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow on the existence and use of a structure that was constructed without permits from the town. Finkeldey is expected to be represented in the appeal by Terrance Lomme, an Essex lawyer who also serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine-town region.

Budrow said he learned of the alleged zoning violations based on a complaint received last summer. He said efforts to resolve the issues through meetings and correspondence with Finkeldey were unsuccessful, leading to the case and desist order.

Budrow said the single-story structure was constructed without required approvals from his office, or the town health and building departments. Budrow said he believes the structure is being used as a dwelling, but much of it is located in the town’s limited industrial  zone, where dwellings are not permitted.  Budrow said there are also setback violations related to the structure and other accessory buildings on the property. Budrow said he believes there are violations of ten town zoning regulations related to the structure and accessory buildings.

Under state law, the ZBA has authority to uphold or overturn cease and desist orders issued by a municipal zoning enforcement officer. Lomme, a Democrat, was elected in 2010 as judge of probate for a nine town region that includes Essex. He is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 4 election in a contest with Anselmo Delia, the Clinton Republican who also ran for the position in 2010.

All Bids for Deep River Sewer Expansion Over Budget

DEEP RIVER— Town officials and engineers will be revisiting a sewer expansion project planned for several streets in the town’s north end after all six bids opened last week were over the $4 million allocated for the project.

First Selectman Richard Smith said he and members of the water pollution control authority will meet with project engineers, with the Meriden firm Cardinal Engineering, to review options for scaling back the project to reduce the cost. Voters at a May 2013 town meeting authorized the project with a funding limit set at $4 million. The project, which would extend sewer service to about 120 properties on and around River Street and Kirtland Street, was to be funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a $1.2 million grant and a $2.8 million loan that would be repaid over 40 years at 2.75 percent annual interest.

All of the bids opened last week were over $4 million, with the lowest bid from Baltazar Contractors Inc. of Ludlow, Mass. coming in at $4,828,958 for a base bid and a bid of $5,5,507,658 that would include all project alternates. The second lowest bid was $5,397,039 and $6,066,954 from C. J Fucci Inc. of New Haven.

Smith said the project would be revised and rebid over the next few weeks. Smith said he is hopeful a revised bid for a scaled back project could be approved by the board of selectmen and WPCA in time for a late summer start of construction for the project.

Deep River Town Meeting Approves Revised $15.27 Million Budget After Initial Referendum Defeat

DEEP RIVER— A slightly reduced $15,277,887 town/schools spending plan for 2014–2015 was approved at a town meeting Monday on a 92-24 paper ballot. The budget, which will require a 0.80 increased in the property tax rate, was initially rejected on a 115-78 vote in a May 27 referendum.

After the referendum defeat, the finance board approved a $25,000 reduction, $12,500 from the town government budget and $12,500 from the appropriation for Deep River Elementary School. But the board was unable to make any changes to the major factor in the tax increase, the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget, after it was approved in a separate referendum on May 6. Voters in Deep River opposed the Region 4 budget, 156-69, but it was approved with support from the voters of Chester and Essex.

With more students attending Valley Regional  High School and John Winthrop Middle School, Deep River faced a steep $442,063 increase in it’s share of the Region 4 budget. The Region 4 increase accounted for all but $56,313 of a total spending increased of $498,376. With declining enrollment, the $5,461,500 appropriation for the elementary school was actually down by $49,658.

Finance board chairman John Bauer said the board was unable to make any reductions in the Region 4 appropriation that could have reduced the tax increase. “Nothing can be done after that budget is approved” in the three-town referendum, he said. Bauer said the town government and elementary school appropriations were already “very tight,” adding the town is unable to transfer any money from an undesignated fund balance that only contains about $500,000.

Richard Balducci, a former speaker of the house who also served on the local board of finance, urged the crowd to approve the revised budget, and then become more involved in the Region 4 budget process and referendum next year. Balducci contended the supervision district budget, which funds shared services in the school system and is then included with the Region 4 and elementary school budgets, can be a major factor in higher education costs even with lower student enrollment.

After about 30 minutes of discussion, voters lined up to cast paper ballots on the budget. The new tax rate of 25.88 mills represents $25.88 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Essex Town Meeting Amends Ordinances, Sanitary Waste Commission Discontinued

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday approved amendments to two town ordinances, effectively ending the role of the sanitary waste commission and revamping the 2004 delay of demolition ordinance for historic structures.

About 15 residents turned out for the town meeting that was preceded by a public hearing on the changes that were endorsed last month by the board of selectmen. One amendment, which drew an opposing vote from Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, ends the joint commission status for the water pollution control authority/sanitary waste commission that was established under a 1991 town meeting vote. The seven appointed members of the dual commission will continue as the water pollution control authority with staggered two-year terms and a renewed focus on sewer avoidance and wastewater management issues.

The amendment ends the appointed sanitary waste commission that was first established in 1958 to supervise operations of the former town landfill, and more recently the solid waste transfer station and recycling center. First Selectman Norman Needleman recommended the change, noting the trash compactor and transfer station are currently managed by town employees under the supervision of the board of selectmen. Needleman said the amendment would “eliminate the theoretical purview of the sanitary waste commission in running the transfer site.”

But Glowac, who served on the sanitary waste commission before winning election as first selectman in 1991, maintained there is still a role for a volunteer commission in coordinating the town’s solid waste disposal and recycling efforts. “Municipal solid waste, bulky waste and recycling are ever changing subjects in today’s world and a volunteer commission can be an asset to the town,” he said. The amendment was approved on a nearly unanimous show of hands vote, with Glowac opposed.
The revision of the delay of demolition ordinance was approved on a unanimous vote without discussion. Needleman said the amendments clarify the process for an ordinance that was first adopted in 2004 at the urging of the late town historian and author Donald Malcarne.

The amendments do not change the 75 years trigger date where advance posting and notice are required before a demolition permit is issued by the building official for a potentially historic structure.. If the town historian or Essex Historical Society raises an objection, a 90 days delay would be required before the building official could issue a demolition permit.

Deep River Finance Board Approves $25,000 Cut, June 9 Town Meeting to Vote on Revised Budget

DEEP RIVER— The board of finance has approved a $25,000 cut in the $15.3 million budget plan that was rejected by voters in a referendum this week, with a June 9 town meeting vote scheduled on a revised budget for 2014-2015. The town meeting will convene at 7:30 p.m. in the town hall auditorium.

The finance board, meeting jointly with the board of selectmen Thursday, approved a reduction of $12,500 in the town government budget, and a $12,500 reduction in the appropriation for Deep River Elementary School. The cut will allow for a small reduction in a planned 0.85 mill hike in the property tax rate that had generated some controversy in this year’s budget process and set the stage for Tuesday’s 115-78 referendum defeat for the budge, the first rejection of a budget in Deep River since 2001.
The new tax rate would be 25.88 mills, a 0.80 mill increase from the current tax rate. The spending plan defeated in the referendum called for a tax rate of 25.93 mills. The new rate would represent $25.88 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

First Selectman Richard Smith said finance board reviewed various budget accounts during Thursday’s special meeting, often considering cuts of only $500. But after discussion with the selectmen, the board approved only a $25,000 reduction. He noted the review confirmed that most of the town budget accounts are “very tight,” with reductions possibly leading to budget overruns at the end of the next fiscal year.

Smith said the $12,500 cut in the town government budget would come from an additional $25,000 that was included for storm clean up in 2014-2015, an addition that was made in response to the harsher than usual past two winter seasons. The  $12,500 reduction in the elementary school appropriation will be determined by the local board of education.

There could be no changes in the town’s $5.6 million share of the Region 4 education budget that had been approved on a 319-253 vote in a May 6 referendum. Chester and Essex voters had supported the Region 4 budget, though voters in Deep River opposed the budget 156-69. With more students attending Valley Regional High School and john Winthrop Middle School, Deep River had a $442,063 increase in its Region 4 budget share that accounted for much of the total $523,376 spending increase that led to the proposed 0.85 mill tax increase.

Smith said selectmen and the finance board are prepared to publicly oppose the Region 4 budget before the 2015 referendum if it includes a large increase in the Deep River share that would require a tax increase for 2015-2016.

Proposed $15.3 Million Deep River Budget Plan Fails in Low Turnout Referendum

DEEP RIVER— A proposed $15,302,887 budget plan for 2014-2015 was rejected Tuesday on a 115-78 vote after an eight hour referendum. The board of selectmen and board of finance will hold a special joint meeting Thursday to consider any possible changes to the spending plan, which would then be submitted for a second vote at a town meeting expected in the second week of June.

While the spending plan presented Tuesday included a proposed $3.78 million town government budget, a $5.47 appropriation for Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s $5.6 million share of the Region 4 budget, only the town and elementary school portions of the total spending plan are still subject to revision by the board of finance. The Region 4 budget was already approved on a 319-253 vote in a May 6 referendum, with Chester and Essex votes supporting the budget over a 156-69 opposing vote in Deep River.

The total spending plan rejected Tuesday would have required a 0.85 mill hike in the property tax rate, for a new rate of 25.93 mills. Of a total spending increase of $523,376, $442,063 is for the town’s share of the Region 4 budget that is determined by the number of students from Deep River attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School. A higher than anticipated increase in the Deep River average daily membership at the two schools made the town’s taxpayers responsible for a larger share of the Region 4 budget.

First Selectman Richard Smith noted that with the Region 4 amount locked in, there is little the selectmen and finance board can do to reduce the increase in the tax rate. “You’ve got to get close to $100,000 in cuts to have any real impact on the mill rate,” he said, adding that both the town and elementary school budgets are already “very tight.”
But Finance Board Chairman John Bauer said the board should make a final review of the town and elementary school budgets for any possible cuts, even with the understanding that cuts in these appropriations would bring little change to the tax rate. Bauer said the second vote on any revised budget should be done by voters at a town meeting, not a referendum. “It’s a waste of money for the amount of people who showed up today,” he said.

Deep River Referendum Tuesday on Proposed $15.3 Million Town and Schools Budget

DEEP RIVER— Polls will be open from 12 noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the library community room for a referendum vote on the proposed $15,302,887 town and schools budget plan for 2014-2015.

The total spending package, which is up by $523,376 from the current amount,  includes a $3,826,230 town government budget and capital expenditure plan, $384,670 for debt service, a proposed $5,474,000 appropriation for Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s $5,602,987 share of the Region 4 education budget. The Region 4 total was already approved in a May 6 referendum, with voters of Chester and Essex supporting the budget and Deep River opposed on a 156-69 vote.

With more students attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, Deep River is paying a larger share of the Region 4 budget this year. The town’s share of the budget is up by $442,063, or 8.57 percent, an increase that accounts for nearly all of a planned .085-mill hike in the property tax rate that is required to fund the spending total.

The proposed tax rate of 25.93 mills represents $25.93 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value, a 3.4 percent increase in the tax rate. The amount of the tax increase led the board of selectmen to decide to send the spending plan directly to a referendum vote. After more than a decade of  budget referendums with ever decreasing vote turnout, the town last year approved the budget by a town meeting vote for the first time since 2000.

Democrats Nominate Rep. Phil Miller for New Term in 36th House District

State Representative Phil Miller

State Representative Phil Miller

AREAWIDE— Democrats have nominated incumbent State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex for a new term in the 36th House District. Miller was the unanimous choice of the 15 delegates gathered for the nominating convention Wednesday at the Haddam Firehouse. The district includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.
Miller was nominated by Fred Vollono, a former town chairman in Essex, with seconding remarks from Claire Tiernan of Essex. Vollono described the incumbent as a “leader with foresight” at the Capitol. Also praising Miller as a “devoted, knowledgeable and respected” legislator was Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, the Democratic nominee for state Senate in the 12-town 33rd district.

Miller, in remarks to the delegates, said his goals for a new two-year term would be “investing in our young people,” protecting the state’s “most vulnerable” residents and enhancing protections for consumers. Miller serves on the Legislature’s Environment, Public Health, and Human Services committees.

Miller, a former naturalist at an Episcopal Church run camp, served four terms as first selectman of Essex from 2003-2011. He was elected to the General Assembly in a February 2001 special election after the previous five-term Democratic incumbent, James Spallone of Essex, resigned the seat to take a job as deputy secretary of the state. Miller defeated Republican Vince Pacileo, a former Essex selectman, on a 7-105-5,352 vote in 2012.

Republicans last week nominated Chester Harris of Haddam to challenge Miller in the Nov. 4 election. Harris was the unsuccessful Republican nominee against Spallone in 2010.

 

Chester Town Meeting Approves $12.5 Million Town/Schools Budget Plan for 2014-2015

CHESTER— The spring budget season ended quietly Thursday night as voters at the annual budget meeting approved a $12,507,736 budget plan for 2014-2015. About 40 residents turned out for the meeting, with the budget and a related $350,000 transfer of funds for capital projects approved on unanimous voice votes.

The spending package includes a $3,649,681 town government budget, a $342,670 capital expenditure plan, a $4,150,677 appropriation for Chester Elementary School, and the town’s $4,364,508 share of the Region 4 education budget. The Region 4 budget was approved by voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 6 referendum.

The spending plan that won quick approval Thursday will require a property tax rate of 24.82 mills, an increase of 2.87 mills from the current tax rate of 21.95 mills. The new rate represents $24.82 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The hike in the mill rate was driven by a 12 percent decrease in the grand list of taxable property that resulted from the townwide property revaluation completed last year.

But the drop in assessed values for residential property that came with the revaluation is also expected to cover or limit any increase in tax bills resulting from the new and higher mill rate. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said 57 percent of all property owners will have a decrease in their tax bill, while some total bills will remain the same or have a small increase.

Meehan said the selectmen and board of finance endorsed two transfers from the town undesignated fund balance to limit the need for additional tax revenue and calculate the tax rate at 24.82 mills. There was a direct transfer of $13,287, and an additional transfer of $350,000 to prefund capital projects for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 budget years
The transfer for capital projects, which was approved on a unanimous voice vote, includes $300,000 for road and sidewalk repairs, $150,000 in 2014-2015 and $150,000 in 2015-2016, and $50,000 for repairs and code compliance improvements at town buildings. The transfer is expected to leave about $1.8 million in the fund balance on June 30, 2015.

Nominating Conventions Set Up Contest Between Democrat Emily Bjornbergand Republican Art Linares in 33rd District

AREAWIDE— Democrats Monday nominated political newcomer Emily Bjornberg of Lyme to challenge one-term incumbent Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook in the 12-town 33rd Senate district.

Bjornberg, 33, was the unanimous choice of the 45 delegates gathered for the Democratic convention at the Old Town Hall in Haddam. Linares, 25, was nominated by delegates at the May 12 Republican convention at the Riverhouse in Haddam.

Linares, cofounder of a Middletown-based solar energy company, was elected in a three-way contest in 2012, succeeding a 20-year Democratic incumbent, former Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook. Ljnares defeated Jim Crawford of Westbrook, who was then serving as a state representative, on a 23,915-21,251 vote in a race where an active Green Party candidate, Melissa Schlag of Haddam, garnered 4,317 votes. Schlag later rejoined the Democratic Party was elected last year as first selectwoman of Haddam, She was present at the convention Monday to support Bjornberg.

Also offering support at the convention was Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, telling delegates “we’re finally going to get someone who will replace Eileen Daily.” Bjornberg was nominated by Crawford, with seconding remarks from Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam, who competed with Crawford for the party nomination at an August 2012 Democratic primary, and Daily.

Bjornberg, the married mother of two grown children, contended Linares’s views and votes over the part 18 months are “clearly out of step with the majority of his constituents.” She cited Linares vote against raising the minimum wage, and opposition to bills that included grant funding for local projects in the district.

Bjornberg said Linares would often vote against total funding bills, and then claim credit for grants that are awarded for projects in district towns. “I will be a strong voice for our district inside the majority caucus,” she said.

Linares was nominated last week by former state representative and environmental protection commissioner Sidney Holbrook of Westbrook, with seconding remarks by Carl Chuznik of Portland. Linares told the delegates he would continue efforts to improve the business climate in Connecticut and support policies that provide more flexibility and local control in education.

The 33rd Senate District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex,, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and sections of Old Saybrook.

Democrats Nominate Terrance Lomme as for Second Term as regional Judge of Probate

AREAWIDE— Democrats Thursday nominated incumbent Judge Terrance Lomme of Essex for a second four-year term as judge of probate for the nine-town region. Lomme was the unanimous choice of the 31 delegates gathered for the nominating convention at Essex Town Hall.
The nine-town region, which was established under the statewide consolidation of probate courts in 2010, includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Deep River, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook. The court is located in Old Saybrook.
Lomme was nominated by Bruce Edgarton of Deep River, with seconding remarks from Larry Oullette of Clinton. Edgarton said Lomme has “invaluable experience,” as a practicing lawyer for 30 years and former local judge of probate in East Haddam during the early 1990s. He said Lomme had successfully implemented the consolidation of the nine local probate courts during the eight weeks between election day 2010 and the start of the new judge term in January 2011.
Lomme, in brief remarks to the convention, recalled his initial endorsement for the judge of probate position at a May 2010 party nominating convention where six candidates competed through six ballots before he secured a majority of the delegates. “What a difference four years makes,” he said, adding that “compassion and understanding” are requirements for the regional judge position..
Lomme won the party nomination in 2010 after an August primary with Raymond Rigat of Clinton, who was serving as that town’s local probate judge at the time. Lomme later defeated the Republican nominee, Clinton lawyer Anselmo Delia, by a 419 vote margin in the general election. Lomme faces a rematch contest with Delia in the Nov. 4 election. Delia was nominated for a second run for the regional judge position by delegates at the Republican convention on May 8.

Essex Finance Board Sets Tax Rate at 20.99 Mills For 2014-2015

ESSEX— The board of finance Thursday set a property tax rate of 20.99 mills to fund the total $23.05 million town/schools spending package for 2014-2015 that was approved by voters at the May 12 annual budget meeting. The rate, representing $20.99 in tax for each $1,000 in assessed property value, is up by two mills from the current rate of 18.99 mills.
Much of the two mill tax hike was required to make up for revenue lost after the townwide property revaluation completed last year led to a 7.72 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property. Despite the increase, First Selectman Norman Needleman said Thursday about 80 percent of the town’s residential property owners would see only a “nominal” decrease or increase in the property tax bill they receive next month. Most, but not all, of the town’s residential properties had a drop in assessed value under the first revaluation conducted since the Great Recession began in 2008.
Finance Director Kelly Sterner presented the board with ten options for the tax rate, beginning with an “adjusted mill rate” of 20.62 mills to cover the drop in the grand list after revaluation. Sterner said the “break even mill rate,” with no planned deficit, would be 21.05 mills. She noted the finance board, in setting the rate at 18.99 mills last year, had projected a potential deficit of about $113,000, with the understanding that any possible deficit could be covered from the town’s estimated $2.7 million undesignated fund balance.
But with help from unanticipated revenue, a small Region 4 education budget surplus that was returned to the town, and under spending in some accounts, the projected deficit became a surplus of about $100,000 that will put the fund balance at about $2.8 million when the current fiscal year ends on June 30. Needleman predicted there would be some surplus remaining from the 2014-2015 budget, and urged the finance board to limit the tax increase to a 1.65 percent rise that would match the increase in spending.
A 1.65 percent increase would require a tax rate of about 20.96 mills, with a potential, but not certain, deficit of about $100,000. But board Chairman Keith Crehan said he would prefer to project a slightly lower deficit in the event there is less surplus remaining as the 2014-2015 fiscal year draws to a close. Crehan favored a tax rate of 20.99 mills, a figure that would project a deficit of around $55,000 at the close of the next fiscal year.
The 20.99 rate was approved on a unanimous and bipartisan vote, with Democratic members Campbell Hudson, Mary Louise Pollo, and Donald Mesite joining Republican Crehan in supporting the 20.99 rate. Democrat Fred Vollono and Republican Jeffrey Woods were absent fromThursday’s meeting.

Republicans Nominate Chester Harris of Haddam for 36th House District Seat

AREAWIDE— Republicans Wednesday nominated Chester Harris of Haddam for the 36th State House District seat. Harris, making his second run for the seat, will challenge incumbent Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex in the Nov. 4 election.
Harris, 56, was the unanimous choice of the 11 delegates gathered for the nominating convention at  the Griswold Inn in Essex. The district includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam
Harris, a resident of the Haddam Neck section of Haddam located on the east side of the Connecticut River, had run for the seat previously in 2010, losing to than incumbent Democrat representative James Spallone of Essex on a,6,055-4,251 vote. But Spallone never began the term he was elected to in 2010, resigning weeks after the election to assume the position of Deputy Secretary of the State.
Miller, who had served as Democratic first selectman of Essex since 2003, was elected in a February 2011 special election, defeating Republican nominee and former television news anchorwoman Janet Peckenpaugh. Miller was elected to a full term, in 2012, defeating Republican Vince Pacileo of Essex on a 7,105-5,352 vote. Miller is expected to be nominated for a new two year term by district Democrats at a May 20convention.
Harris has served previously as an elected member of the Region 17 Board of  Education that supervises schools in Haddam and Killingworth. After working previously as a livery driver, Harris is currently on disability leave. He is the married father of two grown step-children.
Harris said he is planning an active campaign for the fall election, but would not attempt to qualify for state funding through the Citizens Elections Program. Harris said he would be “willing to try to work with everybody to solve the state’s problems,” but would “never compromise on my principles.”

Essex Town Meeting Approves $23.05 Million Town/Schools Spending Plan

ESSEX— A $23,056,963 combined town and schools budget plan for 2014-2015 won quick approval from voters Monday at the annual budget meeting. About 70 residents turned out for the meeting approving the budget on a voice vote with scattered opposing votes.

The total spending package, which is up by 1.64 percent from the current total, includes a $7,202,161 town government budget, a $7,742,313 appropriation for Essex Elementary School, and the town’s $8,112,489 share of the Region 4 education budget. The Region 4 budget was approved in a May 6 referendum, with voters in Chester and Essex supporting the budget while a no vote carried in Deep River.

The total spending package was approved at the meeting Monday without discussion, and no questions from the crowd on the property tax rate that will be required to support the spending. The board of finance is expected to set the tax rate for 2014-2015 at a meeting Thursday. The current tax rate is 18.99 mills, or $18,99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

An increase in the tax rate is required to cover a 7,72 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property that resulted from the townwide property revaluation completed last year. The revaluation resulted in a decrease in assessed values for most residential property owners.

Republicans Nominate Anselmo Delia of Clinton for Second Run for Judgeship

Anselmo Delia

Anselmo Delia

ESSEX— Republicans Thursday nominated Clinton lawyer Anselmo Delia for a second run for the judgeship in the nine-town Saybrook Probate Court District. Delia was the unanimous choice of the 33 delegates gathered for the GOP district convention at Old Saybrook Town Hall.

Delia, 59, will challenge incumbent Democratic Judge of Probate Terrance Lomme of Essex in a rematch of their 2010 election contest for the position, the first election after a state-mandated consolidation of local probate courts in each town. Lomme defeated Delia by 419 votes out of a total district-wide vote of about 26,300.
Delia carried the district towns of Clinton, Haddam, Killingworth and Westbrook, while Lomme carried the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, Lyme, and Old Saybrook. Lomme is expected to be renominated for a second term by district Democrats at a May 21 convention.
Delia, the married father of two grown children, cited his 27 years of volunteer service in Clinton as a key qualification for the position, along with 32 years of experience as a general practice attorney. Along with leadership positions on the Clinton Republican Town Committee, Delia has served on the town’s board of education, youth and family services board, and economic development commission. He is the current elected chairman of the planning and zoning commission, and has also served on a town charter revision commission, and a new interchange development committee committee that is developing strategies for redevelopment of the Morgan High School property as the town prepares to build a new high school.
“Community service is a very important part of public life”, Delia said in remarks to the delegates. Delia said this service on various town boards, commissions, and committees “is one characteristic where my candidacy is very different from my opponent’s,” adding “to my knowledge he has never serves on any town board or commission.”
Delia said he would serve as a full-time regional judge of probate, “winding down and terminating” his law practice if he is elected,. “This is a high paying job and you deserve an individual that commits to it 100 percent,” he said.
Delia said he is planning an active campaign for the Nov. 4 vote, urging delegates to contribute to his campaign financially if possible, but also through volunteer efforts and spreading information about his candidacy on social media. Delia said he would seek a public debate with Lomme, an event that did not occur during their 2310 race.

Chester Selectmen Stand by Main Street Project with North Side Sidewalk

CHESTER— The board of selectmen Wednesday approved plans for the Main Street East project that include a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road that has drawn objections from some residents in recent weeks.

The board accepted the recommendation of the volunteer Main Street Project Committee to direct project engineers to prepare final design plans that would include the north side sidewalk. The decision was unanimous and bipartisan, with Republican Selectman Tom Englert joining Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan and Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher in the vote.

The Main Street East Project, the first phase of a long-planned reconstruction of Main Street through the downtown village, calls for reconstructing 1,800 linear feet of Main Street from the entrance to the Laurel Hill Cemetery east to the intersection with Middlesex Avenue (Route 148). The committee’s recommendation for a continuous north side sidewalk, made in March, drew a mixed response from residents at a well-attended April 22 public information meeting

Project engineers with the Mystic firm Kent & Frost Associates presented alternative plans at the session, with most of the discussion focused on the north side sidewalk option that would require some changes to residential properties at 131 and 137 Main Street. Many of the objections focused on the need to remove three mature maple tree in the vicinity of 131 Main St. and the School Lane intersection. But other residents supported the plan for a continuous north side sidewalk and safer and more convenient for pedestrians, particularly with the possibility the town will pursue construction of a new library on a section of North Quarter Park that is located off the north side of the street.

The property owners at 131 Main St., David and Lisa Meade, have expressed a willingness to accept the sidewalk with tree removal and work with the committee and engineers on landscape improvements and replacement of the trees. The property owners at 137 Main St., Jeff and Comer Gates, continue to oppose the project plans.

Comer Gates and three other residents continued to voice objections to the north side sidewalk before the board’s vote Wednesday. Henry Krempel suggested delaying a decision on the north side sidewalk until after plans and funding for a new library at North Quarter park receive approval from town voters.

But Meehan said the Main Street reconstruction is “long overdue,” with the north side sidewalk a much safer long range improvement for pedestrians. He noted all work for the four-foot wide sidewalk would be in the town’s right of way, with no need for taking of any private property for the project. Meehan said the town remains willing to work with both property owners, and pick up the cost for landscaping improvements on their properties.
Englert, who served briefly as acting first selectman in 2011, said he had initial concerns about the north side sidewalk, but was convinced by comments from residents at the April 22 information meeting that it would be a safer long term improvement for the town by reducing the number of crosswalks between the north and south side of the street.

Meehan said there would be no need for a town meeting vote on the project design plans, though a town meeting vote would be required at a future date to transfer any needed town funding for the project. Most of the project would be funded by about $980,000 in state grant funds, though some additional town funding would likely be needed before the project could be put out to bid. Officials hop to being construction of the Main Street East project in the spring of 2015.
In other business Wednesday, selectmen accepted a volunteer committee’s recommendation to hire the Avon firm Richter & Cegan inc. as the consults for drafting a master plan for North Quarter Park that would include a possible library site The other firm interviewed by the committee Wednesday was Kent & Frost.. Officials want the master plan completed by July 15.

Region 4 Budget Wins Referendum Approval on 319-253 Vote

 

REGION 4— Voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex approved the $18.37 million district education budget for 2014-2015 on a 319-253 vote in an eight-hour referendum Tuesday. The budget that funds the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School won voter approval in two of the three district towns, but was rejected by Deep River voters.

The vote in Essex was 191-60 in favor of the budget. Chester voters approved the budget on a 59-37 vote. In Deep River, where a higher share of the budget is expected to lead to a 0.85 mill hike in the tax rate, voters opposed the spending plan on a 156-69 vote. The 66-vote margin for approval was much closer than last year, when the budget was approved on a 274-145 vote.

The $18,377,431 budget represents a $601,431, or 3.38 percent, increased over current spending. The total budget is reduced by $297,447 in anticipated revenue to a net budget of $18,079,984 that is assessed taxpayers in each town depending on the number of students from the town attending the two secondary schools.

The net budget is up by $579,395, or 3.31 percent. Each town had an increase in the Region 4 budget share, but Deep River had the largest increase of $442,063.

Board Chairman Chris Riley of Essex said he was hoping for better turnout, but is pleased the budget was approved. “While the turnout in Essex this year was a bit of a disappointment, I am pleased the Region 4 budget had been approved, he said. “Throughout our process of budget workshops, careful evaluation, and difficult decisions, our board has worked to balance the needs of students with being fiscally responsible to the communities we serve.”‘

Voter turnout for the annual referendum has been low and decreasing in recent years, but the total three-town vote of 572 was up from a turnout of 419 voters last year.  A total of 619 voters participated in the 2012 referendum.

 

Chester Town and Elementary School Budgets Head for May 22 Town Vote After Quiet Public Hearing

CHESTER— A proposed $3.64 million town government budget and a $4.15 appropriation for Chester Elementary School head for a town meeting vote on May 22 after a quiet public hearing Monday.

Barely a dozen residents turned out for the budget hearing, with no calls for changes or reductions to the spending plans. The town government budget is up by $132,627 over the current appropriation, while the requested budget for the elementary school has decreased by $31,696. The total $12,507,736 spending package also includes a $342,870 capital expenditure plan, and the town’s $4,364,508 share of the Region 4 education budget.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan explained that a sharp 12 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property resulting from last year’s townwide property revaluation would require an increase in the tax rate, though decreases in assessed values for nearly all residential properties would mean that nearly all property owners would see either a decrease, or no change, in their current tax bills. The recommended tax rate for 2014-2015 is 24.82 mills, an increase of 3.87 mills from the current rate of 21.95 mills, The proposed rate represents $24.82 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Meehan said calculations by the assessor and tax collector indicate 57 percent of all property owners would have a decrease in their tax bill, even with the higher mill rate. This total includes 60 percent of all homeowners, 65 percent of all owners of vacant land, and 17 percent of all owners of commercial property. Meehan said the finance board has decided to use about $350,000 in surplus funds to “prepay” for key items in the capital expenditure plan for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. He said this would help limit tax increases for 2014-2015 and subsequent years.

The plan recommended by the board of selectmen and finance board would also transfer $13,287 from the town’s unexpended fund balance to cover spending in the next fiscal year, while leaving an estimated $1.83 million in the fund balance on June 30, 2015. The spending plan also includes $20,000 to fund  architectural design work for a possible new library building in North Quarter Park.

The annual budget meeting to vote on the town government and elementary school budgets is set for Thursday May 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room at town hall. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex in a 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on Tuesday May 6.

May 6 Public Hearing set on Deep River Town and Elementary School Budgets, Referendum Vote Planned for May 27

DEEP RIVER— The public hearing is Tuesday on a proposed $3.78 million town government budget and a requested $5.47 million appropriation for Deep River Elementary School. The hearing begins at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the board of selectmen has already decided to bring the total $15,302,887 spending package for 2014-2015 to a12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on May 27 because of the 0.85 mill hike in the property tax rate that would be required to fund the combined town/schools spending plan. After holding referendum votes on budgets since 2000, decreasing voter turnouts for the annual referendums led the board of selectmen last year to hold a town meeting-paper ballot vote on the budget.

Smith said if the required tax increase was less than one-half mill, there would be another town meeting vote on the budget this year. But Smith said the size of the tax increase calls for a referendum vote that could bring wider participation from town voters. The new tax rate would be 25.93 mills, or $25.93 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The $3,788,230 town government budget that is up by $86,861, or 2.35 percent, from the current total. Smith said the budget includes a two percent wage/salary increase for town employees and elected officials, though the exact amount of the pay increases would be subject to negotiations with the Deep River Municipal Employees Association. The budget also includes $20,000 for a part-time assistant in the accounting office, a move that has been recommended in recent years by auditors. The town spending package also includes a $38,000 capital expenditure plan, and $384,670 for debt service.

The $5,474,000 budget for Deep River Elementary School is down by 37,158, a decrease that is largely driven by decreasing students enrollment at the kindergarten through sixth grade school. But an increase in the number of students from Deep River attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School has led to a sharp increase in the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget.

The $5,602,987 Deep River share is up by $442,063, or 8.57 percent, from the current amount. Smith said the higher share of the Region 4 budget is driving factor for nearly all of the 0.85 mills tax increase. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on Tuesday, the same day as the town budget hearing. Last year, the tax rate increased by 0.40 mills to fund town and school spending in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

Chester Town Government and Elementary School Budgets go to Public Hearing

CHESTER— A proposed $3.64 million town government budget and a proposed $4.15 million appropriation for Chester Elementary School will be presented at the annual budget hearing Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room at town hall.

The $3,649,681 town government budget, which includes a 2.75percent wage/salary increase for town employees and elected officials, is up by $133,626 from the current appropriation. The $4,150,677 budget for Chester Elementary School is down by $31,696 from the current appropriation.

The total $12,507,736 spending package for 2014-2015 also includes a $342,870 capital expenditure plan, and the town’s $4,364,508 share of the Region 4 education budget. The capital plan is down by $30,750. After a sharp drop in the town’s share of the region 4 budget last year because of fewer students from Chester attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, the Chester share of the proposed Region 4 budget is up by $106,915.

Calculations for the property tax rate have been shaped by the ten-year townwide property revaluation that was completed last year. The revaluation resulted in a, 12 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property, reflecting the decline in property values that followed the Great Recession that began in 2008. More than 90 percent of the town’s residential properties had a decrease in assessed values.

The board of selectmen and finance board, in preparing the spending plan over the past two months, had set a goal of avoiding any actual increase in tax bills for homeowners. While the tax rate is recommended to increase by 3.87 mills, to 24.82 mills from the current rate of 21.95 mills, decreases in assessed values are expected to cover the increase and forestall higher tax bills.

The new rate would represent $24.82 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. With help from a lower share of the Region 4 budget, the tax rate was dropped by one-half mill last year.to fund current spending.

The town and elementary school budgets go to voters for approval at the annual budget meeting on May 22. The Region 4 budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on May 6.

Emily Bjornberg of Lyme Declares Democratic Candidacy for 33rd State Senate Seat

Emily Bjornberg, State Senate candidate (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Emily Bjornberg, State Senate candidate (photo by Jerome Wilson)

AREAWIDE– With three 2012 election rivals and the district’s former 20-year Democratic senator looking on, Emily Bjornberg of Lyme Monday declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 12-town 33rd State Senate District. Bjornberg will challenge the first term incumbent elected in 2012, Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook.

About 50 friends and supporters turned out for Bjornberg’s announcement at the Deep River Town Landing on the banks of the Connecticut River. Bjornberg, 33, was joined by her husband, Jason, an Iraq War veteran, and children Elliot (age 7), and Anna (age 4).

But it was the other participants at the announcement that signaled district Democrats have united behind Bjornberg in an effort to reclaim the senate seat. There was former ten-term State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook, who had represented the district for two decades before her retirement in 2012, and two former candidates who faced off in an August 2012 primary for the nomination to succeed Daily, former state Rep. James Crawford of Westbrook, and longtime party activist Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam. Crawford won the nomination in the primary.

Also standing near the podium was Haddam First Selectwoman Melissa Schlag. Elected as first selectwoman as a Democrat last November, Schlag had run an aggressive campaign for the senate seat in 2012 as the nominee of the Green Party. Linares, at age 24, won the seat in 2012, defeating Crawford on a 23,915 to 21,251 vote. Schlag received 4,317 votes as the Green Party candidate.

Endorsement of Bjornberg's candidacy by Haddam First Selectman Melissa Schlag, a ranking woman office holder (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Endorsement of Bjornberg’s candidacy by Haddam First Selectman Melissa Schlag, a ranking woman office holder (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Schlag Monday pledged to actively support Bjornberg in the challenge to the incumbent Republican. “We’re all together again,” she said. Klinck said Bjornberg was “a true social justice Democrat,” who would appeal to young people in the campaign. Daily described Bjornberg as “a very sound Democrat with a huge social conscience that we can all be proud of,” while Crawford said Bjornberg would bring the Linares record on various issues “into the daylight.”

Former State Senator Eileen Daily endorsing Bjornberg's candidacy for her former seat (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Former State Senator Eileen Daily endorsing Bjornberg’s candidacy for her former seat (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Bjornberg is from the Reynolds family that owns and operates the Reynolds Subaru dealership in the Hamburg section of Lyme. She has worked for the past eight years as Director of Youth and Family Ministries for the Deep River Congregational Church, and is also active with the Lyme Land Conservation Trust.

Bjornberg pledged an active campaign for the Nov. 4 election, citing education, the environment, and the economy as the three top issues.. “I will be a strong voice for our region in the majority caucus, where important policy and legislative decisions are made,” she said, adding “we can no longer afford to be represented by a senator who did not receive a majority of votes in the last election, and who routinely votes against legislation that will benefit our towns.”

Bjornberg is expected to receive an uncontested endorsement for the Democratic nomination at the district nominating convention on May 19. Linares is expected to be nominated for a second term by district Republicans at a May 12 convention. The 33rd Senate District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.

 

Essex Town Elementary School Budgets Unchanged After Public Hearing

ESSEX– The board of finance made no changes to a proposed $7.2 million town government budget and a proposed $7.74 appropriation for Essex Elementary School after a quiet budget hearing Thursday.

About 25 residents turned out for the public hearing. There were no objections or calls for specific changes to the spending plans,despite an anticipated increase in the property tax rate that is largely driven by the results of a townwide property revaluation completed last year. The revaluation, the first for Essex since the start of the national Great Recession in 2008, resulted in a 7.72 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property that is used to establish a tax rate.

The town government budget of $7,202,161 represents a $234,700, or 3.37 percent, spending increase over the current town government appropriation. The budget for the elementary school, $7,742,313, is up by $107,396, or 1.41 percent, from the current appropriation.

The total spending levy for 2014-2015 also incudes the town’s $8,112,489 share of the Region 4 education budget that funds the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle school. The Region 4 share is up by only $30,717, a much smaller increase than recent years because of a smaller rise in the number of students from Essex attending the two secondary schools.

Former Selectman Vince Pacileo asked the key question of the budget hearing, specifically where would the spending plans put the town’s tax rate when the new fiscal year begins in July. The current tax rate is 18.99 mills, or $18.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax rate increased by 0.52 mills last year to current town/school spending.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said a tax rate of 20.4 mills would be required under the new grand list to cover current 2013-2014 spending. With total requested new spending of $372,813, a slightly higher tax rate could be required for 2014-2015. Under the new grand list, a tax mill raises about $1 million in revenue.
Pacileo also asked the expected total for the town’s undesignated fund balance at the start of the next fiscal year in July. Finance Director Kelly Sterner said the fund balance is expected to contain about $2.7 million.

The finance board will set a tax rate for 2014-2015 after the town and school budgets are approved by voters. The board could use a transfer from the fund balance to limit the tax increase for 2014-2015. But in recent years the board has not favored use of the fund balance to defray increases in the tax rate

The town government and elementary school budgets are scheduled for a vote at the annual budget meeting on May 12, though residents could petition for an eight-hour referendum vote on these components of the budget. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on May 6.

Main Street East Reconstruction Project Draws Mixed Response at Chester Meeting, Location of New Sidewalks an Issue

CHESTER— The Main Street East reconstruction project drew a mixed reaction from residents an a public information meeting Tuesday, with some residents objecting to plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road.

About 70- residents turned out for the session held by the town’s volunteer Main Street Project Committee, with residents hearing a presentation by project engineer Kent Frost on two options for a segment of the project that has generated some debate in recent weeks. The project is the first phase of a long-planned project that will later include reconstruction of Main Street in the downtown commercial area. It calls for a reconstruction of 1,800-feet of Main Street from the entrance to the Laurel Hill Cemetery east to the intersection with  Middlesex Avenue (Route 154).

The committee last month gave a preliminary endorsement to constructing a four-foot wide sidewalk from the entrance to the cemetery east to Route 154, while also retaining and improving sidewalk that runs along portions of the south side of the street, including the area in the vicinity of the Chesterfields Health Care Center. The committee decided a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street would enhance pedestrian safety by reducing the need for crossing the street to use sidewalk, though existing crosswalks at the intersection with School Lane and in front of Chesterfields would be retained and improved. Another factor in the panel’s recommendation is the possibility the town would built a new library at North Quarter Park on the north side of the street, bringing increased pedestrian traffic to this section of Main Street.

But some residents have objected to a proposed removal of three mature Maple trees in the vicinity of School Lane and the residential property at 131 Main St., and plans for sidewalk in front of a residential property at 137 Main St., where the existing house is closer to the roadway. A second option presented Tuesday would include improvements to the sidewalk on the south side of the street, but no continuous sidewalk on the north side of the road.

Frost said the property owners at 131 Main Street where the three trees are located, David and Lisa Meade, have offered qualified support for the plan, and a willingness to work with the committee on replacing the trees with newer trees and possible fencing. He said the property owners at 137 Main Street, Jeffrey and Mary Gates, have objected to the plans because of the proximity of the sidewalk to their house, and the need to remove a privacy hedge in front of a portion of their property.

Several residents at the meeting, and five who submitted written statements, expressed support for the continuous sidewalk ion the north side of the street. Most of the objections expressed at the meeting focused on the removal of the three trees, which are within the town’s road right-of-way.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the hedge in front of 137 Main St. is also located within the town right-of-way, and is a liability for the town because it blocks sight line views in the area of the crosswalk from a staff parking lot to the Chesterfields facility. He said the hedge must be removed even if there is no Main Street East reconstruction project.

Meehan said Wednesday the committee, in discussion after the public comment portion of the meeting, expressed a consensus to stand by the original recommendation for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street. Meehan said the board of selectmen would discuss the committee’s recommendation further at a meeting next month.
But Meehan also confirmed the debate over sidewalks has delayed an initial goal of putting the project out to bid and beginning construction by this fall. He said construction is now expected to begin in the spring of 2015. The estimated $1 million project is funded by a combination of state grants and some town funding.

Essex Zoning Commission Approves Essex Place Elderly and Affordable Housing Development

ESSEX— The zoning commission Monday unanimously approved a site plan for the 22 unit Essex Place elderly and affordable housing development that would be located off Main Street in the Centerbrook section.

The project would be the first elderly and affordable housing development in town since the existing 36-unit Essex Court elderly housing complex was constructed in 1985. The new development would be located on a one-acre town-owned parcel at the southwest corner of the Essex Court complex, with the new units to receive access off Main Street through the existing entrance road in to Essex Court.

The 22 units, including 18 one bedroom and four two bedroom units, would be in a three-story building, with a total of 46 parking spaces for the development. The project was designed by architects with Quisenberry Associates of Farmington.

The applicant for the project is Essex Elderly and Affordable housing Inc., a non-profit group established by the Essex Housing Authority that manages the Essex Court complex. The application was submitted under state statute 8-30G, a law intended to promote additional elderly and affordable housing in Connecticut.

The statute allowed the project to bypass some requirements town zoning regulations that govern height and setbacks from abutting properties. Under the 8-30G process, the commission’s jurisdiction over the site plan was limited to public health and safety issues.

But any public health issues related to development were resolved with a report submitted earlier this month by Lisa Fasulo, town director of health. Fasulo advised that site testing confirms the  parcel could accommodate an engineer-desighned septic system to serve 26 bedrooms, though the project would also require written approval from the state Department of Health before construction could begin.

The project received statements of support from nine residents at a March 17 public hearing, with three residents also speaking in support of the project when the hearing resumed Monday. Dawn  Boulanger, a member of the Essex Housing Authority and Essex Elderly and Affordable Housing Inc., said construction of additional elderly and affordable housing would benefit the town. No one spoke in opposition to the project.

The units would be reserved for persons age 62 or older who meet income guidelines. Construction of the Essex Place development is expected to begin this fall, with state and federal grant and loan funding expected to pay for the cost of building the 22-unit development.

Deep River Selectmen Establish New Study Committee for Firehouse Expansion Project

Deep River Fire DeptDEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen has established a new study committee to develop a consensus recommendation for a long-planned firehouse renovation  and expansion project.

The committee established earlier this month is comprised of two selectmen, Angus McDonald Jr. and David Oliveria,  two Deep River volunteer Fire Department officers,, Chief Timothy Lee, and assistant chief Timothy Ballantyne, and Susan Watts,a representative of the design advisory board. Selectmen are seeking one additional volunteer at-large member for the committee.

First Selectman Richard Smith said Monday the committee has been asked to prepare a written report by Sept. 1 that would include a review of options and a recommendation for a firehouse expansion project. Town officials and residents have been discussing and debating options for a firehouse expansion project for nearly six years, including two failed referendum votes for a renovation and expansion of the existing 5,084-square foot firehouse at the corner of Union and West Elm streets that was built in 1961.

A proposed $2,.4 million renovation and expansion of the existing firehouse was rejected on 347-312 vote in a July 2010 referendum. A more costly renovation and expansion project was rejected by a wide margin in a November 2007 referendum.

After the 2010 defeat, town officials and representatives of the fire department began considering other possible sites, including the option of building a new firehouse on a parcel on the north side of Route 80 in the vicinity of Plattwood Park. But Smith said Monday there has been no consensus on an alternative site for a new firehouse, with some firefighters and residents contending the Route 80 location is too far from the downtown area, a distance that could lead to increased  rates for fire insurance.

Smith said the committee would focus on a revised renovation and expansion plan for the existing firehouse that may, or may not, utilize portions of an abutting residential property at 57 Union Street that was acquired by the fire department in 2007. “We need to be able to make a decision on what we really need for a firehouse expansion, and how can we make it work” for the existing site, Smith said.

April 24 Public Hearing for Essex Town Government, Elementary School Budgets

ESSEX— A proposed $7.18 million town government budget and a proposed $7.74 million appropriation for Essex Elementary School will be presented at the annual budget hearing Thursday. The hearing, to be conducted by the board of finance, begins at7:30 p.m. in town hall.

The proposed $7,189,062 town government budget for 2014-2015 represents an increase of $221,601, or 3.18 percent, over the current budget. The spending plan includes a three percent wage-salary increase for most town employees. The recommended budget for the elementary school totals $7,742,313, representing an increase of $107,396, or 1.41 percent, over the current appropriation for the school.

The largest segment of the total town spending package, the $8,112,489 Essex share of the Region 4 education budget, is not subject to review by the finance board. With little change in the number of students from Essex attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, the town’s share of the proposed 2014-2015 Region 4 budget is up by only $30,717 after a much larger increase for the current year. The Region 4 budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum on May 6.

The finance board will consider any input received at the public hearing before deciding whether to make any changes to either the town government or elementary school spending plans. The annual budget meeting to voter on the town/elementary school budgets is set for Monday May 12.

The tax rate for 20-14-2015 will be set by the board of finance after the budgets are approved by voters. The current tax rate is 18.99 mills, or $18.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value
A townwide property revaluation completed last year resulted in a 7.72 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property, with the assessed value of many residential properties falling by around 8 percent. The drop in the grand list will require an increase in the tax rate for 2014-2015, though many homeowners would be paying the higher rate on a lower property assessment.