ESSEX— The zoning commission will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed nail salon in vacant space at the commercial building at 31-33 Main St. in the Centerbrook section. The hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in town hall. Maria Malla of Waterbury is seeking approval for a nail salon that would have four chairs for manicures and four chairs for pedicures. The proposed salon would be open each day from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. The space on the west side of the commercial building at 31-33 Main St. was previously occupied by a medical equipment supply business, but has been vacant for more than two years.
ESSEX-– The bids have come in high for the Essex Town Hall Civic Campus project that is to be funded by a $471,500 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant. Four bids for the project were opened on Aug. 8.
All of the bids exceeded the amount of the grant the town was awarded late last year. The bids ranged from a price of $594,832 from B&W Paving of Oakdale to a high bid of $795,971 from Running Brook Construction of Killingworth. The second lowest price was a bid of $638,113 from Xenelis Construction Inc. of Middlefield, a company that has done work for the town previously.
The project calls for repaving and expanding of the town hall parking lot, new tennis courts and a new handicapped accessible play scape for the abutting Grove Street Park. There would also be new crosswalks and sidewalks and other improvements to Grove Street intended to enhance the connections between town hall and the Essex Library, which has its main entrance on the other side of Grove Street.
First Selectman Norman Needleman said Tuesday he is optimistic some components of the project can be adjusted to establish a final price that is more in line with the grant amount. “We think we can come in close,” he said.
Needleman noted that while the bid specifications includes extensive paving work, the town can secure a lower price for paving materials through a state price contract that is available to cities and towns. He said some of the work could be done by the town public works crew, allowing for removal of some project components from the bid price.
Needleman said he would work with Public Works Director David Caroline to negotiate possible changes to the bids, with a focus on the two lowest bidders, B&W Paving and Xenelis Construction. Needleman said he is hopeful a contract could be awarded early next month to allow construction to begin this fall for completion before the start of the winter season .
ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday approved a new annual fee for residents bringing their own trash to the solid waste transfer station. The new $125 fee, along with higher fees for disposal of other items, was approved on a unanimous vote.
The new fee structure that was developed by the town’s appointed sanitary waste commission is effective Jan. 1, 2014. First Selectman Norman Needleman said the purpose of the new fee system is to remove cash transactions from the operation of the solid waste compactor site, located off Route 154 near Route 9 exit 4. Residents currently pay $3 per bag for disposal of household trash, handing the money to an attendant or paying under an honor system if no town employee is at the site.
Needleman said the new annual fee of $125 for a resident user sticker does not represent a significant cost increase for residents using the site, a group that excludes residents that pay a commercial trash hauler for curbside pickup. Senior citizens over age 65 would pay a discounted sticker fee of $75. Occasional users of the site could purchase five user tickets for $25.
The package of fees approved Wednesday also includes higher fees for disposal of tires, stuffed furniture, mattresses, brush, and demolition materials. There will be no charge for disposal of recyclables, including bottles, cans, cardboard, and newspapers.
The fees for tires on the rim would increase from $5 to $10, but remain at $5 for junk tires taken off the metal rim. The fee for disposal of junk stuffed furniture would increase from the current $7 to $10, with a $20 fee for disposal of mattresses.
The fee for disposal of demolition materials would increase from the current $15 to $20 per cubic yard, and from $7.50 to $10 for a half cubic yard. Needleman said the town was spending almost double for disposal of demolition materials than was being generated in revenue from the current fees.
The fee for disposal of brush would be $10 per cubic yard, though there would be no charge for residents bring smaller bags of brush to the site. As part of the removal of cash transactions, residents would be required to pay the other disposal fees by check or credit card.
In other business, Needleman announced the town is seeking a volunteer to serve as veterans service contact representative. The new position was established under a newly effective state law, and is comparable to the long-standing position of municipal agent for the aging. The contact representative would assist in putting local veterans in touch with available services. Needleman said he is hoping an Essex veteran will volunteer for the position.
CHESTER— The board of selectmen is seeking proposals from engineering firms for design of the initial phase of the Main Street Project, a reconstruction of Main Street from the entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery east to the intersection with Route 154. The deadline for submitting proposals is Aug. 15
First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the volunteer Main Street Committee, which is coordinating the long-planned project, recommended proceeding with the initial, eastern, phase immediately after voters approved a long-range plan for the project at a July 23 town meeting. The full project calls for a complete reconstruction of Main Street in the downtown village, including improvements to two parking lots. But subsequent phases of the project would not begin until after the state Department of Transportation completes a replacement of the Main Street bridge in 2016.
Meehan said the engineering firm would be asked to complete bid-ready plans for reconstruction of the eastern segment of Main Street, including a detailed cost estimate. He said a firm could be hired by October, with the design plan to be completed by the end of the year.
Meehan said the project could be put out to bid by March, with construction to be underway during the spring and summer of 2014. The town currently has about $800,000 in hand for the project through a combination of town funds and state grant funds. Meehan said an expenditure of funds for the “Main Street East” project would require approval from voters at a town meeting.
DEEP RIVER— The town has received a $400,000 state grant for improvements to Plattwood Park, the town’s major recreation area located off Route 80. The grant, provided under the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP), was announced last week with a visit to town by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman.
The 23-acre park, which includes a former sand and gravel quarry pond, was acquired by the town in 1981 and improved for recreational uses in subsequent years. The 1981 purchase, for a price of $75,000, also included a separate 25-acre area to the west that was sold for development as the Plattwood Industrial Park.
The grant will fund several improvements at the park, including a new and larger pavilion with handicapped accessible bathroom facilities. The grant will also pay for a new athletics field and circular jogging/walking trail on the eastern section of the park. There would also be a new, handicapped accessible walking trail through a wooded area on the southern side of the park.
Along with a public swimming area in the former quarry pond, the park currently includes a picnic area with charcoal grills and tables, a basketball court, a skateboarding park, and a paved parking area. The park is open to town residents free of charge, while non-residents pay a $20 per vehicle parking fee to use the park. Construction for the grant-funded improvements is expected to begin in 2014.
ESSEX— State police Monday recovered a man’s body from the South Cove of the Connecticut River after a search for a missing New York man that began Sunday evening. Police had not formally identified the body as of Monday afternoon, though the search has been discontinued for Richard Cianflone, 29, of Vahalla, N.Y.
Cianflone had been visiting Essex over the weekend with friends, attending the Essex Lions Club Lobster Festival that was held Saturday at the Main Street Park. Cianflone later visited the Griswold Inn, and was last seen late Saturday night. Friends reported him missing Sunday, leading police to begin a search Sunday evening with tracker dogs and a team of divers.
Police said Cianflone’s cell phone was recovered in the river’s South Cove, in the vicinity of Rackett Lane and Benson Lane, two small streets extending off Main Street in the downtown village. The search resumed Monday morning, and police recovered the body of a male around 10 a.m. The office of the Chief State Medical Examiner in Farmington is expected to perform an autopsy on the body.
CHESTER— The Organon Market on Route 154 will close for remodeling on Aug. 11, with its reopening depending on the approval of a revised special permit application from the planning and zoning commission.
Market owner Peter Kehayias said Thursday he hopes the closing will be only temporary, giving him time to pursue an amended special permit application with the commission while also seeking advice and possibly other assistance from the state Department of Economic and Community Development. But Kehayias also acknowledged the market at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154, would probably never reopen if the commission does not approve some revisions to conditions the panel imposed when it approved a special permit for the market in September 2011.
“The market should be allowed to run as a market,” Kehayias said, adding I can’t run a business and be looking over my shoulder all of the time.” Kehayias said he is prepared to reopen the market later this year “but certain things have to fall in to place.”
During the remodeling, Kehayias plans to submit a new application to the planning and zoning commission requesting changes to some of the conditions to the original special permit that was approved by the panel in September 2011. Kehayias said limited seating for customers and some easing to restrictions on signage are needed for the market to continue in operation. “”All of my customers are asking for seating,” he said, while adding the limits on signage prevent him from highlighting sales and specials that could attract additional customers.
The market has generated strong opposition from some nearby property owners since it was first proposed in 2010. The nearby residents contend the market represents an improper expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming commercial use in the surrounding residential zone, with some also claiming Kehayias hopes to expand the market in to a full-service restaurant. The building at 56 Middlesex Avenue was formerly a gasoline station, and most recently a bicycle repair shop, but had been vacant for several years before the market opened in July 2012.
The group of nearby residents opposed the market during the initial public hearings in 2011, and also objected to an effort by Kehayias earlier this year to amend the special permit. Kehayias had requested amending the permit to allow up to 12 chairs or two benches inside the market for customers.
While the requested revision drew support from some residents at a March public hearing, a divided planning and zoning commission denied the requested amendment on a 5-4 vote in April. Kehayias is an elected member of the commission, but has recused himself from participating in the panel’s review of his own business.
In the latest development, a letter of complaint from six residents led Zoning Enforcement Officer Judy Brown to issue a cease and desist order to Keyhayias last month. Brown said this week the cease and desist order focused on exterior issues, including the location of trash containers, signage, and lighting.
Kehayias said he hopes the application for permit revisions can be considered by the commission at a public hearing this fall, possibly in October. Kehayias said his employees, including six full-time workers and six part-time workers, would be laid off during what he hopes is a temporary closing.
ESSEX— Town officials are planning a vote late this year on a bonding authorization for several capital projects, with a replacement of sections of the Essex Elementary School roof and two bridge replacement projects listed as priorities in a report submitted in July by a volunteer study committee.
The five-member capital committee, chaired by Selectman Joel Marzi, has submitted a report to the board of selectmen that reviews more than two dozen potential capital projects for town buildings and properties. Along with the school roof and replacement of the Ivory Street and Walnut Street bridges in the Ivoryton section, the list prepared by the committee also includes several improvements and renovations to the 1892 town hall building. While some of the projects and improvements could be funded by capital sinking funds in the annual town budget, and some deferred, a bond issue would be needed to pay for some of the larger projects.
The replacement of sections of the elementary school roof, particularly the sections over a 1991 building addition, is estimated to cost about $1.2 million. These sections of the roof are already leaking in some areas after heavy rainfalls. The committee did not provide a cost estimate for the two bridge replacement projects, though the bridge projects could cost between $500,000 to $1 million each. Some state reimbursement would be available for the school roof replacement, while the bridge projects could be eligible for some state an federal grant funding.
First Selectman Norman Needleman said this week the next step for the capital projects would be hiring an engineering consulting firm to “fill in some of the blanks,” and provide more detailed cost estimates.
Needleman said the consultant would work with the board of selectmen this fall to further prioritize projects and establish a final plan that would form the basis of a proposed bonding authorization. Needleman said the bonding proposal could be as much as $5 million, to be paid off over 20 years.
Needleman said a specific bonding proposal could be presented to the town’s voters by the end of the year, or possibly early in 2014. Needleman said he would recommend voting on the bonding authorization at a town meeting, though residents could petition for a referendum vote on the bonding package. He said any vote on a bonding package would be preceded by a public information meeting.
CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission has scheduled an Aug. 8 public hearing on a special permit application for a new restaurant at 69 Main St. in the downtown village. The public hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the large meeting room at town hall.
Monroe Properties LLC and local resident John Schroeder are seeking approval for a restaurant in the ground floor of the three-story building at 69 Main St. The restaurant, serving wood-fired pizza, salads and gelato, would be operated by Jonathan Rapp, owner and operator of the popular River Tavern restaurant that is also located on Main Street.
The restaurant would be open seven days per week from 4-11 p.m. It would have 30 seats inside, with up to 20 outdoor seats for seasonal outdoor dining. There would also be take out service. In a statement submitted with the application, the applicants suggest that because the restaurant would only be open evenings, when most downtown shops are closed, existing on-street parking and “underused public lots” on Maple Street and at the entrance to the nearby Laurel Hill Cemetery would “more than adequate to support the demands of this proposed use.”
The 69 Main St. building abuts the former town hall property at 65 Main St., and had been purchased by the town in the early 1990s in preparation for a planned expansion of the town hall building. Residents decided in 2003 to construct a new town hall in an existing building at 203 Middlesex Avenue (Route 154), and the 69 Main St. property was alter purchased by Schroeder.
The commission has also continued to the Aug. 8 meeting a public hearing that opened July 11 on a special permit application from Chester Point Real Estate LLC to construct a new 5,561-square-foot building at the Chester Marina property, 72 Railroad Avenue. The proposed new building that would replace a smaller existing building would house a seasonal restaurant, along with an office and display area.
CHESTER— Voters at a town meeting Tuesday approved a long-range plan to guide improvements to Main Street in the downtown village. About 35 residents turned out for the meeting, approving the plan on a nearly unanimous voice vote after about 40 minutes of discussion.
First Selectman Edmund Meehan told the group the plan, officially called the “Chester Village and Center District Master Plan”, is “a public works project first with some embellishments.” The plan was prepared by an 11-member volunteer committee appointed in late 2011, with assistance from the Kent & Frost engineering consultants of Mystic.
While a preliminary cost estimate of all of the potential improvements that totals $5.49 million drew some questions, Meehan stressed that improvements would be done in phases as funding for the work becomes available. He said many of the improvements would not be completed until late in the decade, while some may never be done depending on decisions by voters at future town meetings. Along with a reconstruction of Main Street with new curbing and sidewalks, the plan also calls for improvements, including better lighting, to town-owned parking lots on Maple Street and Water Street.
Improvements to the core area of Main Street would not begin until after completion of a state Department of Transportation funded replacement of the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook, which is now scheduled to be done in 2016. But Meehan said some of the improvements could begin sooner, possibly next year.
The initial phase as outlined in the plan would be a reconstruction of Main Street from the intersection with Route 154 west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery, a mostly residential section that also passes the Chesterfield’s Health Care Center. The cost estimate for this phase is $1.37 million, a figure that includes a $650,000 contingency Meehan suggested is higher than would likely be funded for the work.
Meehan said the overall plan would help the town apply for and secure additional state grants to help fund later phases. Specific funding appropriations for each phase would require separate town meeting approvals. The town currently has about $750,000 in available funding, including about $500,000 in state grants and about $250,000 in set aside town capital projects funding.
Meehan said the next steps for the plan would be hiring an engineering firm to prepare the initial phase covering the eastern section of Main Street for bid documents. The plan also suggested some of the parking lot improvements could be done before the 2016 bridge replacement.
Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith Unopposed for 13th term, Republican Caucus sets up Contests for Board of Finance, Region 4 School Board
DEEP RIVER– Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith will run unopposed this fall for the third straight town election, but party nominating caucuses have set up Nov. 5 contests for two seats on the board of finance and a seat on the Region 4 Board of Education.
Town Republicans nominated no candidate for first selectman at the party caucus, with the seven party members at the caucus discussing a possible cross-endorsement of Smith for a record 13th term in the top job.
Long-time Town Treasurer Tom Lindner and Republican Town Chairman Greg Alexander, who sparred with Smith while serving on the board of finance in the 1990s, each said Smith has “done a good job in Deep River.”
Lindner said a cross-endorsement, giving Smith both the Republican and Democratic lines, could help Republican candidates in any contested races. But the caucus decided to make no cross endorsements, with some members noting town Democrats had declined to cross endorse Linder and incumbent Republican Town Clerk Amy Winchell for new terms.
Republicans nominated incumbent Selectman David Oliveria for a third term on the board of selectmen. Barring any unexpected petition candidates, the 2013-2015 board of selectmen is certain to be comprised of Smith, one-term incumbent Democratic Selectman Angus McDonald Jr., and Oliveria. Republicans nominated Winchell, who was first elected in 2009, and Lindner, for new terms, with no candidate nominated to challenge two-term Democratic Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani.
Republicans nominated two candidates for board of finance, Douglas Nagan and John Wichtowski, who works as a chemist for Pfizer Corp. They will compete for the two open board seats with incumbent Democrat Lori Guerette and Russell Marth. Incumbent Democrat Carmella Balducci is unopposed for a two-year vacancy term on the finance board.
Republicans nominated James Olson for Region 4 Board of Education. Olson is completing a term on the local school board that supervises Deep River Elementary School. Olson is in a contest with Democrat Jane Cavanaugh for the seat now held by departing Region 4 Board Chairwoman Linda Hall.
Republicans nominated Nelle Andrew and Michelle Grow for uncontested election to the local board of education. Douglas Dopp was nominated for a seat ion the board of assessment appeals, with incumbent Donald Routh and Patricias Unan nominated for library board of trustees.
Smith said Wednesday he is pleased with the chance to run unopposed for a new two-year term “I appreciate it,” he said, adding “everybody is working together and the results speak for themselves.” Smith was unopposed for re-election in 2009 and 2011, facing his last challenge for the top job in 2007 from a candidate running on the Deep River Independent Party line. Smith was also uncontested by town Republicans in 1995 and 1999.
CHESTER— Town Democrats and Republicans have nominated slates that set up a Nov. 5 election ballot with no contested positions. Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan is unopposed for a second term in the top job.
Party caucuses last week nominated slates with numerous incumbents, while the positioning of candidates for full and partial vacancy terms provides for no direct contests on the ballot. Meehan moves toward a second term with two-term incumbent Democratic Selectman Lawrence Sypher as his running mate for board of selectmen. Republicans nominated incumbent Selectman Tom Englert for a third term, with no candidate for first selectman. Uncontested elections for the board of selectmen have occurred previously in Chester, with former Democratic First Selectman Martin Heft running unopposed in 1997, 1999, and 2003.
Democrats and Republicans each cross-endorsed incumbent Town Clerk Debra Calamari and incumbent Tax Collector Madaline Meyer for new terms. Calamari was first elected as town clerk in 1989. Democrats nominated incumbent Town Treasurer Elizabeth Netch for a new term, with Republicans nominating no candidate for the position.
Democrats nominated incumbent David Cohen for a full six-year term on the board of finance, with incumbent Richard Nygard nominated for a full term as board of finance alternate. Republicans nominated appointed incumbent Charles Park for a full term on the board of finance, with Alexander Strekel nominated for a four-year vacancy term as board of finance alternate. There are two full member finance board seats on the fall ballot.
Democrats nominated incumbent Henry Krempel for a new term on the planning and zoning commission, with Republicans nominating incumbents Melvin Seifert and Doreen Joslow for the commission. Democrats nominated former Selectman Peter Zanardi for a four-year vacancy term on the planning and zoning commission.
While there are two Region 4 Board of Education seats on the ballot, two incumbents elected at a December 2011 town meeting to fill vacancies, are unopposed to continue on the board. Republicans nominated incumbent Mario Gioco for a full six-year terms, with Democrats nominating incumbent Ann Monaghan for a two-year vacancy term. Democrats nominated Arthur Henick and Robert Bibbiani for the local board of education, with Republicans nominating incumbents Ashley Marsh and Shaun Savoie.
Democrats nominated incumbent Dudley Clark for a new term on the board of assessment appeals, with Republicans nominating incumbent David Watts for the board. Democrats nominated Susan Ziren and Robert Gorman for library board of trustees, with Republicans nominating incumbent Teresa Schreiber.
Democrats nominated incumbents John Delaura Jr. and Michael Desnoyers for zoning board of appeals. Republicans nominated Brian Sakidavitch for a four-year vacancy term as ZBA alternate. Democrats nominated incumbents Albert Armington, Samuel Chorches, and Leroy Edward Ward for water pollution control authority, with Republicans nominating incumbent Felice Cressman for WPCA. Democrats nominated incumbent Christine Darnell for inland-wetlands commission, with Republicans nominating incumbent Eric Davison for the IWC.
Deep River Democrats Nominate First Selectman Richard Smith for 13th Term, Town Republican Caucus Monday
DEEP RIVER— Town Democrats this week nominated First Selectman Richard Smith for a record 13th term in the town’s top office, with incumbent Democratic Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. nominated for a second term as Smith’s running-mate for board of selectmen. Town Republicans will nominate candidates at a caucus Monday, though Smith is not expected to face a Republican challenger in the Nov. 5 election.
Democrats at their caucus Tuesday nominated incumbent Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani for a third two year term. But Democrats did not nominate candidates for either town clerk, to challenge two-term incumbent Republican Town Clerk Amy Winchell, or town treasurer, to contest long-time Republican Town Treasurer Thomas Lindner.
Democrats nominated three candidates for board of finance, including incumbent Lori Guerette and Russell Marth for full six-year terms, and incumbent Carmella Balducci for a four year vacancy term. Balducci was appointed to the finance board last year to fill a seat that had been held by her husband, former Speaker of the House Richard Balducci.
Marth had served a single term on the board of selectmen after he won election on the Deep River Independent Party line in 2007, a year when town Republicans did not nominate candidates for first selectman or board of selectmen. He was unseated in 2009, when Republicans nominated current incumbent Selectman David Oliveria for the board.
Marth later rejoined the Democratic Party and became a member of the Deep River Democratic Town Committee. The 2007 election was the last year where Smith faced a challenge for the first selectman seat, with John Kennedy running unsuccessfully for the top job on the Deep River Independent Party line.
Democrats nominated Jane Cavanaugh for Region 4 Board of Education. Cavanaugh is seeking the seat held by current Region 4 Board of Education Chairwoman Linda Hall. Democrats nominated two new candidates for the local board of education, Hadley Kornacki and Augustus Ferretti. Democrats nominated incumbent Sharon Emfinger and Roy Jefferson for library board of trustees.
Town Republicans will hold a nominating caucus Monday at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at the Liberty Bank branch on Main Street. No candidates have announced to challenge Smith, though Oliveria is expected to be nominated for a third term on the board of selectmen.
Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman Uncontested for Second Term, Bruce Glowac Nominated for Republican Selectman Seat
ESSEX— Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman will run unopposed for a second term, as party nominations Wednesday set up a low-key Nov. 5 town election with two seats on the board of finance the only contested races on the ballot. Bruce Glowac, a former first selectman, was nominated by town Republicans for the minority party seat on the three member board of selectmen.
Needleman and Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby were unanimously endorsed by the Essex Democratic Town committee for a second term. Needleman was nominated by Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller, who served as first selectman from 2003 to 2011. Needleman served on the board of selectmen during Miller’s years in the top job. Miller said Needleman had provided consistent leadership over the past two years, and “loves and believes in the town and its people.”
The nomination for first selectman was left vacant when about 25 Republicans gathered for a nominating caucus at town hall after Democrats concluded their nominations vote minutes earlier in the same building. Republican Town Chairman Edward Cook said no one expressed interest in the nomination to challenge Needleman. Cook said members of the town committee had concluded that Needleman was “doing a pretty decent job,” and that 2013 was a year to “concentrate on being constructive,” as Democrats and Republicans battle over broader issues on the national level.
Bruce Glowac, who served as first selectman from 1991-1995, was unanimously nominated by town Republicans for the board of selectman. Glowac, who has worked since 1999 as director of facilities for Region 4 schools, said he had “always planned to come back to public service,” in the town. Glowac, 61, also acknowledged he could be interested in another run for the top job in 2015. He will continue in the Region 4 job while serving as a selectman. Glowac said his goals for the next two years are to “bring common sense to town government and to make sure we have a friendly town hall.”
The Republican selectman seat has been held since 2009 by Joel Marzi, who was nominated by town Republicans for the open position of town clerk. The Democratic town committee also cross-endorsed Marzi for election to a four-year term as town clerk. Republicans cross-endorsed the incumbent Democratic tax collector, Megan Haskins, for a second term
James Francis, chairman of the board of finance since 2003, was nominated by Democrats for the open position of town treasurer. Francis was not cross-endorsed by town Republicans, but is uncontested for election to a four-year term in the part-time job.
Leigh Rankin, a former U.S. Coast Guard officer with engineering experience, was nominated by Republicans for a six-year term in the Region 4 Board of Education. Rankin was cross-endorsed by Democrats. Incumbent Republican Coral Rawn was cross-endorsed by Democrats for a new term on the board of assessment appeals. Democrat Carolyn Rotella and incumbent Republican Adam Conrad were nominated for uncontested election of the local board of education.
The only contested races on the Nov. 5 ballot are for two seats on the board of finance. Democrats nominated two-term incumbent board member Campbell Hudson and Mary Louise Pollo. Hudson is a local attorney, Pollo is a former member and chairwoman of the local school board. Republicans nominated Peter Decker, a business consultant, and James Palagonia, a sales representative for a medical products company, for the finance board seats.
Needleman said he is pleased to be running unopposed, and “excited about the opportunity to serve the town” for another two years. Needleman added that Glowac would be a “good addition to the board of selectmen.”
CHESTER— Voters will be asked at a July 23 town meeting to approve a long-range plan for the reconstruction of Main Street in the downtown village. The town meeting convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the community meeting room at town hall.
The plan, prepared by an appointed volunteer committee with assistance from the Kent & Frost engineering consulting firm of Groton, is intended to serve as a “long-range guide to promote commercial viability, attract small business, and improve street surfacing, drainage, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping, and way finding,” in the downtown village. The plan includes recommendations for phasing of improvements in coordination with plans for replacing the Main Street bridge in 2016. It will also be used in applying for state grants to help fund the improvement project.
Engineers estimated the total cost of the Main Street improvements at about $1.5 million at a public information meeting on the plan in March. The town is planning to use a combination of set aside town funds and grant funding to pay for the project.
First Selectman Edmund Meehan has said a decision by the state Department of Transportation to delay construction on the replacement of the Main Street bridge from 2015 to 2016 would allow the town to begin work on an initial phase of the Main Street Project next year. The initial phase would be a reconstruction of Main Street from the intersection with Route 154 west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. The second phase, encompassing most of the Main Street commercial district, would be done later, in coordination with the state’s bridge replacement project.
ESSEX/DEEP RIVER— Democrats and Republicans in Deep River and Essex will hold nominating sessions over the coming week to pick candidates for the Nov. 5 town elections. Democrats and Republicans in Essex will meet on Wednesday, while Deep River Democrats will caucus Tuesday and town Republicans have set a nominating caucus for July 22.
The Essex Democratic Town Committee will hold an endorsement session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at town hall. Incumbent Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman is expected to be nominated for a second two-year term, with incumbent Selectwoman Stacia Libby continuing as his running-mate for board of selectmen. Essex Republicans will hold a nominating caucus Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.
No Republicans have announced as candidates for first selectman to challenge Needleman, but a caucus contest is possible for the open Republican nomination for board of selectman. Two-term Republican Selectman Joel Marzi is not seeking re-election, deciding instead to run for the open position of town clerk. While no one has formally announced as a candidate, there is believed to be more than one prospective candidate for the open GOP selectman seat. Democrats and Republicans will also nominate candidates for town clerk, tax collector, town treasurer, board of finance, Region 4 Board of Education, the local board of education, and the board of assessment appeals.
Deep River Democrats will caucus Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Lace Factory building, 161 River St. Incumbent Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith is expected to be nominated for a 13th term in the town’s top office, with incumbent Democratic Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. expected to be nominated for a second term as Smith’s running mate for board of selectmen.
Town Republicans will hold a nominating caucus Monday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at the Liberty Bank building on Main Street. No Republicans have announced as a candidate to challenge Smith for the first selectman position. Incumbent Republican Selectman David Olivera is expected to be nominated for a third term on the board of selectmen.
CHESTER— Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan has announced plans to seek a second term in the Nov. 5 town election, with incumbent Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher continuing as his running-mate for board of selectmen. With party nominating caucuses scheduled for July 16, Meehan may run opposed for the top job in the fall election.
Meehan said this week he has enjoyed serving in the leadership position, and hopes to pursue several municipal projects to completion over the next two years. He cited an initial phase of the Main Street reconstruction project as a priority for 2014, and pointed to the completed second floor renovations to town hall that includes a new community meeting room as one accomplishment of his first two years in office.
Meehan, 67, was elected to the top job in 2011 after the departure of three term Republican First Selectman Tom Marsh. First elected in 2005 in an upset victory over six-term Democratic First Selectman Martin Heft , Marsh resigned in August 2011 to take a job as town manager in Windsor, Vt.
A longtime Chester resident, Meehan began his career in public service in the early 1980s as a planner with the former Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency before serving for 22 years as town planner for Newington. Meehan retired from the Newington job after winning election in Nov. 2011.
With Republican Selectman Ton Englert not running for the top job after Marsh’s departure, Meehan was challenged in the 2011 vote by Andrew Landsman, running as the candidate of the locally-based Chester Common Ground Party. Meehan won easily on a 706 -180 vote. Englert, who was first elected to the board with Marsh in 2009, served as acting first selectman for about 12 weeks in 2011 after Marsh’s departure,
No Republicans have announced as a candidate for first selectman to challenge Meehan, leading to speculation the one-term incumbent could run unopposed in November. The Common Ground Party has not announced any candidates for the Nov. 5 election.
The Republican nominating caucus is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room at town hall. Englert is expected to be nominated for a third term on the board of selectmen.The Democratic nominating caucus is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at town hall. Sypher, who was first elected to the board of selectmen in 2009, is expected to be nominated for a third term on the board.
Other positions on the Nov. 5 ballot include town clerk, tax collector, and town treasurer, all for four-year terms, two seats on the board of finance, three seats on the planning and zoning commission, and two seats on the Region 4 Board o Education, one for a full six-year term, and one for a two-year vacancy term ending in 2015.
CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing Thursday on a special permit application from Chester Point Marina for construction of a new building on the marina property at 72 Rail Road Avenue. The building would house a seasonal restaurant and a marine products display area.
Chester Point Real Estate LLC of Essex is seeking to demolish an existing building on the property that has frontage on Chester Creek and the Connecticut River. Replacing it would be a new 5,561-square-foot building, with 2,653-square-feet of the new building to be used for a seasonal restaurant that would operate from April through October. The remainder would be used for an office and display area. The plans call for site improvements and 47 parking spaces.
The permit application would not change the use for the property in the waterfront design district because a seasonal restaurant has operated in the existing building on the marina property. The public hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room at town hall.
ESSEX-– The board of selectmen last week discussed the possibility of a town purchase of a residential property at 27 West Avenue that abuts the east side of the town hall property. The 2.5-acre property that includes a 1766 house and barn, has been owned by the late Eileen Samuelson Perry.
Perry died on June 15, and is survived by five children. First Selectman Norman Needleman told the board at its July 3 meeting the property would be soon placed on the market for sale. Needleman said the town should at least consider a possible purchase of the property because of its proximity to the hall.
The property is assessed at $623,100 on the current grand list, a figure that should represent about 70 percent of fair market value. Needleman said he is uncertain what the listing price would be when the property is placed on the market.
Selectman Joel Marzi agreed the option of acquiring the property should be explored, while noting it would take at least six months for the town to be in a position to appropriate funds to purchase the property. An expenditure to purchase the property would require approval from voters at a town meeting, or possibly a referendum.
The board agreed to discuss the option further at its Aug. 7 meeting, and possibly schedule a public information meeting on the option of purchasing the property. Needleman acknowledged he is uncertain about how the property would be used by the town, or the cost of upgrading the historic house for possible public uses.
ESSEX— The board of selectmen has endorsed the planned extension of the Southern Connecticut Gas Co. natural gas main in to the Centerbrook section that would provide cost saving natural gas service to Essex Elementary School.
Acting on a suggestion from First Selectman Norman Needleman, the board at Wednesday’s meeting endorsed the expansion project and the planned conversion of the elementary school to heating by natural gas. The local board of education, acting at a June 25 special meeting that followed an information session with SCGC representatives, has voted in support of converting the school to natural gas.
Gas company representative John Maziarz announced at the June 25 session the Orange-based company is ready to undertake a $2.4 million extension of the natural gas north from Westbrook along Route 153 provide service in to Centerbrook, with the extension ending at the elementary school.. There would also be a short extension east on Bokum Road to provide service to the Lee Company factory complex and the Essex Meadows life care community.
Maziarz said the elementary school, Lee company, and Essex Meadows would be the three “anchor customers” needed for the project to go forward. Lee Company has already committed for the service, with Essex Meadows also expected to commit to the service.
But Needleman reported Wednesday a start of construction for the gas main extension may not begin as quickly as suggested by Maziarz suggested at the June 25 session, where the company representative said work on the extension could begin in August. Needleman said both the elementary school and Essex Meadows need to complete engineering studies to determine exactly what is required to convert the buildings for natural gas heating. He said the engineering reviews could take several; weeks, pushing back a start of construction for the gas main extension in to early fall.
In other business Wednesday, the board endorsed design plans for the “town campus” project that is funded by a $471,500 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant. The improvement project focuses ion the town hall parking lot and the abutting Grove Street Park.
The plans prepared by project engineers with Lenard Engineering of Glastonbury call for repaving the town hall parking lot, including a section that remains unpaved, and constructing a new crosswalk across Grove Street from the town hall parking lot to Essex Library. For the park, there would be new tennis courts and a handicapped accessible children’s playground. Bids for the project will be opened on Aug.8, with construction expected to begin in September.
State Department of Transportation Announces $1 Hike in Fares for Chester and Rocky Hill River Ferries and Another Increase in 2014
CHESTER— The state Department of Transportation has announced a $1 increase in fares for the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Connecticut river ferries. Fares will increase July 8 from the current $3 to $4 for vehicles, and from $1 to $2 for walk-on passengers and bicyclists. The fare for vehicles and passengers will be $5 on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays.
The plan announced by DOT Commissioner James Redeker also calls for another fare increase in 2014, when fares for vehicles will increase to $5 on weekdays and $6 on weekends. The cost for a 20-ticket discount coupon book will also increase from the current $40 to $50. In 2014, the cost for a discount coupon book would increase to $60.
The increase, which is the first hike in ferry fares since 2003, is less than a proposed $6 doubling of the fare that was announced by DOT in the spring. The proposed doubling of fares drew objections from area elected officials, including first selectmen and legislators. About 60 residents turned out at the Chester Meeting House for a May 22 informational meeting ion the fare increase, with many residents suggesting they could accept a smaller than the proposed jump to $6.
DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission is awaiting a special permit application for a proposed relocation of the Dunkin Donuts franchise to a vacant commercial building at 241 Main St.. While an application has yet been received, Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathie Jefferson said Monday she has held a preliminary discussion about a plan to relocate the Dunkin Donuts to the building at 241 Main Street, near the entrance to Devitts Field.
A Dunkin Donuts has been in operation since 2009 at 190 Main St., the former Elms rooming house property. The 241 Main St. property was formerly owned by resident Donald Slater, housing an Irish gifts shop. The building has been largely vacant for more than three years. The property was purchased in 2011 by 246 Main Deep River LLC, a partnership established by Chester businessman Perter Kehayias, who also operates the Oregenon Market on Route 154 in Chester.
Last August, the commission approved a special permit to allow conversion of the 241 Main St. structure in to three shops. But no businesses are currently in operation on the property. Jefferson said the preliminary plan she was advised of calls for a Dunkin Donuts and one other unspecified business on the property.
Any special permit application for relocation of the Dunkin Donuts would require a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission. Jefferson a hearing could be scheduled for August if an application is received before the commission’s July 18 meeting.
DEEP RIVER— Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith has announced plans to seek a 13th term in the Nov. 5 town election, extending a tenure in office that has made him one of the longest serving municipal leaders in Connecticut.
Smith, 62, said this week he had never considered not running again this year, and had advised the Deep River Democratic Town Committee of his intentions in March. “I love what I do and there is still a lot more to do,” he said. Smith, the current president of the state council of Small Towns (COST) said he enjoys working on local issues and improvements.
Smith, who also serves as a part-time town police officer, was first elected in 1989. He was last contested for re-election by town Republicans in 2005, and was previously unopposed for new terms in 1995 and 1999. Smith’s last election challenge came in 2007, when several residents opposed to Main Street redevelopment projects supported by Smith formed an independent ticket to contest various positions. Smith defeated Deep River Independent Party candidate John Kennedy by a wide margin in the 2007 race.
Smith said his latest running mate, Angus McDonald Jr., will also seek a second term this fall. McDonald was elected to the board of selectmen in 2011, replacing Democrat Arthur Thompson, who served from 2009-2011. No Republicans have declared as candidates to challenge Smith for the top job, though Republican Selectman David Oliveira is expected to seek a third term this year.
Republican Town Clerk Amy Winchell is also seeking a third two-year term this year. Elected by a two-vote margin to the open town clerk seat in 2009, Winchell was uncontested by town Democrats for a second term in 2011. She is not expected to face a challenge this year.
The only contests on the Nov. 5 ballot could be for three seats on the board of finance, two full six-year terms and an unexpired vacancy term. Town Democrats and Republicans will nominate candidates for 2013 at party caucuses to be held between July 16-23.
ESSEX— Southern Connecticut Gas Company is planning an expansion of natural gas service from Westbrook in to the Centerbrook section in a $2.4 million project that could begin this year and would include Essex Elementary School, along with the Essex Meadows life care complex and the Lee Company on Bokum Road.
Representatives of the Orange-based company, a subsidiary of United Illuminating Co., held an informational meeting on the project Tuesday at the elementary school. About 15 residents turned out for the session, including First Selectman Norman Needleman, Selectman Joel Marzi, members of the local board of education, and Region 4 Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy. Needleman began discussions with representatives of the company about the possible expansion last year.
John Maziarz, an accounts manager for the gas company, said SCGC is ready to extend an existing natural gas main 29,300-feet north along Route 153 in to the Centerbrook section, and along Main Street to the elementary school. There would also be an extension along a section of Bokum Road to provide service to Lee Company and Essex Meadows.
The main currently ends at the intersection of Route 153 and Pettipaug Road in Westbrook. Maziarz said the company completed an expansion of service in Westbrook last year, including an extension of the main on a section of McVeigh Road to provide service to the Westbrook High School/Middle School complex. SCGC currently serves 178,000 customers in 23 towns between Bridgeport and Old Saybrook.
Maziarz said the cost of heating buildings with natural gas is currently about half the cost of heating the same structure with oil or propane. He said an analysis had determined that Essex Elementary School would save about $52,000 per year in heating costs by converting the school to natural gas.
Maziarz said the company is prepared to begin installation of the extended gas main this year if at least three “anchor customers” sign up for the service. He said the three key customers for the expansion project would be Lee Company, Essex Meadows, and the elementary school. He said Lee company has already committed to the service for its factory complex on Bokum Road. Service would be offered to all residential, commercial, and industrial customers on the expansion route if the project goes forward.
ESSEX— The zoning commission has approved an expansion of the convenience store that the Shell service station at 23 Main St. in the Centerbrook section that also includes a relocation and expansion of the Dunkin Donuts within the building. The commission last week amended the 2007 special permit for the convenience store and Dunkin Donuts to allow the changes.
The panel acted after a June 17 public hearing where the change drew few objections from residents. One resident questioned the traffic situation at the intersection of Main Street and Dennison Road, which abuts the Shell station parcel. But commission members concluded that moving the main entrance to the Dunkin Donuts to the east side of the bulding would reduce any traffic issues.
The convenience store would expand in to a separate space in the commercial building now occupied by the Ashleigh’s Garden floral; shop, with the existing counter service only Dunkin Donuts to be relocated in to the former floral shop space. A second entrance to the store/Dunkin Donuts would be through the floral shop space.
ESSEX— The property that housed the long-running Aggie’s Restaurant in Ivoryton has been sold to a limited liability partnership for $380,000. In a sale filed with the town clerk’s office Thursday, local residents Agnes and William Waterman sold the 107 Main St. commercial property to Big River Properties LLC, which used a local post office box for its current mailing address in recording the sale.
The Watermans had owned the property on the corner of Main and Summit streets since 1996, with Agnes “Aggie” Waterman operating a breakfast and lunch restaurant on the lower floor. The second floor, which was once a pharmacy, has housed an antiques-gifts shop in recent years. The property was assessed at $321,900 on the current grand list. The restaurant closed on June 12. Big River Properties LLC is affiliated with a couple from North Carolina. The new owners have not announced plans for the building.
CHESTER— The board of selectmen Tuesday declined to approve an exemption to the use fee for the Chester Meeting House that had been requested earlier this month by members of the Chester Historical Society.
Skip Hubbard, society president, and other members attended the board’s June 4 meeting to request an exemption from a $200 fee the town requires for local non-profit organizations that use the meeting house on Liberty Street for public events, such as fundraisers, that include an admission fee. The fee was part of a package of fees for rental of the meeting house that were adopted by the board of selectmen a year ago and became effective on July 1, 2012.
The board maintained a policy of no charge for events that are sponsored by non-profit organizations and are open to the public with no admission charge. But the board imposed a $200 fee for events sponsored by local non-profit organizations that have an admission charge. The use fee is $350 for events sponsored by private for-profit groups and organizations. The fees are intended to help reimburse the town for expenses related to maintaining the historic meeting house, including utility costs.
Hubbard had contended at the June 4 meeting the historical society should receive an exemption from the fee for it’s fundraisers because the organization and its members were actively involved in the effort to restore the meeting house for active public use during the 1980s and 1990s.
First Selectman Edmund Meehan said he “appreciates what the historical society does and has done for the town,” but believes it is “better public policy to treat everybody equally,” on the use fee for the meeting house. “We need to be uniform and fair across the board,” he said.
Selectmen Larry Sypher and Tom Englert agreed, with Englert saying he does not view the $200 fee as “burdensome” for public events in a building that seats 160 people and has a stage and balcony. Englert said allowing an exemption for the historical society would be unfair to other local non-profit organizations that rent the meeting house for public events.
ESSEX— Republican Selectman Joel Marzi announced Monday that he will run for town clerk in the Nov. 5 municipal election, stepping down from the board of selectman after two terms. Marzi said he will seek the Republican nomination for town clerk at the party nominating caucus in mid-July.
The town clerk job will be open this year with the recent announcement from Town Clerk Frances Nolin that she is retiring from the position at the end of the current term. Nolin was first elected in 1999 on the Republican line, and was re-elected to subsequent terms with support from both political parties.
“There is a big hole to be filled in town hall operations with Fran retiring,” Marzi said, adding that he hopes to continue the record of service established by Nolin with a focus on preserving and maintaining the town’s historical records. “I am a firm believer in hard copy records keeping,” he said.
Marzi was the Republican nominee for first selectman in 2009, losing to Democratic First Selectman Phil Miller while winning election to the minority seat on the three-member board. He was re-elected in 2011. Marzi said before learning of Nolin’s retirement decision that he had been “leaning against” seeking another term on the board of selectmen in favor of “giving other people a chance to serve.”
Marzi, a 35-year town resident, had served previously on the zoning commission and board of finance. He also served on the building committee for the Essex Elementary School renovation and expansion project that was completed in 2008. Marzi said he would serve as a full-time town clerk if elected, scaling back the picture framing business he operates from his home in the Centerbrook section.
No other candidates have declared for the town clerk position. Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman has announced that he will seek a second term in the fall election with incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby as his running-mate. No Republicans have declared as candidates for first selectman or board of selectmen. Party nominating sessions for the Nov. 5 election must be held between July 16-23.
DEEP RIVER— The town is seeking applications for a new full-time police officer position that could be filled by this fall. The closing date for applications is June 28.
First Selectman Richard Smith said this week that he is “think long term,” in posting the new position, even though no members of the town’s current force of one full-time and two part-time officers have immediate plans to retire. Smith serves as one of the two part-time officers, along with Peter Lewis, who also works as superintendent of the town’s waste water treatment plan. The full time officer is local resident Raymond Sypher.
Smith said anticipated savings for the resident trooper position was one factor in the decision to seek applications for a new full-time officer. The current resident state trooper, Dawn Taylor, holds a lower rank in the state police than the former trooper, allowing for some savings in the town’s salary payment to the state for the position. Taylor has served as the town’s resident state trooper since the end of March.
Smith said hiring a second full-time officer would allow for an undetermined reduction in hours for the two part-time positions, while also providing an increase in on-duty coverage hours for the town. Smith also noted he, Lewis, and Sypher have held the police jobs for many years, and could be approaching retirement decisions.
The town is seeking applicants who are P.O.S. T. (Police Officer Standards and Training Council) certified, meaning the applicant has already worked as a police officer and would not require the full initial months-long training at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden. The advertisement for the position refers to “recently retired officers or troopers.” The salary for the 32 hours per week position would be in the range of $44,000. Smith said the new officer could be hired this fall.
ESSEX-– Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman has confirmed plans to seek a second term in the Nov. 5 town election, while four-term Town Clerk Frances Nolin has announced she will retire from the position at the end of this year.
Needleman, a local businessman who served four terms on the board of selectmen before winning the top job in 2011, said last week he will seek a second term this year with Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby as his running-mate. “I am enjoying the job and I feel like there is more to accomplish,” he said.
Needleman defeated Republican candidate Bruce MacMillian on a 1,415-993 vote in 2011. Libby, a former Republican, changed parties to become Needleman’s Democratic running-mate in 2011. No Republicans have announced as potential challengers to Needleman in the Nov. 5 election. Republican Selectman Joel Marzi, who has served on the three-member board since 2009, has not announced his plans for the fall election.
Town Clerk Frances Nolin has announced plans to retire from the position she has held since 1999. Nolin began working as an assistant town clerk under long-time former Town Clerk Betty Guadenzi in 1998, and was elected to the position when Guadenzi retired in 1999. Initially elected as a Republican, Nolin was supported by both parties for re-election to new terms in 2001, 2005, and 2009. “It’s a great job but there comes a time in your life when you want to have some time for yourself,” Nolin said Wednesday. No candidates have announced for the open town clerk position.
The part-time town treasurer position is also open this year, with Republican Town Treasurer Bob Dixon also planning to retire this year. Dixon was appointed to fill a vacancy in the position in 2002, and has been supported for new terms by both parties in subsequent elections.
Contests are expected this fall for two seats on the board of finance, and one seat on the Region 4 Board of Education. Incumbent Region 4 board member Mary Beth Harrigan, a Republican, is not seeking re-election. Town Democrats and Republicans will nominate candidates for the Nov. 5 municipal election at party caucuses and endorsement meetings to be held between July 16-23.
ESSEX— The town will soon install video surveillance cameras at the parking lot for town hall and at the solid waste transfer station site. First Selectman Norman Needleman, who initiated the security enhancement, said Friday there would be two cameras at the transfer station site, and one or two cameras for the town hall parking lot. The solid waste transfer station site is located on Dump Road, off Route 154, behind the town highway department garage and the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority regional transfer station.
Needleman said the cameras would cost about $3,100. He said the video equipment would operate continuously, though no one would be asked to review the video coverage “unless something happened and there was a reason to look at it.” The video images would be preserved for two weeks.
Needleman said there have been cases of vandalism and theft of scrap metals at the transfer station site, while the town’s insurance carrier has been recommending video cameras for the town hall parking lot as a protection against possible unjustified slip and fall lawsuits. The cameras will be installed and put in operation this summer.
ESSEX— The board of selectmen Wednesday moved toward a change to a single monthly meeting, while also appointing Ivoryton resident Belden Libby as the town’s new animal control officer. Libby, a lifelong resident who is the husband of Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby, replaces Joseph Heller in the part-time position.
First Selectman Norman Needleman said Libby began working as animal control officer last week. Heller, who has served in the position since December 1994, announced his plans to retire earlier this spring. Libby was selected from five applicants for the position. Three applicants were interviewed by a panel that included Todd Curry, a state Department of Agriculture official who supervises municipal animal control officers around the state.
Needleman said the duties of the position include maintaining the town’s dog pound, and responding to calls for issues involving dogs or other animals. Libby will receive an annual stipend of $13,000, and use of a town vehicle while responding to calls for service.
While holding off a formal vote, the selectmen moved further toward changing the board’s meeting schedule to a single monthly meeting, rather the schedule of twice-monthly meetings that has been followed for decades. The board began discussing a possible change to the meeting schedule last month, with Needleman suggesting the schedule could be changed to a single monthly meeting with special meetings when necessary.The board currently meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 5 p.m. and on the third Wednesday at 7 p.m.
With no residents objecting to the proposed change at Wednesday’s meeting, the selectmen agreed to vote on the change at it’s July 3 afternoon meeting The plan is to retain the 7 p.m. meeting on the third Wednesday of each month and eliminate the afternoon meeting on the first Wednesday. The board also agreed to cancel the meeting scheduled for July 17. The once-a-month meeting schedule would begin in August with a meeting on Wednesday Aug. 21.
ESSEX— The zoning commission has scheduled a June 17 public hearing on a plan to expand the Dunkin Donuts-convenience store operation in the Shell service station at 23 Main Street in the Centerbrook section. The public hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in town hall.
Standard Petroleum/23 Main St. LLC of Bridgeport is seeking to amend the April 2007 special permit approval for the Dunkin Donuts and convenience store to allow an expansion in to adjoining space on the east side of the same building that is currently leased to the Ashleigh’s Garden florist shop. The plans call for 2,700 square-feet for the gasoline station and convenience store operation, and 500 square-feet for the Dunkin Donuts that would remain carry out service only.
The plans show 24 parking spaces, with provision for five additional; “reserve spaces.” Zoning regulations call for 29 spaces for the convenience store-carry out for service use. The hours of operation would be daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. There would be a new entrance through the current florist shop space to the area of the relocated Dunkin Donuts.
ESSEX— The zoning commission has approved a special permit for an art studio in the commercial building at 61 Main St. in the Centerbrook section. The panel approved the permit for NairCo LLC of Killingworth after a May 20 public hearing where the proposed use drew no objections.
NairCo LLC also operates the Killingworth Arts Center on North Parker Hill Road in Killingworth. Business owner Barbara Nair purchased the nearly vacant 61 Main St. building last November for $760,000. The art center would offer classes, programs, and workshops for children, teenagers, and adults. The hours of operation would be Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays 12 noon to 6 p.m.
The commission’s only condition for the permit approval was a requirement that signs for the use be consolidated. The 61 Main St. building has been mostly vacant for more than three years. Over the past year, a section of the building has been leased to a pool supply and repair business.
CHESTER— Residents called for compromise Wednesday at an informational meeting on a proposal to double fares for the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, urging state Department of Transportation officials to consider a smaller increase in the fare for crossing the Connecticut River on the historic ferry. About 40 residents, most of them from Chester and Lyme, turned out for the session at the Chester Meeting House.
Two years after a move to close the state’s two seasonal river ferries drew widespread public opposition, DOT has proposed a doubling of the fares for the Chester-Hadlyme and Glastonbury-Rocky Hill ferries from $3 to $6 for vehicles and $1 to $2 for walk-on passengers. Monthly coupon books for frequent users would also double from $40 to $80. Informational meetings on the proposal were held this week in Chester and Rocky Hill.
DOT Commissioner James Redeker told the crowd that while ridership on the two ferries has remained steady since 2011, the operating deficit for the service has increased to about $650,000 per year, and would remain around $500,000 per year even with a doubling of the fares. Redeker said the state has spent $499,000 over the past two years to install new engines in three of the ferry boats. He said fares for the ferries have not increased since August 2003.
But the commissioner also stressed that a final decision to double the fares has not yet been made. “This was really just a stalking horse proposal that was put out to get some feedback,” Redeker said, adding that the department understands the value of the historic seasonal ferries for tourism in Connecticut. “We’re not insisting the ferries should make money,” he said.
At Redeker’s urging, several residents offered suggestions for a smaller increase. Curt Michael, president of the Hadlyme Public Hall Association, suggested starting with a fare of $4 or $4.50 for vehicles, and $2 for walk-on passengers. The Hadlyme Public Hall Association had circulated petitions against the fare increase that garnered more than 900 signatures.
Elected officials also objected to the amount of the increase, while also acknowledging that a smaller fare hike may be needed to sustain the service. Chester First Selectman Edmund Meehan and Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno each said the boards of selectmen in the two towns has approved resolutions opposing the fare increase. Meehan also presented a statement from the 17-town Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments opposing the increase and calling for completion of a “cost benefit analysis” before any fare hikes are implemented.
Meehan said a doubling of the fare to $6 per vehicle “would be counterproductive,” and could lead to a decrease in ridership that would jeopardize the future of the ferries. Eno agreed, declaring “we want to build ridership, not chase them away.”
With the two informational hearings completed, DOT officials are expected to review options and public input before announcing a final decision later this year on any fare hikes for the two river ferries.
CHESTER-– Voters at a town meeting Tuesday approved a $12,328,940 for 2013-2014 that includes an unusual one-half mill decrease in the property tax rate. The town meeting, the first to be held in the recently completed second-floor community room at town hall, also authorized funding for several capital projects, and revised a town ordinance on the issuance of permits for properties with unpaid back taxes. About 40 residents turned out for the meeting, with all agenda items approved on unanimous voice votes.
The town/schools spending plan for 2013-2014 includes a $3,516,054 town government budget, a $373,620 capital expenditure plan, and a $4,182,373 appropriation for Chester Elementary School. The town’s $4,257,893 share of the Region 4 education budget had already won voter approval in a May 7 referendum.
Due to drops in student enrollment at the elementary school and fewer students from Chester attending the two Region 4 secondary schools, education spending for 2013-2014 dropped by more than $450,000. The drops in enrollment allowed the board of finance to authorize a one-half mill decrease in the tax rate to fund the total town/schools spending plan. The tax rate will drop from the current 22.45 mills to a rate of 21.95 mills. The new rate represents $21.95 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
On a series of voice votes, the town meeting authorized $273,580 in transfers from various items in the capital expenditure plan to create a total available capital expenditure fund for 2013-2014 of $647,200. Voters then authorized funding for seven capital projects, including $30,000 for town hall computers, $338,435 for road and sidewalk repairs, $56,200 for emergency electric generators for town buildings, $50,000 for a fire company vehicle replacement, $100,000 for repairs to the firehouse roof, $54,000 for repairs to the elementary school roof, and $4,000 for administrative expenses for the Main Street Project committee.
Voters also amended a town ordinance on issuance of permits for properties with unpaid back taxes. The existing ordinance barred the issuance of any town permits for improvements to any property where taxes are towed to the town. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the board of selectmen had decided to “provide some flexibility,” to the permitting ordinance for situations where a property needs emergency repairs, such as after a fire or storm damage, and the owner lacks funds to immediately pay off a tax bill before obtaining a permit.
“It can be a Catch 22 for a property owner,” Meehan said, adding the provision in the amended ordinance would “be used very sparingly.” The amendment allows the board of selectmen to grant relief from the requirements of the permitting ordinance “in cases of exceptional circumstances affecting the welfare of the residents of the property or in the interests of the public health and safety.” The new provision would only apply to residential property,.
DEEP RIVER— Voters at a town meeting Monday approved a $14,779,461 town/schools spending plan for 2013-2014. The budget was approved on a 48-12 paper ballot vote in the first town meeting vote on a town budget since 2000.
The budget appeared to win approval on a voice vote only minutes after it was presented, with no questions or discussion from the crowd. But First Selectman Richard Smith asked for a paper ballot vote based on a public commitment made by the selectmen and finance board when the panels decided last month not to schedule a referendum vote on the budget. Some voters said they were not aware the voice vote was the final deciding vote on the spending plan.
Deep River has been voting on budgets by referendum since a contentious budget season in 2001. But declining voter turnouts in the annual referendums led the board of selectmen to decide last month to return to a town meeting vote on the budget.
The budget plan includes a $4,094,439 town government budget that includes $348,060 in debt service and $43,000 for capital expenditures. The total spending package also includes a $5,511,158 appropriation for Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s $5,160,924 share of the Region 4 education budget that was approved in a May 7 referendum. The total spending package will require a 0.40 increase in the tax rate, for a 2013-2014 tax rate of 25.08 mills. The new rate represents $25.08 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
ESSEX— The board of finance Thursday set the property tax rate for 2013-2014 at 18.99 mills, an increase of 0.52 mills from the current tax rate. The new rate represents $18.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
The new tax rate funds the total $22,664,150 town/schools spending plan that was approved by voters at the annual budget meeting Monday. The new rate was approved on a unanimous vote, though some members expressed a preference for setting the rate at an even 19 mills. Board member Campbell Hudson, a Democrat, pushed for holding the tax rate below 19 mills.
In setting the new rate, the board made no transfers from the town’s undesignated fund balance, which now totals about $2.62 million, representing more than 13 percent of the town’s total annual operating expenses. Taxes jumped by 0.49 mills last year, when the board set the current tax rate of 18.47 mills.
The town is currently engaged in a full 10-year townwide property revaluation that includes inspections of all residential and commercial properties. In discussing the revaluation at Thursday’s meeting, First Selectman Norman Needleman predicted a 10 percent or greater drop in the grand list of taxable property when the revaluation becomes effective next year. The lower grand list, which would reflect the decline in property values since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, is expected to require a higher mill rate, though many homeowners will likely be paying the higher rate on a lower assessed property value.
ESSEX— The board of selectmen is considering a change to it’s meeting schedule to establish a single monthly meeting at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. The board currently meets two times a month, at 5 p.m. on the first Wednesday, and at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday.
The idea of a single monthly meeting was raised by First Selectman Norman Needleman at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting. Needleman, a Democrat elected top job in 2011, said the board’s agendas have been light in recent months, and he “would be OK with having one meeting a month.” Needleman said the board could call a special meeting if important issues arose that required another meeting.
Selectwoman Stacia Libby and Selectman Joel Marzi each said they were open to a change in the meeting schedule. The board agreed to discuss, and possibly vote, on a change to the meeting schedule at the board’s next meeting on June 5.
The Essex Board of Selectmen has been following a twice monthly meeting schedule for more than two decades. Selectmen in Chester and Deep River currently adhere to a twice monthly meeting schedule.
DEEP RIVER— An $18,025 grant provided through the state Office of Policy and Management will help pay for a new emergency radio communications system that will link the five Region 4 schools and the district’s administrative office.
Voters at a town meeting Tuesday approved a resolution accepting the grant provided under the Inter-town Capital Equipment Incentive Program (ICE). With Deep River as the host town, selectmen and town meetings in Essex and Chester are also authorizing a joint application to apply the funds to the school district shared by the three towns. Region 4 is expected to provide matching funds to cover the estimated $38,000 to $40,000 cost of the radio system.
The funds will be used to purchase radio repeater equipment that would be attached to an existing 100-foot telecommunications tower at John Winthrop Middle School. The new system will provide direct radio communications between the middle school, central office, Valley Regional High School, and the elementary schools in Chester, Deep River, and Essex. The radio system could be used during any emergency, whether weather-related or as a result of an incident at one of the schools. The new radio system is expected to be installed over the summer to be put in operation during the next school year.
ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Monday approved a $22,684,150 town/school spending plan for 2013-2014 on a voice vote. About 50 voters turned out for the annual budget meeting, with a motion for approval going directly to a voice vote, without discussion or questions. There were several opposing votes, but no motion from the crowd for a show-of-hands or paper ballot vote on the spending plan.
The spending plan includes a $6,967,461 town government budget, and a $7,634,917 appropriation for Essex Elementary School. The town’s $8,081,772 share of the Region 4 education budget had already been approved by voters in a May 7 referendum. The total spending appropriation of $22,684,150 represents a 2.69 percent increase over the current spending total.
The board of finance will set the tax rate for 2013-2014 at a meeting Thursday. First Selectman Norman Needleman and finance board chairman Jim Francis each said after the vote the tax rate is expected to increase by “about one-half mill” to fund the total spending package. The current tax rate is 18.47 mills, or $18.47 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The property tax rate was increased by 0.49 mills last year to fund the current town and school budgets.
CHESTER— Voters at the May 21 annual budget meeting will consider a proposed $12.32 million spending plan for 2013-2014 that includes an unusual one-half mill decrease in the town’s property tax rate. The meeting convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the new community meeting room on the second floor of town hall.
First Selectman Edmund Meehan said there have been no changes to the budget that was presented to a handful of residents at the May 1 public hearing. The total $12,328,940 spending plan, which is $419,141 less than current spending, includes the $3,515,054 town government budget, a $373,620 capital expenditure plan, a $4,182,373 appropriation for Chester Elementary School, and the town’s $4,257,893 share of the Region 4 education budget. The Region 4 education budget was approved by voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 7 referendum.
Education spending in the proposed budget is down by $467,000 because a declining enrollment at the elementary school, and fewer students from Chester attending the two Region 4 secondary schools, Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School. The decrease in enrollment has led to a $426,084 reduction in the Chester share of the Region 4 budget.
Meehan has described the proposed 2013-2014 budget as “an anomaly” that is unlikely to be repeated in future budget years. The enrollment-driver reduction in education spending has allowed the board of finance to recommend a one-half mill reduction in the tax rate, from the current 22.45 mills to a tax rate of 21.95 mills. The new rate represents $21.95 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. Unlike many past years, the board of finance has found no need to transfer funds from the town’s undesignated fund balance as a way to hold down taxes. The fund balance is projected to total $1.57 million when the budget year ends on June 30, 2014.
ESSEX— The zoning commission has scheduled a May 20 public hearing on a special permit application for an art studio that would occupy most of the vacant space in the commercial building at 61 Main St. in the Centerbrook section. Nairco. LLC of Killingworth is seeking approval of an art studio that would offer arts-related glasses, programs, and workshops for children, teenagers, and adults.
NairCo LLC is a partnership run by Barbara Nair, who operates the Killingworth Arts Center on North Parker Hill Road in Killingworth. The arts center is a non-profit organization in operation since 2003. NairCo. LLC purchased the 61 Main St. property for $760,000 last November.
The commercial building, located near the traffic light in Centerbrook, has been mostly vacant for more than three years, with a pool supply and repair business currently leasing space in a section of the building. In March 2012, the zoning board of appeals denied a variance appeal that would have allowed a coffee and pastries shop in a section of the building. Earlier this spring, the zoning commission approved NairCo’s request to amend zoning regulations to allow art studios as a permitted use in a commercial zone.
The May 20 public hearing agenda also includes a request by the Essex Volunteer Fire Co. to amend zoning regulations to include fire training facilities as a permitted use in the limited industrial zone on Plains Road. The volunteer fire company is hoping to construct a fire training facility on a section of Greider Field, a recreation field on Plains Road that is owned by the fire company. The public hearings convene at 7 p.m. in town hall.
DEEP RIVER— A proposed $3.7 million town government budget and a proposed $5.51 million appropriation for Deep River Elementary School go to the voters for approval at a May 20 town meeting after a quiet budget hearing held earlier this week.
First Selectman Richard Smith said about a dozen residents turned out for the May 7 budget hearing, Smith said there were few questions, and no specific calls for any changes to the 2013-2014 budgets that were approved by the board of selectmen and board of finance.
The town government budget of $3,701,379 is combined with a $43,000 capital expenditure plan and $348,060 in debt service for a total town government appropriation of $4,094,439. The proposed $5,511,158 elementary school budget is up by $110,371, or 2.04 percent, over the current appropriation for the elementary school.
The annual budget meeting is set for Monday May 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the newly renovated second floor auditorium at town hall. This will be the first town meeting vote on a town budget since 2000. The town has been holding referendum votes on budgets since 2001, but ever decreasing voter turnouts for the annual referendums led the board of selectmen to hold a town meeting vote on the budget this year. The vote will be conducted by paper ballot.
REGION 4— Voters of Chester, Deep River and Essex approved a $17,776,120 Region 4 education budget for 2013-2014 Tuesday on a 274-145 vote in an eight hour referendum. The budget, which funds the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School,represents a $269,907, or 1.54 percent, spending increase over the current appropriation. The spending plan won voter approval in all three district towns.
But the result was close in Deep River, where the budget carried on a 68-64 vote. The budget carried in Essex on a 161-69 vote. In Chester, where a decrease in students attending the two secondary schools has set the stage for a one-half mill decrease in the tax rate, the budget carried on a 45-12 vote.
A total of 419 voters from the three towns turned out for the referendum. Voter turnout was down from the 2012 referendum, where 619 voters turned out the approve the budget on a 412-207 vote. A total of 699 voters participated in the 2011 budget referendum.
The low turnout prompted Region 4 Board of Education Chairwoman Linda Hall to suggest the board should reconsider it’s policy of holding an annual referendum vote on the budget. The annual referendums began in 2001, the last year a Region 4 budget was rejected by voters of the three towns. In previous years, the budget had been considered by voters at a district meeting held on the first Monday in May.
Hall, a veteran board member who has served two six year terms on the panel, said she will not be seeking another term in the November municipal election. But Hall suggested said the board that is seated in December, after the election, should take another look at the annual referendum policy based on the decreasing voter turnouts of recent years. “It’s something that should be brought to the table,” she said. “It’s such a low turnout and it is an expense for the towns.”
DEEP RIVER— Voters at a town meeting Thursday approved a $4 million sewer expansion project that would extend the municipal system to about 130 properties in the River and Kirtland streets neighborhood on the east side of Route 154. The 46-19 show of hands vote of approval came after more than two hours of discussion, and two changes to the resolution authorizing the project.
Much of the discussion focused on the financing for the project , particularly the provision for a benefit assessment fee for properties on the new sewer line. The service area includes about 90 existing homes, with the remainder currently undeveloped parcels.
The initial seven-section resolution included a provision for a “one time benefit assessment fee of $2,000,” that could be paid off by property owners over 20 years. But acting on a recommendation from the bond counsel, Bruce Chadwick with the Hartford firm Shipman & Goodwin, voters amended the resolution to delete the reference to the benefit assessment fee. Chadwick advised removing the provision because the town’s water pollution control authority had not called a separate public hearing before discussing the fee at recent meetings.
The resolution was amended on a voice vote, but more than 90 minutes in to the discussion, Janet Kollmer, a former board of finance member, moved to restore the provision for a benefits assessment fee. While First Selectman Richard Smith confirmed the WPCA was planning for a benefit assessment fee, Kollmer insisted the fee provision should be locked in to the resolution, and possibly higher than $2,000.
The project would be financed by a $1.2 million grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture, and a $2.8 million USDA loan. The loan, with a 2.75 percent annual interest rate, would be paid off over 40 years, with the annual payment from the town set at $116,540. Kollmer said a benefit assessment fee should be required as a way to help defray the annual loan expense for taxpayers not served by the expanded system. During discussion on Kollmer’s motion, it was confirmed the WPCA has discussed a fee that could be as high as $5,000 per property.
On a recommendation from the bond counsel, Kollmer’s amendment was crafted to provide for a benefit assessment fee of an undetermined amount that would be set by the WPCA after a public hearing. The fee would also require separate approval from voters at a town meeting.
Several residents spoke in support of the project, noting the expansion would resolve continuing problems with septic systems that require frequent pump outs due to soil and ledge conditions in the area that had been recommended for sewers, but not included, when the first phase of the municipal system was constructed in the late 1980s.
Smith noted the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection could order the town to provide sewers in the area at a future date when the current grant and loan funding package is not available. The expansion project is expected to be put out to bid next winter, with construction to begin in 2014 for anticipated completion in late 2015.
DEEP RIVER— More than 200 residents turned out Wednesday evening to celebrate the reopening of the second floor auditorium at the historic 1893 town hall after a renovation project that was brought to completion over the past year by a committee of volunteers.
Former Selectman Art Thompson, who chaired the Deep River Town Hall Auditorium Restoration Committee, welcomed the crowd to an event “that only happens once every 120 years.” Thompson, who had pushed for completion of a restoration effort, served as master of ceremonies for a program that celebrated the role of the town hall auditorium in the town’s history.
Thompson introduced former First Selectman Joe Miezejeski as “honorary chairperson,” for the event. Miezejeski, who served four terms as first selectman through the 1980s, was a member of the Deep River Town Hall Restoration Association that began the restoration effort when it incorporated and began collecting donations for the project in 1979.
The association collected about $270,000 in donations and coordinated various improvements over the past 30 years, including installation of an elevator that was funded by the late Emma Marvin, a former selectwoman. But many improvements remained unfinished, including renovations needed to bring the auditorium in to compliance with current building codes to allow full use of the balcony.
At Thompson’s urging, the board of selectmen in 2011 appointed the new 11-member committee and gained control of the funds amassed by the former restoration association. The committee included four members of the association, Bruce Edgarton, Sally Carlson-Crowell, Frances Strukus and Kenneth Wood Jr. The new members included Claudia Epright, Janice Kmettz, Richard Nagot, Kim Olson, Linalynn Schmelzer, and Dennis Schultz. The committee used the $270,000 in available funds to complete the restoration project over the past 14 months.
Attending the program Wednesday were more than a dozen elderly graduates of the former Deep River High School, which closed when Valley Regional High School opened in 1952. The high school was located in a section of what is now Deep River Elementary School, but it lacked an auditorium. For more than 60 years, students used the town hall auditorium for group events that ranged from dances to the annual graduation ceremony. The construction and April 1893 dedication of the town hall was recounted by Dan Conners, a retired history teacher who was a member of the original faculty at Valley Regional High School and author of a book on the history of Deep River.
Wednesday’s program, which also featured music from the Deep River Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps and the elementary school chorus and clarinet ensemble, opens a period of active use of the 279-seat auditorium. Over the next month there will be concerts, movies, and a May 31 dance. The new chairs on the main floor of the auditorium are movable, allowing for a return of dances to the historic facility.
DEEP RIVER— A proposed $3,701,379 town government budget and a proposed $5,511,158 appropriation for Deep River Elementary School goes to a public hearing on May 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the newly renovated second floor auditorium at town hall.
The town government budget is combined with a $43,000 capital expenditure plan and $348,060 in debt service for a total town government expense of $4,094,439. The town government and elementary school spending plans are combined with the town’s $5,160,854 share of the Region 4 education budget for a total proposed 2013-2014 spending levy of $14,779,521.
The $3,701,379 town government budget is up by $192,113, or 5.47 percent, from the current appropriation The town budget includes a three percent wage-salary increase for all town employees, including elected officials and part-time employees.. Debt service is up by $155,357, mostly due to new lease payments for a new fire truck and highway department truck, while the capital expenditure plan has been reduced by $291,000.
The $5,511,158 appropriation for the elementary school is up by $110,371, or 2.04 percent. A shift in student enrollment, with additional students from Deep River attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, contributed to the $281,854, or 5.78 percent, increase in the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget.
The total $14,77 million spending levy, including Region 4, is up by $448,695, or 3.13 percent. The board of selectmen and board of finance has endorsed a plan to increase the tax rate by four tenths of a mill to fund the proposed spending plan for 2013-2014. The increase would bring the tax rate to 25.08 mills, or $25.08 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The proposed tax increase matches a 0.40. tax increase that was required to fund the current budget.
or the first time since 2001, the board of selectmen has decided to hold the budget vote by paper ballot at a May 20 town meeting, rather than by a referendum vote. Extremely low voters turnouts for the budget referendums in recent years led the selectmen to call for a town meeting vote on the budget.. 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 7, the same day as the town budget hearing.
CHESTER— A proposed $3,852,474 town government budget and a $4,182,373 appropriation for Chester Elementary School go to a public hearing Wednesday in the newly finished community room at town hall. The session begins at 7:30 p.m.
In what First Selectman Edmund Meehan describes as “a one-time anomaly,” reduced spending for both the elementary school and the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget will allow a one-half mill reduction in the tax rate with no transfers from the undesignated fund balance. The planned reduction, from the current tax rate of 22.45 mills to 21.95 mills, would represent a property tax cut of about $150 on a house assessed at $300,000. The planned tax rate for 2013-2014 would represent $21.95 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.
Last year, the selectmen and finance board approved a transfer of $174,641 from the town’s undesignated fund balance to hold the tax rate at 22.45 mills. Meehan said no transfers from the fund balance were needed to cover this year’s one-half mill cut in the tax rate, with the undesignated fund balance expected to total about $1.57 million in June 2014.
The net spending decrease of about $420,000 includes a $41,527 decrease in the elementary school budget, and a $426,084 decrease in the town’s share of the Region 4 budget. The reduced spending for education results from decreased enrollment at the elementary school, and fewer students from Chester attending Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School.
The town government budget is up by about $47,000 from the current appropriation. The $3.85 million town government budget includes a 2.25 percent wage/salary increase for union and non-union town employees, including elected officials, and additional spending for medical insurance and the town employee pension fund. There is also an additional $6,500 for winter snow removal expenses.
Wednesday’s public hearing will be the first major municipal meeting in the community meeting room at town hall that was part of the second floor renovations that Meehan describes as “95 percent complete.”
The town hall second floor renovation project that began in February was funded by the insurance settlement from the February 2011 collapse of the former community center building on Route 154. The new community room at town hall will now host most town meetings that were previously held at the historic Chester Meeting House on Liberty St.
The annual budget meeting vote on a town/elementary school spending plan for 2013-2014 is set for Tuesday May 21 at the town hall community room. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in an eight-hour referendum on May 7.
DEEP RIVER-– For the first time in 11 years, voters will decide on a town/elementary school budget plan by a town meeting vote without a referendum. The town meeting vote on a spending plan that is still being finalized will be held on Monday May 20 in the newly renovated town hall auditorium. The annual budget hearing is set for May 7.
The board of selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday not to hold a referendum vote on the budget plan for 2013-2014. First Selectman Richard Smith said Wednesday he had consulted with members of the Deep River Taxpayers Association before making the decision, and pledged that the vote at the May 20 town meeting would be by paper ballot. “There will not be a referendum this year unless we’re petitioned for one,” he said.
Smith said most residents, and elected officials such as members of the board of finance, had advised that a referendum vote on the budget should be skipped this year after extremely low vote turnouts for the budget referendums held in recent years.
Last May, a total of 190 voters turned out to approve a $14.3 million town/elementary school budget plan on a 147-46 vote. A total of 361 voters turned out for the budget referendum in May 2011. “It’s just too costly based on the turnout,” Smith said, noting that with a budget referendum costing the town about $1,800, the 2012 turnout amounted to an expense for the town of almost $100 per vote.
The town began holding annual referendums on the town government/elementary school budgets in 2001, when a depleted fund balance and steep tax increase led to controversy, and three votes before a spending plan was approved by voters. The taxpayers association formed that year, and indicated to the selectmen that they would seek a referendum vote on future budgets.
Rather than allowing a petition process to delay the budget vote, the board of selectmen, led by Smith, agreed to send the annual budget directly to a referendum vote. But turnout for the referendum that is usually held in the last week of May has decreased in recent years.
Referendum voting will continue on the Region 4 education budget, which is subject to approval by voters of the three district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex. The Region 4 Board of Education had adopted a policy of referendum voting on the budget in 2001, after spending plans were rejected twice before wining voter approval in a third referendum. The Region 4 budget referendum will be conducted on May 7 from 12 noon to 8 p.m. at the regular election polling places for the three towns.