November 30, 2015

Recount Waived for Essex Republican Selectman Election Result

ESSEX— There will be no recount of the close election result for the minority Republican seat on the board of selectmen. Town Clerk Joel Marzi reported Friday that he had received a written waiver of the recount from Republican selectman candidate Phil Beckman.

When votes were counted Tuesday night, only three votes separated Beckman, a first time candidate, and incumbent Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, who had lost the first selectman race with two-term incumbent Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman. The result for the GOP selectman seat was Glowac- 1,065, and Beckman-1,062, well below the 20-vote difference where state election law provides for a recount.. But a recount is not held if the trailing candidate waives the process, as Beckman has done.

Needleman was-elected to a third term with 1,145 votes, with incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby winning a third term with 1,105 votes. The board of selectmen for the 2015-2017 term will be comprised of Needleman, Libby, and Glowac.

Chester Incumbent Waves Recount for Minority Republican Selectman Seat

CHESTER— There will be no recount for the minority party seat for the board of selectmen where nine votes separated unsuccessful Republican first selectman nominee Carolyn Linn and incumbent Republican Selectman Tom Englert when results were announced Tuesday night.

Linn, a first time candidate, pulled 413 votes in losing to Democratic First Selectwoman-elect Lauren Gister. Englert, who has served on the board since 2009, had 404 votes. Democrat Charlene Janecek was also elected to the board. The nine-vote difference between Linn and Englert fell within the 20 vote margin where a recount is required under state election law, unless one of the candidates waives a recount.

Town Clerk Debra Calamari said Thursday she has been advised by Englert that he does not want a recount. Englert’s decision confirms the town will have its first all women board of selectmen, comprised of Gister, Janecek, and Linn, when the new term begins on Nov. 17.

It will also be an all new board of selectmen. Englert was the only incumbent on the board who sought a new term this year with the decisions of two-term Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan and three-term Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher not to seek re-election.

In Essex, Town Clerk Joel Marzi said Thursday he is still awaiting word from Republican Selectman candidate Phil Beckman on whether he wants a recount of the close Tuesday result for the minority Republican seat on the board of selectmen. Incumbent Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac pulled 1,065 votes in losing the first selectman race to Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman. Beckman, a first time candidate, received 1,062 votes, a three-vote difference. Marzi said a recount has tentatively been scheduled for Saturday morning at town hall, pending any waiver of a recount from Beckman.

Democrat Lauren Gister Elected First Selectwoman as Close Result for Minority Seat Sets Up All Women Board of Selectmen

Democrats Lauren Gister (left) and Charlene Janecek celebrate their respective elections.

Democrats Lauren Gister (left) and Charlene Janecek celebrate their respective elections.

CHESTER— Democrat Lauren Gister was elected as first selectman Tuesday, with Republican challenger Carolyn Linn expected to edge incumbent Republican Selectman Tom Englert to set up the town’s first all-female board of selectmen.

Gister, a lawyer making her first run for town office, defeated Linn on a 688-413 vote. Democrat Charlene Janecek, currently the party’s registrar of voters, was elected with 696 votes. But Linn’s total in losing the contest for first selectman was ahead of Englert by a scant nine votes — Englert received 404 votes — in an election where the top three voter-getters make up the board. Englert has served on the board since 2009, and served briefly as acting first selectman in the fall of 2011 after former Republican First Selectman Tom Marsh resigned to take a job in Vermont.

Tom Englert congratulates Lauren Gister after the result was announced Tuesday evening.

Tom Englert congratulates Lauren Gister after the result was announced Tuesday evening.

Town Clerk Debra Calamari said Wednesday the nine-vote margin between Linn and Englert, being less than 20 votes, would trigger a recount for the minority seat, unless Englert formally waives the recount. Calamari said she had not yet heard from Englert or Republican Town Chairman Mario Gioco  on whether Englert wants a recount.

Gister said Wednesday she looks forward to the challenge of the next two years, and wants to hear from residents on what they want from town government. “We will try to be the best board of selectmen we possibly can for Chester,” she said.

Gister, who becomes the second woman to serve as Chester First Selectman after former Republican First Selectwoman Betty Perreault (1989-1993), said  she does not believe an all-female board of selectmen, a first for Chester, would make that much difference in how the town is run. “It might give a slightly different flavor to the board,” she said.

Linn said she is pleased that her campaign for the top job, the first by a Chester Republican since 2009, had helped boost voter turnout to nearly 50 percent, the highest in a decade. “The  community engagement was just spectacular,” Linn said, adding that she looks forward to working with Gister and Janecek on issues facing the town.

Democrats won the few other contested races on Tuesday’s ballot. For planning and zoning commission, incumbent Democrats Keith Scherber and Errol Horner, and incumbent Republican Steve Merola outpolled Lisa Matz Tolleffson, running one ballot line of the Chester Common Ground Party. The totals were Scherber, 684, Merola,632, and Horner, 579, to 474 for Matz Tolleffson.

For library trustees, Democrats Sandra Senior-Dauer and Karin Badger outpolled Matz Tolleffson, with 752 votes for Senior-Dauer, 637 votes for Badger, and 317 votes for Matz Tolleffson. For Region 4 Board of Education, Democrat Lori Ann Clymas led Common Ground candidate David Cohen 622-301.

Gister and the new board of selectmen take office on Nov. 17. Gister succeeds two-term Democratic First  Selectman Edmund Meehan. A total of  1,115 of the town’s 2,341 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday.

Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman Wins Third Term With 80-Vote Margin

Needleman_N_008ESSEX— Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman was re-elected for a third term Tuesday, defeating Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac on an 1,145-1065 vote. Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby was re-elected for a third term with 1,105 votes.

Needleman’s 80-vote margin over Glowac, who had served previously as first selectman from 1991-1995, was much closer than his first contested election in 2011 when Needleman defeated Republican Bruce MacMillian by over 400 votes. Needleman was uncontested by town Republicans for a second term in 2013.

The result for the third, or minority party, seat on the three-member board of selectmen was extremely close, with Republican selectman nominee Phil Beckman receiving 1,062 votes, only three votes less than Glowac’s 1,065 total. The three vote margin is less than the 20-vote margin where a recount could be required. Beckman said he is not requesting a recount with fellow Republican Glowac, but believes a recount should be conducted if it is required under state election law.

Needleman said he was “grateful to the voters,” and also thankful to challengers Glowac and Beckman for “running a good campaign based on the issues,” adding that he ” looks forward to continuing the work we’ve done over the past four years.” Glowac said he is glad the election is over, and believes “we accomplished what we set out to accomplish which was to give voters a choice and make this election an event rather than a non event.”.

Democrats captured most of the other contested positions on the ballot, though Republicans won seats on the board of finance and board of assessment appeals. Democrat Donald Mesite, an appointed incumbent, and Republican Vince Pacileo were elected to six year terms on the board of finance, with 1,110 votes for Mesite and 1,131 votes for Pacileo, who served on the board of selectmen from 2003-2009. Mesite and Pacileo outpolled Democrat Ethan Goller, with 1,058 votes, and Republican Jerri MacMillian, with 976 votes.

Republican Keith Russell was elected for a full term on the board of assessment appeals, with 1,084 votes to 1,032 votes for Democrat Richard Helmecki. Democrat Mark Bombacci was elected to a two-year vacancy on the board of assessment appeals, with 1,150 votes to 982 votes for Republican Bruce MacMillian. Democrat Jennifer Cark was re-elected for a second term on the Region 4 Board of Education, with 1,177 votes to 963 votes for Republican Mary Lou Till. Both nominees for the local board of education are automatically elected, with incumbent  Democrat Lon Seidman, who serves as board chairman, receiving 1,174 votes, and incumbent Republican D.G. Fitton garnering 967 votes.

A total of 2,223 of the town’s 4,595 registered voters turned out for Tuesday’s election, a turnout of just over 50%.

Deep River Election Has Contests for Board of Finance, Assessment Appeals, and School Board Vacancy Term

DEEP RIVER— Most positions on Tuesday’s town election ballot are uncontested, but Democrats and Republicans are competing for two seats on the board of finance, a position on the board of assessment appeals, and a two-year vacancy term on the Region 4 Board of Education.

Longtime Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith is unopposed for a record 14th term. Also uncontested are incumbent Democratic Selectman Angus McDonald Jr., first elected 2011, and incumbent Republican Selectman David Oliveria, first elected in 2009. Republican Town Clerk Amy Macmillan Winchell, Democratic Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani, and Republican Town Treasurer Tom Lindner, are also unopposed for new two-year terms. Smith, first elected in 1989, had his last contested election with an independent challenger in 2007, and was last challenged by town Republicans in 2005.

But two incumbent Democrats, George Eckenroth and Carmela Balducci, are competing with Republican Mark Grabowski, for two six year spots on the board of finance, while Republican John Wichtowski is uncontested for a two-year vacancy spot on the finance board. Incumbent Democrat Leigh Balducci is competing with Republican Thomas Alexa for a seat on the board of assessment appeals. Democrat Susan Hollister is contesting with Republican K.C. Nelson-Oliveria for a two-year vacancy term on the Region 4 Board of Education.

Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Deep River Library community room.

Essex Board of Selectmen Candidates Hold Cordial Debate

ESSEX—  Democrat and Republican nominees for first selectman and board of selectmen faced Wednesday in a cordial debate that displayed few differences on most local issues, including unanimous rejection of a municipal blight ordinance and sewers for any section of town.

About 100 residents turned out on a rainy night for the session in the town hall auditorium. Essex Library Director Richard Conroy posed questions that had been submitted in writing in advance, with separate sessions for incumbent Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman and his Republican challenger,  Selectman Bruce Glowac, and the two candidates for board of selectmen, incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby and Republican Phil Beckman. Needleman was elected in 2011 and unopposed for a second tern in 2013. Glowac served as first selectman from 1991-1995, and returned to the board of selectmen in 2013.

All of the candidates rejected the idea of a municipal blight ordinance, which had been discussed, but not pursued, in the fall of 2013. Both Needleman and Glowac rejected the idea of a large sewer system for any part of Essex, while also agreeing the town should be open to what Gloawc described a “new innovations,” such as a small community system that would focus on any possible problem location for on-site septic systems.

The two first selectman nominees  rejected the idea of adopting a town charter, which Glowac said would represent “an expansion of government,” and Needleman described as an unnecessary effort and expense. The candidates also agreed on deferring any new effort for a full kindergarten through grade 12 regionalization of Region 4 schools to include the elementary schools in Chester, Deep River and Essex. A K-12 regionalization plan was considered earlier this year, but dropped amid opposition from Chester officials.

Glowac, who currently works as director of facilities for Region 4 schools,  predicted a full regionalization, which  requires voter approval from all three towns, would eventually occur because of declining student enrollment, but suggested any new proposal “should come from the communities to the schools and not from the schools to the communities.”

One possible difference in perspective emerged as the two selectmen candidates responded to a question about economic development and efforts to grow the grand list of taxable property. Libby said the current administration last year hired a part-time economic development coordinator to assist the town’s appointed economic development commission, but Beckman suggested efforts to attract and retain businesses in Essex “can be improved on.”

Beckman said a review of permit procedures and zoning regulations should be part of any new focus on economic development. A recently retired U.S. Navy officer, Beckman said he could bring a new perspective to the board of seemen.

The top three vote-getters Tuesday will be elected for the 2015-2017 term, with a losing candidate for first selectman also in play as a candidate for board of selectmen depending on the vote totals.

Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman Faces Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac in Nov. 3 Vote

ESSEX—Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman’s bid for a third term faces a challenge Tuesday from Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, a former first selectman who returned to the board in 2013.

The contest between two well-known elected officials, which follows a 2013 election where Needleman’s second term was unopposed by town Republicans, has been relatively quiet. Neither candidate is campaigning door-to-door, and each generally avoided direct criticism in recent interviews. The candidates will face off in a public debate Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the town hall auditorium

Needleman, 64, is a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who arrived in Essex in the late 1980s to establish Tower Laboratories as a local manufacturer of personal care products. The company now has plants in Centerbrook, Clinton, and Montague, Michigan. A divorced father of two grown sons and two step-daughters, Needleman was elected to the board of selectman in 2003, when the victory of former Democratic first selectman, now state representative, Phil Miller, ended 18 years of Republican control of the top job. Needleman was elected to the top job in 2011, defeating Republican Bruce MacMillian on a 1,415-993 vote.

Glowac, 63, is a lifelong resident who established a local landscaping business before winning election to the board of selectmen in 1989 running with former Republican First Selectman John Johns. A married father of four grown sons, Glowac was elected first selectman in 1991, and won a second term in 1993 before stepping aside in 1995. After serving on the Region 4 school board in the late 1990s, Glowac was hired for his current position as director of facilities for Region 4 schools.

Glowac, who returned to the board of selectmen in the uncontested 2013 election, said he stepped aside in 1995 because he is “a firm believer in term limits,” and believed he had accomplished initial goals. Glowac said he decided to run again this year to ensure a contest for the top job. “No choice on the ballot leads to voter apathy,” he said, adding that ” a fresh look every few years is not a bad thing at all.”

Needleman said he respects Glowac’s decision to run for the top job, and praised the Republican for working with him on several goals over the past two years, including voter approval of an $8 million bonding authorization for capital projects last December.  He said the current board of selectmen, including Glowac and  Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Rice-Libby, has been “one of the best working boards” in town history.

Needleman said he is “running on a record of accomplishment,” pointing to completion of two grant-funded projects, the town hall civic campus and the Ivoryton Man Street projects, along with advancing plans for a 22-unit expansion of the Essex Court elderly housing complex. Needleman said his management has improved operations at town hall to provide efficient and responsive service to residents.

But along with pledging to be a “full-time first selectman” without also directing a private company, Glowac suggests that property taxes have increased too much, and the town’s undesignated fund balance grown too high, in recent years. Glowac said when the fund balance has grown to over $2.5 million, as it has in Essex, transferring from the fund balance to defray a portion of a tax rate increase “should always be a consideration.” He added “there are some generations that we are taxing out” of Essex.

Needleman said he has given the position of first selectman “my full attention and best effort,” over the past four years. Needleman agreed the board of finance should be prepared transfer from the fund balance if the town is facing a steep tax hike over the 2015-2017 term, and noted that he had objected to very small tax rate increase the finance board had approved for the current 2015-2016 budget.

Both candidates said adoption of a town charter, or a possible proposal to change to four year terms for board of selectmen, would not be a priority during the 2015-2016 term. Needleman is running with incumbent Selectwoman Rice-Libby, who was elected with him in 2011. Glowac is running with Phil Beckman a former U.S. Navy officer who lives in the Ivoryton section. Both campaigns are close in fundraising, with Democrats raising a total of $8,384 as of Oct. 1, with Republicans raising a total of $7,162. Two big doners for the Democrats were Needleman and his companion Jacqueline Hubbard, each contributing $2,000 over the summer.

Two Female Candidates Vie for Open First Selectman Seat in Chester

Atty. Lauren Gister

Atty. Lauren Gister – D

Republican Carolyn Linn

Carolyn Linn – R

CHESTER — Two female candidates with no previous experience in town government are competing for the town’s open first selectman seat in the first contested election with both Democrat and Republican nominees since 2009.

Both women are divorced mothers of grown daughters, but with differing background and job experience. Democrat Lauren Gister, 57, is a lawyer who arrived in Chester in 1996 from West Hartford. Republican Carolyn Linn, 55, has lived in Chester since 1989 after growing up in New Britain. Gister served 25 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring at the rank of major in 2002. Linn worked at Aetna Insurance for 21 years, retiring from a position as performance consultant to open a pet care business in Chester. Linn petitioned her way to the Republican nomination in August after the party initially did not nominate a candidate for first selectman at the July 27 caucus.

The candidates are competing to succeed two-term Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan. A former town planner, Meehan was elected over a candidate supported by the Chester Common Ground Party in 2011, and was uncontested for a second term in 2013. Also departing with Meehan this year is three-term Democratic Selectman Lawrence Sypher.

Gister and Linn hold similar views on many town issues, and their contest has been cordial. Both women support the plan to build a new library with a community center center function at North Quarter Park. Gister noted a $1 million state grant awarded for the library project last fall requires voter approval of a building plan and additional funding by 2017.

Both candidates said one priority of the coming two-year term would be monitoring and guiding a state Department of Transportation replacement of the Main Street bridge, a project expected to begin early next year that will require a closing of Main Street in the downtown business district for several months. Each acknowledged a long range town plan to reconstruct Main Street in the business district can not be done simultaneously with the bridge project, though Gister noted the town must complete the full Main Street reconstruction in the near future because of aging infrastructure, including water mains, under the heavily used street.

Both candidates said adoption of a town charter, or a possible change to four-year terms for board of selectmen, would not be a priority during the 2015-2017 term. Linn said she would seek to improve communications on town government issues for all residents, and oppose any effort to close Chester Elementary School. Gister also pledges improved communications, suggesting evening office hours as one way to be more accessible to residents. Gister said one new initiative she would undertake is adoption of a tax relief ordinance for elderly and low income property owners, noting that Essex has had an elderly tax relief program in place for the past decade..

The two candidates, who did not know each other before the campaign, declined to criticize their opponent. Gister said Linn is a “smart and capable person” with similar priorities to her. Linn suggested that experience at Aetna makes her more qualified for the job and “ready to move in to the role of first selectman on day one”. Gister said business experience can be useful, while adding “we certainly can’t run the town like a corporation.”

Both women are campaigning actively door-to-door through the town. Gister is running with Charlene Janecek, a long time resident who used to run the Lunch Box on Main Street and currently serves as Democratic registrar of voters. Linn is running with three-term incumbent Republican Selectman Tom Englert, a Whelen Engineering employee who served briefly as acting first selectman in the fall of 2011 after former republican First Selectman tom Marsh resigned to take a job in Vermont.

The two parties are close in fundraising for the campaign, according to an Oct. 10 filing. The Chester Democratic Town Committee has raised $5,070 since the beginning of the year, with Republicans raising $4,729. Two big donors for the Democrats are residents James Miller and Robert Gorman, each contributing $1,000.

Women Candidates Face Off in Cordial Chester First Selectman Debate

CHESTER — The two first time women candidates running for the open first selectman seat, Democrat Lauren Gister and Republican Carolyn Linn, faced off Tuesday in a cordial campaign debate held at the Chester Meeting House.

About 70 residents turned out to watch the candidates answer prepared questions and questions from the floor. The one-hour session was moderated by former Democratic State Rep. Claire Sauer of Lyme.

Gister, a lawyer and former U.S. Marine, and Linn, a former Aetna manager who now runs a local pet care business, were in general agreement on many municipal issues and topics. Both expressed support for the plan to build a new library/community center at North Quarter park, and both were cautious on the question of building a sidewalk along the north side of Main Street as it approaches the park. A north side sidewalk was dropped from the nearly complete Main Street east reconstruction project late last year amid objections from some residential property owners on the street.

Linn said there should be a continuous sidewalk on at least one side of the street east to the intersection with Rte. 154, and suggested looking to projects in other cities and towns for creative ways to build a sidewalk with minimal disturbance. Gister, while noting “some neighbors have great concerns,” said a crosswalk further west at the intersection with School Lane is not sufficient for pedestrian safey, adding the sidewalk issue “will have to be addressed,” as the town moves toward construction of the new library.

Both women, each mothers of children who attended Region 4 schools, said they opposed the plan for a full K-12 regionalization of district schools that was withdrawn earlier this year amid opposition from Chester officials.  Linn went furthest, questioning whether there would be any real benefits of a full regionalization under a single three-town elected board of education. Gister said there could be some benefits, while adding that any regionalization plan “needs a lot more work.”

Both candidates said they would look to residents for input on the option of adopting a town charter, a step that could open the door to changing to a four-year term for board of selectmen and other town offices, or even a change to a town manager for of local government. “I don’t know what Chester wants and would need to find out what Chester wants,” Gister said.

On economic development, both candidates said the town should look to fuller utilization of existing commercial and industrial land and space, with Gister noting “one business does not make that much difference on the mill rate.” Linn agreed that filling vacant spaces can be difficult, but also suggested the town should be prepared to “use our zoning in the most optimal fashion,” to boost economic development and grow the grand list.

One difference between the candidates emerged with a question from the audience about a possible local blight ordinance. Linn said she would oppose what she described as an inherently “subjective” ordinance on blighted properties, adding “what one person may consider blight another may not.” Gister, while not advocating quick adoption of a blight ordinance, said she has heard concerns from many residents about the condition of some properties in town, and the impact of such conditions on values for nearby properties.

Depending on the Nov. 3 result, either Gister or Linn will become the second woman to serve as Chester First Selectman. The first was Republican Betty Perreault, who served from 1989-1993.

Carolyn Linn is Republican Nominee for Chester First Selectman Through Ballot Petition

Republican Carolyn Linn will face Democrat Lister in the Nov. 3 election for  Chester First Selectman.

Republican Carolyn Linn will face Democrat Lauren Gister in the Nov. 3 election for Chester First Selectman.

CHESTER — There will be a contest for first selectman in the Nov. 3 election after all as Carolyn Linn claims the Republican nomination for first selectman with a ballot petition submitted to the town clerk Tuesday. Fifty-five-year-old Linn will face Democratic nominee Lauren Gister, aged 57, for the position left open with the retirement of two-term Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan.

Republicans came up empty on the first selectman nomination at the July 27 party caucus that nominated incumbent Republican Selectman Tom Englert for a fourth term, along with a handful of other candidates for positions on the local ballot. Gister a lawyer and former Marine, had been nominated at the Democratic caucus on July 21, with Charlene Janecek as the running-mate for board of selectmen. Democratic Selectman Larry Sypher is not seeking a new term.

But in the succeeding days, Linn, a 26-year resident and certified veterinary assistant who runs a local pet services business, emerged as a candidate. Town Clerk Debra Calamari said Linn submitted a petition signed by 47 town Republicans late Tuesday, one day before Wednesday’s deadline for primary petitions.

State election law allows a position left open by the party nominating caucus to be filled by a primary petition that must be submitted by an Aug. 12 deadline. The petition must be signed by a least five percent of the town’s 453 registered Republicans. With no other candidate, there is no primary and the new candidate claims to Republican line through the petition.

Linn, in a statement issued Thursday, said her goals include “preserving our historic personality while responsibly developing local opportunities” that would enable the town to prosper. She cited taxes and economic development as concerns, and suggested her “entrepreneurial and volunteer spirit” would benefit the town.

Linn said she was a volunteer EMT with the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Service after arriving in town in the early 1990s, and has also been involved with the Chester Winter Carnivale and the Shoreline Soup Kitchens. She is the mother of two children, both of whom graduated from Region 4 schools.

Linn is the first Republican nominated for first selectman since 2009, when former First Selectman Tom Marsh was re-elected for a third term. Marsh resigned in August 2011 to take a town manager job in Vermont. Republicans did not nominate a candidate for first selectman in 2011, when Meehan was easily elected over a challenger nominated by the Chester Common Ground Party. Meehan was uncontested for a second term in 2013, a year when there were no contests for any positions on the town lengthy ballot.

Along with a contest, this year’s nominations ensure the town’s next first selectman will be a woman, either Gister or Linn. The first, and only, woman to serve as Chester First Selectman is Bettie Perreault, a Republican who served from 1989-1993.

Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith to Run Unopposed for Record 14th Term

Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith takes a break at his desk.  Photo by Jerome Wilson.

A smiling Deep River First Selectman Richard Smith takes a break from his work for our photographer.  Photo by Jerome Wilson.

DEEP RIVER — Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith has been nominated for a record 14th term, and will again run unopposed on the Nov.3 town election ballot. Two-term incumbent Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. has been nominated for a new term as Smith’s running-mate, with Republican Selectman David Oliveria nominated for a fourth term on the three member board.

Slates nominated by the two parties appear to set up contested races for two seats on the board of finance, and one spot on the Region 4 Board of Education. Democrats have nominated incumbents George Eckenroth and Carmella Balducci for board of finance, with Republicans nominating Mark Grabowski and John Wichtowski for finance board.

Democrats nominated Susan Hollister for a two-year vacancy on the Region 4 board, with Republicans nominating appointed incumbent Lauri Wichtowski for the vacancy term. Republicans nominated incumbent James Olson for a full six-year term on the Region 4 board.

Smith, at 64 one of the longest serving municipal elected officials in Connecticut, said Tuesday he never considered stepping aside this year, “I love what I do, it’s like my extended family.” Smith noted, “Keeping taxes down as much as we can,” and a firehouse renovation and expansion project are priorities for the next two years.

Smith’s last challenge for the top job came in 2007 from the now defunct Deep River Independent Party. He was uncontested for re-election in 2009, 2001, and 2013. Town Republicans have not nominated a candidate for first selectman since 2005.

Three incumbent town office holders are uncontested for new terms, including Republican Town Clerk Amy Macmillian Winchell, first elected in 2009, Democratic Tax Collector Lisa Bbibbiani, also first elected in 2009, and long-time Republican Town Treasurer Tom Lindner.

Democrats nominated Tadria Cialgo, Tracy Dickson. and incumbent Miriam Morrissey for the local board of education Republicans nominated Imran Munawar, Paula Weglarz, and incumbent James Olson for the local school board.

Democrats nominated incumbent Leigh Balducci for board of assessment appeals, with Republicans nominating Thomas Alexa for board of assessment appeals.

Democrats nominated incumbents Alice Procter and Mary Maraschiello for library board of trustees, along with Linda Hall, a former member and chairwoman of the Region 4 school board.

Chester Republicans Make No Nomination for First Selectman, Open Seat May be Uncontested in November

CHESTER — Town Republicans will not nominate a candidate for first selectman, a move that could leave new Democratic nominee Lauren Gister uncontested for the top job in the Nov. 3 vote. The partial slate endorsed by the Republican caucus would appear to set up the second consecutive town election where all positions on the lengthy ballot are uncontested.

Ten party members turned out for the caucus at town hall, including Doreen Joslow, a local businesswoman and planning and zoning commission member who said she had considered a run for the top job that is left open this year with the retirement of two-term Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan. But Joslow said the demands of the full-time job, and the relatively low annual salary currently set at $55,000, led her to conclude that “now is not the right time” for a candidacy.

Republicans nominated three-term incumbent Selectman Tom Englert for a new term. Englert served briefly as interim first selectman in 2011 after the departure of former Republican First Selectman Tom Marsh. The last Republican to be nominated and serve as first selectman, Marsh resigned in August 2011 to take a town manager job in Vermont.

Republicans nominated Jon Joslow for one of two ballot spots for board of finance. Incumbent Bruce Watrous, a former selectman, was nominated for a new term on the board of assessment appeals. Republicans nominated Steve Merola for a new term on the planning and zoning commission Kris Seifert and Bob Blair III were nominated for inland-wetlands commission. Blair is the grandson of former First Selectman Bob Blair, a Republican who held the top job from 1965 to 1989.  Mel Seifert, who also serves on the planning and zoning commission, was nominated for water pollution control authority.

Republicans did not nominate a candidate for Region 4 Board of Education, the local school board, zoning board of appeals, or library trustees, though town committee chairman Mario Gioco said the committee is still seeking candidates for open spots that could be placed on the ballot through submission of petition signatures by an Aug 12 deadline.

Gister, a local attorney and former Marine, was nominated for first selectman by town Democrats at a July 21 caucus, with Charlene Janecek, the current Democratic registrar of voters, nominated as the running-mate for board of selectmen. Joe Cohen, a Democratic town committee member who had expressed reservations about Gister as a first selectman nominee, has said he is considering a run for first selectman as a petition candidate, a move that would require submission of signatures equal to one percent of the total vote for first selectman in 2013 by an Aug. 5 deadline.

Essex First Selectman Needleman Faces Election Challenge from Selectman Glowac

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman (file photo)

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman (file photo)

ESSEX — Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman’s bid for a third term will face an election challenge from Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac, a former first selectman who returned to the board in the town’s uncontested election of 2013.

Needleman and Glowac were nominated for the Nov. 3 ballot at party nominating sessions Wednesday. Needleman will be running with two-term incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Stacia Libby.

Glowac is running with selectman candidate Phil Beckman, a former U.S. Navy officer who retired from the service last year.

Needleman, 63, is a local businessman who served four terms on the board of selectmen from 2003-2011 with former Democratic First Selectman, now State Representative Phil Miller. Needleman won the top job in 2011, defeating Republican nominee Bruce MacMillian on a 1,415-993 vote. He was unopposed by town Republicans for a second term in 2013.

Selectman Bruce Glowac

Selectman Bruce Glowac. Photo by Jerome Wilson.

But the uncontested election of 2013 also brought Glowac back to the board as the minority Republican selectman. Glowac, also 63 and a lifelong resident, had served as first selectman from 1991-1995, later assuming the job of director of facilities for Region 4 schools. Glowac, addressing about 25 Republicans at the caucus, said one key reason he is running is to give town voters a choice on the ballot, avoiding the uncontested town elections that occurred in 2013 and also in 2007. “It’s a special time and it is important to give our residents a choice on the ballot,” he said, adding that uncontested elections for top policy-making positions, “… are unhealthy to the process and do a disservice to our community.”

Glowac said the role of town government is to “direct and control change, adding, “It needs to be done with extreme care so we don’t lose the qualities that we love in Essex.” Glowac said he would retire from the Region 4 job at year’s end if he is elected first selectman,

Needleman said he is proud of the Democratic record over the last 12 years, and “loves” the job of first selectman. “It allows you to touch people’s lives and make a real difference,” he said. Both nominees promised a positive campaign, and each praised their rival. Needleman said Glowac is “a terrific guy and a huge help on the board of selectmen,” adding the current board “is a terrific working board and I’ll do what I have to do to make that continue.” Glowac said he respects Needleman and has tried to work with he and Libby over the past two years.

Democrats nominated incumbents Fred Vollono and Donald Mesite for new terms on the board of finance. Mesite was appointed to the board in December 2013 after the former board chairman, Democrat Jim Francis was elected town treasurer. Republicans nominated Geri MacMillian and former Selectman Vince Pacileo for the finance board. Pacileo, who works as director of administrative services for the Town of Stonington, served on the board of selectmen from 2003-2009, and was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for 33rd Senate in 2008 and 36th House in 2012.

Democrats nominated incumbent Jennifer Clark for a new six-year term on the Region 4 Board of Education. Republicans nominated Mary Louise Till, a retired teacher who is also a practicing attorney, for the Region 4 seat. Democrats nominated incumbent board Chairman Lon Seidman for the local board of education, with Republicans nominating incumbent D.G. Fitton for the local board, where elections are uncontested.

Democrats nominated Mark Bombaci and former member Richard Helmecki for board of assessment appeals. Republicans nominated Bruce MacMillian and Keith Russell for board of assessment appeals.

Chester Democrats Nominate Lauren Gister for First Selectman, Charlene Janececk for Selectman

Atty. Lauren Gister

Atty. Lauren Gister

CHESTER — Democrats Tuesday nominated Laruen Gister for the open first selectman position, with Charlene Janecek, the party registrar of voters, as the running-mate for board of selectmen.

Both seats on the three-member board, controlled by Democrats since 2011, were open after the incumbents declined to seek new terms in the Nov. 3 vote.

Two-term Democratic First Selectman Edmund Meehan formally advised the Democratic Town Committee in June that he would not seek a new term. Selectman Lawrence Sypher, first elected in 2009, also declined to run again.

Gister, a local attorney and 25-year member of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Janececk, were nominated on a unanimous voice vote from the approximately 70 Democrats that turned out for the caucus held at the Chester Meeting House. Gister had been endorsed by the Chester Democratic Town Committee earlier this month. But comments made in the nominating speech for the position indicated there had been some questions and possible objections to Gister’s nomination.

In nominating Gister, David Fitzgibbons claimed there had been an effort to “swiftboat,” her possible candidacy in the days preceding the caucus. The term is a reference to Republican backed attacks on Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. He claimed the actions were damaging to the party and the town while praising Gister’s experience as a Marine and ability to “lead us forward with compassion.”

Fitzgibbons was clearly referring to a letter published in a local weekly from Joe Cohen, a town committee member. In the letter published last week, Cohen contends that Gister lacks government and managerial experience, does not own property in Chester, and has not voted in recent elections. Cohen, a public relations consultant and former newspaper reporter, was rumored to be planning a caucus challenge to Gister’s nomination. But Cohen, who was present Tuesday, did not put his name in nomination at the caucus.

Gister said after the nomination that she was expecting a challenger from Cohen. She said “ugly statements” before the caucus had referred to personal problems she faced and overcame in recent years, including a divorce and subsequent foreclosure on her property in town.

Gister, 56, is a mother of four children, ages 14-31 Gister said she was born in California, but moved to Connecticut at age 14 and graduated from Hall High School in West Hartford.. A 19-year resident who maintains a law practice in town, Gister said she was approached by town committee members about a possible candidacy earlier this month.

Cohen said after the caucus that he is hoping other candidates emerge for the first selectman position over the next two weeks to provide town voters with a contest. Cohen said he is “pondering” a position run as a petition candidate, but is unlikely to challenge Gister’s nomination in a Democratic primary. He offered no apologies for his letter to the editor about Gister. “Telling the truth and raising concerns about legitimate issues is not in any way character assassination.” he said.

Democrats also nominated a slate of mostly incumbents for other positions on the municipal election ballot. Lori Ann Clymas, currently serving on the board of finance, was nominated for a six-year term on the Region 4 Board of Education. Incumbent Jennifer Rannestad was nominated for a new term on the board of finance.

Incumbents Errol Horner and Keith Scherber were nominated for new full terms on the planning and zoning commission, with incumbent Peter Zanardi nominated for a two-year term on the commission. New candidate Jacqueline Stack was nominated for planning and zoning commission alternate. Incumbents Maria Scherber and David Fitzgibbons were nominated for local board of education, along with new candidates John Stack and John Ropiak.

Incumbent Mark Borton was nominated for a new term on the zoning board of appeals, incumbent Kim Senay was nominated for a new term on the inland wetlands commission, and incumbent James Pease was nominated for a new term on the water pollution control authority. Incumbent Sandy Senior-Dauer and Karin Badger were nominated for library board of trustees.

Republicans hold their nominating caucus Monday. No candidates have announced for the Republican nomination for first selectman. Cohen, or any other possible challengers, face an Aug. 5 deadline to submit signatures to run as a petition candidate.

Aug. 12 is the deadline for primary petitions.

Region 4 School Board Declines Further Action on K-6 Regionalization Plan

REGION 4 — The Region 4 Board of Education voted Monday not to send the  kindergarten-sixth grade regionalization plan developed this year to a referendum vote in the district towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex.

The unanimous vote at a special meeting brings an inconclusive end to months of effort to draft and win support for a plan to regionalize the elementary schools in the three towns under a single elected board of education that would also direct the operation of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School. The idea of regionalizing the elementary schools under a single school board has been under discussion for a decade, with supporters contending it would be the final step in standardizing all curriculum among the primary grades, while also bringing cost savings through administrative efficiencies and a simpler budget process.

But the method of dividing a combined Region 4 education budget including the elementary schools, which under current state law must be done based on the average daily membership of students from each town, raised concerns that one or more towns could face an abrupt and steep increase in its share of a combined education budget.

School board members had developed an inter-local agreement intended to address this issue that would have required Chester and Essex to transfer funds to Deep River to balance the budget shift. There were also concerns, particularly in Chester, that declining enrollment could lead to a closing of the Chester Elementary School, along with major shifts in grade assignments among the elementary schools.

These issues led the Chester Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance to issue a statement at the end of May expressing opposition to the current regionalization plan, and urging the school boards not to send it to a planned September referendum in the three towns. The regionalization plan would require voter approval from each town to become effective. A June 1 joint meeting of school board members and selectmen and finance board members from the three towns failed to resolve the lingering issues.

When the Region 4 board convened Monday. members had already prepared a brief written statement confirming the plan would not be brought to referendum this year. “Over the past several months, a number of community minded people worked very hard to develop a plan to make our outstanding school district even stronger”, it said.

“After hundreds of hours and over a dozen meetings, we have developed a plan that many of us believe would provide our kids with an even better education while making our governance structure more efficient. Although the Region 4 board believes that regionalization is in the best interests of our students, we have come to the conclusion that our communities have not reached a consensus ion this issue,” it concluded.

Region 4 Board Chairman Chris Riley said the research and planning done this year to prepare for full regionalization remains in hand, though there are no immediate plans to pursue the issue further at the present time.

Chester Opposition Delays Vote on Proposed School District Full Regionalization Plan

REGION 4 — Plans for a three-town referendum vote on a proposed kindergarten-sixth grade regionalization plan have been pushed back after a meeting Monday between district and town leaders brought information about a possible new option for dividing elementary education costs among the three towns, and highlighted opposition to the current regionalization plan from elected officials in Chester.

The special meeting, which included board of education chairpersons and members of the boards of selectmen and finance for the district towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex, came after the Chester boards of selectmen and finance issued a statement declaring unanimous opposition to the current plan and a related inter-local agreement intended to address cost shifts and other issues arising from full regionalization of the elementary schools. School board members had been planning for a possible Sept. 29 referendum on K-6 regionalization, which must be approved by voters of all three towns.

The Chester statement, drafted at a May 28 meeting of the two boards, contended the proposed plan and agreement would have a “negative financial impact” on Chester. In a reflection of concerns that declining student enrolment and full regionalization could lead to grade moves or even a closure of Chester Elementary school, the statement also calls for local voter approval, by town meeting vote or referendum, of any shifts of grades among the elementary schools.

Chester finance board member Lori Clymas urged school leaders to “slow down” and explore further revisions to the plan. “We want to work it out but we feel; like we’re being rushed.” she said. Chester First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the plan that was developed over the past three months needs further review, while adding, “We don’t have to go back to square one.”

Essex Board of Education Chairman Lon Seidman, a strong supporter of the K-6 regionalization, said new legislation approved last week in the state House of Representatives would give the school district greater flexibility in assessing taxpayers in each town regarding the cost of operating the elementary schools. Current state law requires using student average daily membership (ADM) from each town to divide cost shares in a regional school budget, as has been done with the spending plan for the middle school and high school since the Region 4 school district for grades 7-12 was established in the early 1950s.

Current levels of enrollment and per pupil spending would leave Deep River at a $378,000 financial disadvantage in 2016-2017 under a K-6 grade regionalization and budget split based only on student ADM. To address this and build support in Deep River, a draft inter-local agreement would adjust budget shares, with Chester and Essex paying higher budget shares in amounts projected to range from $201,000 to $173,000 for Chester over the next four years and from $177,000 to $65,000 for Essex through 2019-2020.

Seidman said the legislation pushed by State Rep. Phil Miller (D-36th) would allow the district to develop its own plan for sharing elementary school expenses. He acknowledged a full review of options under the new legislation would require a delay in any votes on the K-6 regionalization. The new legislation still needs approval from the State Senate, with the 2015 legislation session scheduled to end at midnight Wednesday.

The Chester call for a local vote on elementary school grade changes also generated discussion Monday, with school board members urging the Chester officials to be more flexible on the process for approving grade reconfigurations at the elementary schools. Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said any major shifts in elementary school grades are unlikely over the next four years, except for a possible move of sixth graders to John Winthrop Middle School, commenting, “We’re getting mired down over control and we need to come together.”

Region 4 Board of Education Chairman Chris Riley said his board, which by law must initiate referenda on further regionalization, would defer any vote on sending the plan to a referendum in September. Riley noted a regionalization referendum on Nov. 3, when the three towns hold municipal elections, is still possible, but far from certain.

Region 4 Regionalization Plan Headed to September Referendum in Three District Towns

REGION 4 — A long-discussed plan for a full K-6 regionalization of district schools appears headed to a September referendum but will also require a separate inter-local agreement in an effort to build support for the plan in each of the district towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex.

About 50 residents turned out Tuesday evening at the Valley Regional High School (VRHS) auditorium for the second in a series of public information sessions on the plan that is expected to go to district school boards for a vote in June. The board votes would set up a possible Sept. 29 referendum in the three towns. Voters in all three towns must approve the plan for it to become effective by the target date of July 1, 2016.

The plan presented Tuesday was developed in recent weeks by a committee comprised of school board members, district staff, and some municipal elected officials. District school boards had previously taken the required step of requesting that a full regionalization plan be prepared and presented for a vote — a move that has been discussed in the district for nearly a decade.

The proposed full regionalization would replace a complicated district governance structure that has been in place since the three towns approved regionalization of grades 7-12 in 1948, a move that led to the opening of VRHS in Deep River in 1952.

The existing structure has an elected nine member board of education that governs VRHSl and John Winthrop Middle School (constructed in 1971), while local school board govern the elementary schools in the three towns. The boards come together as the supervision district to direct shared services, including administration and transportation, for all five schools.

The proposed full regionalization would bring all district schools and services under the direction of an elected 12-member board of education with four members from each town, though the plan for a 12 member board would require General Assembly approval of enabling legislation for a 12- member board. Without the enabling legislation there would be a nine-member board with three members from each town.
Board members presenting the plan Tuesday, including Region 4 Board Chairman Chris Riley, Deep River Board of Education Chairman Michelle Grow, and Essex Board of Education Chairman lon Seidman said regionalization of the primary grades would bring cost savings allow greater consistency in curriculum and also provide greater flexibility in sharing staff, equipment, and resources among the three elementary schools. There would be a single education budget presented to voters of the three towns for referendum approval, ending the current system where the Region 4 (high school-middle school) budget goes to referendum, while the elementary school budgets are presented for approval with town budgets at the annual budget meeting in each town.
Board members said a full regionalization would also give the district greater flexibility in responding to decreasing student enrollment. Projections presented with the draft plan show K-6 grade enrollment for all three elementary schools dropping from the current enrollment of about 900 students to as few as 610 students by 2020.
The continuing decline in enrollment has led to some public concerns that a full regionalization would open the door to an abrupt closing of an elementary school, possibly Chester Elementary School, where enrollment could drop to as few as 183 students by 2020. Many of the questions and comments at Tuesday’s forum came from Chester residents.
Board members said the plan specifies there would be no changes configuration of the elementary schools for the first three years, through June 2019, other than a possible transfer of sixth graders to the middle school. Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy added that any move of sixth graders to the middle school would also require at least two years of planning.
The plan also specifies that no elementary school could be closed without voter approval from a referendum in that town. Seidman said closing of an elementary school is unlikely because student enrollment in expected to begin to rebound by the mid 2020s.
Board members said an inter-local agreement would address other concerns about shared financing of a full K-12 district among taxpayers of the three towns, particularly by cushioning the impact of major shifts in the average daily membership of students that would be used to determine each town’s share of a K-12 education budget. The inter-local agreement, which would probably require town meeting approval from each town, was not available Tuesday, but is expected to be presented to selectmen and finance boards for the three towns over the next few weeks.

Chester Town Meeting Approves Funding For Library Design, Main St. Reconstruction

CHESTER — Voters at a town meeting Thursday approved funding for two major town projects, including $100,000 for architectural schematic design plans for a new library at North Quarter Park, and $100,000 as the final town funding component for reconstruction of a section of Main Street east of the downtown village.

About 60 residents braved lingering snow and slick roads tor turn out for the votes at the Chester Meetings House, approving both appropriations on voice votes after about an hour of discussion. The additional funding for the Main Street Project was approved on a unanimous vote, while the appropriation for library design fees was approved on a voice vote with a handful of opposing votes.

The town will use $100,000 from the undesignated fund balance to pay for architectural schematic design fees for a new library at North Quarter Park, a 22-acre town-owned parcel on the east end of Main Street. Library supporters and the board of selectmen decided last year to pursue construction of a new library at the park, rather than pursued a potentially costly and complicated renovation and expansion of the 109-year-old existing library building on West Main Street, though some residents continued to question the plan for a new library at the park during meetings last fall.

In November, the town was awarded a $1 million state grant toward the estimated $4 million cost of a new library, funds that must be used for a building project within the next three years. A library building committee, with support from the board of selectmen, last summer hired the Pawtucket, R.I. firm of Lads & Bartells to prepare very preliminary plans for a new library at the park as part of the grant application, though there has been no decision on hiring a firm for the actual building project.

The $100,000 for the Main Street East Project is the final town funding component for an estimated $800,000 project that is mostly paid for by state grant funds. The project, which has been under discussion for years, was scaled back last November to focus on reconstruction of a 1,000-foot section of Main Street from the intersection with School Lane west to the entrance to the Laurel Hill Cemetery.

A more costly plan for reconstruction of a larger section of Main Street east to the intersection with Middlesex Avenue (Rte. 154) that included a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street had drawn opposition from some residents. The project is expected to be put out to bid soon for a start of construction this spring.

Deep River Town Meeting Authorizes Additional $1.1 Million for Sewer Expansion Project

DEEP RIVER — Voters at a town meeting Thursday authorized an additional $1.1 million in funding for a sewer expansion project that had been approved as a $4 million project by a May 2013 town meeting. Like the initial $4 million, the funding comes as a combination of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant and loan funds. About 20 voters braved lingering snow to turn out for the meeting, with the funding authorization approved on a voice vote with two opposed.

The additional funding for the project was approved by USDA late last year after bids that were opened last summer came in above the $4 million in approved funding. The project was rebid, with the board of selectmen in September selecting  B&W Paving and Landscaping of Mystic on a base bid of $3,610,000.

The higher than anticipated bids forced selectmen to defer some elements of the project that will now be covered by the $1.1 million in additional funding that includes a $495,000 grant and a 20-year $605,000 loan The resolution approved Thursday also authorizes the town to borrow funds in advance of reimbursement by the federal grant and loan funds.

The additional funds will allow completion of the full north end sewer expansion project that will offer municipal sewer service to about 120 residential properties in the Kirtland Street-River Street area. The additional funding will pay for an extension of sewer service to properties on five small connecting streets off Kirtland and River streets, including Fairview Avenue, Old River Street, River Lane, Phelps Lane, and Read Street.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the town has the option of accepting B&W Paving’s original alternate bids for the additional work, or rebidding this segment of the project. Preliminary construction work that began in November is expected to resume next month.

Chester Grand List Shows One Percent Increase

CHESTER — The grand list of taxable property is up by one percent after a full townwide property revaluation completed in 2013 led to a 12 percent decrease in the grand list total. Assessor Loretta Zdanys has filed an October 2014 grand list that totals $442,507,270, an increase of $3,546,603, or one percent, from the 2103 total.

There were relatively small increases in each of the categories of real estate, personal property and motor vehicles. The 2014 increase is expected to generate about $123,500 in new tax revenue at the current tax rate of 24.82 mills, or $24.82 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

The town’s 1,720 real estate accounts have a net assessment total of $398,866,600, up by $2,603,840 from the 2013 real estate total. The town’s 417 personal property accounts have a net assessment total of $14,791,350, up by $425,860 from the 2013 personal property total. The town’s 4,156 motor vehicle accounts have an assessment total of $28,849,320, up by $516,903 from the 2013 motor vehicles total.

Following are the town top ten taxpayers with the current assessment totals:
1)  Chester Woods Inc. (Chester Village West) — $15,263,650
2)  Whelen Engineering Co. — $8,196.720
3)   Connecticut Water Company — $5,049,830
4)   Connecticut Light & Power Company — $4,540,170
5)  The Eastern Company — $4,059,760
6)  Whelen Aviation LLC (Chester Airport) — $3,843,340
7)  Roto Frank of America Inc. — $3,521,530
8)  Margaret & Robert Sbriglio (Aaron Manor Nursing Facility) —  $2,235,180
9)  Chester Point Real Estate LLC — $2,079,830
10) Arthur & Judith Schaller — $2,045,890

Essex Grand List Shows Small 0.33 Percent Increase

ESSEX — The grand list of taxable property has remained nearly flat after a revaluation-driven drop in 2013, with the October 2014 total showing an increase of only $3.72 million or 0.33 percent.

Assessor Jessica Sypher has filed an October 2014 grand list that totals $944,905,200, up by $3,726,569 from the 2013 total. There were small increases in each of the categories of real estate, personal property, and motor vehicles. The increase is expected to generate only about $60,000 in new tax revenue at the current tax rate of 20.99 mills.

The grand list, which previously had totaled over $1 billion, dropped by 7.72 percent after the full townwide property revaluation that was completed in 2013. The 2012 grand list was also down very slightly, dropping by about six one-hundredths of a percent.

Sypher said a court settlement for two of about a dozen appeals that followed the revaluation had resulted in a loss of about $700,000 in assessed value, or about $21,000 in tax revenue.

Brewer’s Marina appealed the revised assessments for marinas it owns on Ferry Street and Chandler Street. Sypher said attorneys for the town recommended a settlement that would split the difference between the revised assessments and the values claimed by the marina company. The compromise that was approved by a superior court judge last month dropped the assessed value for the two marinas from about $5 million to $4.3 million.

The town’s 3,253 real estate accounts have an assessment total of $943,246,673, up by only $727,030 from the 2013 real estate total.The town’s 722 personal property accounts have an assessment total of  $41,873,673, up by $1,213,929 from the 2013 personal property total.

The town’s 7,697 motor vehicle accounts have an assessment total of $62,881,170, up by $1,785,610 from the 2013 motor vehicles total.

Following are the town’s top 10 taxpayers with current assessment totals

1) Essex Meadows Inc. — $22,875,400
2) Lee Company — $14,820,920
3) Connecticut Light & Power Co. — $6,875,610
4) SLK Partners LLC — $5,708,900
5) River Properties Inc. — $3,597,210
6) Griswold Inn LLC — $3,378,640
7) Essex Savings Bank — $3,355,950
8) Stephen R. Cline Successor Trustee — $3,319,200
9) Herbert T. Clark III — $2,760,140
10) Macbeth Ventures LLC — $2,759,500

$499.5 Million Deep River Grand List up by $9.14 Million From 2013 Total, Largest Increase in Years

DEEP RIVER — The 2014 grand list of taxable property is up by $9.14 million, a larger than expected increase that will generate about $236,000 in new tax revenue. Assessor Robin O’Loughlin has filed an October 2014 grant list that totals $499,552,409, an increase of $9,145,804, or 1.86 percent, over the 2013 total.

O’Loughlin said the increase, by far the largest since the last property revaluation in 2010, would generate $236,700 in new tax revenue at the current tax rate of 25.88 mills. Last year, the 2013 grand list was up by only 0.47 percent after a 2012 grand list jump of only 1.2 percent.

There were increases in each of the three categories, real estate, personal property and motor vehicles, with the largest increase coming in the personal property total. The town’s 658 personal property accounts totaled $22,583,125, an increase of $6,677,804 from the 2013 personal property total.O’Loughlin said a 2014 sale and relocation of Tri-Town Precision Plastics to Massachusetts-based Smith and Wesson Co., and a new local subsidiary, Deep River Plastics, had resulted in 224 new personal property accounts for machinery and equipment. But the assessor cautioned that many of these accounts would be eligible for tax deferrals under the state’s Manufacturing Machinery Program, which could lead to some reductions in the higher personal property totals in 2015.

The town’s 2,186 real estate accounts have an assessment total of $442,825,060, an increase of $2,1778,120 from the 2013 real estate total. O’Loughlin said there were four new homes completed in 2014, along with several renovations and expansions of existing dwellings. The town’s 4,800 motor vehicle accounts have an assessment total of $34,144,224, an increased of $289,394 from the 2013 total.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the increase was higher than he anticipated, and good news for the town. “It’s the best increase we’ve had in several years,” he said, adding, “it’s going to help an awful lot with the budgets this year.” The town is conducting a statistical revaluation update of all real estate properties this year, with any changes to be reflected on the October 2015 grand list.

Following are the town’s top 10 taxpayers, along with the assessment totals. The Boyd-Dernocoeur, Olson, and Cribiore accounts are for high value residential properties.

1) Connecticut Light & Power Co. — $5,576,999
2) BDRM Inc. — $4,171,277
3) Mislick Family Limited partnership — $3,173,870
4) Silgan Plastics Corp. — $2,917,775
5) Deep River Associates LLC — $2,917,600
6) Thomas Boyd & K. Dernocoeur — $2,430,610
7) 180 Main Street Partners LLC — $2,277,450
8) Goodspeed Leasing Co. LLC — $2,145,010
9) John & Jane Olson — $2,075,080
10) Alberto Cribiore — $1,934,590

DR Firehouse Committee Recommends Demolition/Rebuild at Union Street Site

Deep River Firehouse

Deep River Firehouse

DEEP RIVER— The firehouse study committee has recommended construction of a new firehouse at the 57 Union St. site of the existing building, a plan that would require demolition and a temporary relocation of fire department services to another location during a one-year construction period.

The board of selectmen and board of finance Tuesday received the report of a new study committee that was established last April to analyze options for a firehouse building project. The six member committee included two selectmen, Angus McDonald Jr. and Dave Oliveria, two representatives of the fire department, Chief Tim Lee and assistant chief Tim Ballantyne, and two at-large members that included local architect Alan Paradis.

Town officials, and members of the fire department, have been considering options to renovate or replace the existing 1961 firehouse at the corner of Union and West Elm St. since a proposal for a $2.4 million renovation and expansion project failed on a 347-312 vote in a July 2010 referendum. A more costly building plan was rejected by a much wider margin in a 2007 vote.

Oliveria said Tuesday a review of other potential sites, and the determination by firefighters that any new firehouse should be in or near the downtown area, led to the recommendation to refocus on the existing site. Oliveria said the .72-acre parcel containing the existing firehouse could be combined with an abutting parcel at 51 union St. that is owned by the department to create a 1-acre lot that could support new two-story firehouse of between 9,500 and 10,100 square feet. The size of the proposed new building would double the size of the existing 5,084 square-foot firehouse, but is scaled back from the building plan presented to voters in 2010.

But committee members acknowledged the recommendation to demolish and rebuild on site is not without complications. The most notable would be the need to relocate all department services, including storage of trucks and equipment, to a temporary fire headquarters during the approximate one-year construction period. The cost of a temporary relocation for the department has not been determined.

There have also been some objections to demolishing a house on the 51 Union St. parcel, though Chief Lee said a majority of the volunteers would support directing the 51 Union St. parcel to provide space for a new firehouse. The parcel was acquired by the fire department a decade ago.

The committee included two alternative sites in the report, options that would require the town to purchase additional property at an undetermined additional cost. The sites are residential properties at 208 Main St. and 423 Main St. on the south end of town near the intersection with Kelsey Hill Road. “There are two other properties but the next best alternative, I don’t know,” said McDonald.

The committee recommended the two boards consider hiring an architect to develop more detailed plans for demolition and new construction at the Union Street parcels. Selectmen and the finance board are expected to discuss the firehouse building project further in 2015.

Essex Selectmen Appoint Four New Members to Conservation Commission

ESSEX–Two weeks after a plan for lethal trapping of beavers at Viney Hill Brook Park drew dozens of residents to its December meeting, the board of selectmen have appointed four new members to the conservation commission.

Selectmen last week appointed Robert Ward, Mark Reeves, and Frank Hall to the commission that oversees the town’s open space land. Jerri MacMilllian was appointed as a commission alternate. The appointments bring the panel close its full compliment of seven regular members and three alternates. One alternate position remains vacant.

Hall has been an active member of the town’s clean energy committee. Reeves, a former Old Saybrook resident now living in Essex, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for first selectman of Old Saybrook in 1999.

The commission was down to five members when it voted in November to authorize lethal trapping of beavers in a pond at Viney Hill Brook Park. The decision, prompted by reports of damage from beaver activity to trails and trees, drew strong opposition from dozens of residents at the commission’s Dec. 4 meeting. The commission later decided to further explore alternates and defer any action on lethal trapping.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said all four appointees volunteered for vacancies on the commission in the days since the controversy over trapping of beavers.

Essex Parks and Recreation Director Leaves for New Position

ESSEX— Rick Audett has resigned from the town parks and recreation director position he has held for the past four years. His last day was Dec. 19. First Selectman Norman Needleman said Audet left to take a new job in New Jersey.

Needleman said Mary Ellen Barnes, the department’s program director, would assume the director duties until the parks and recreation commission make a hiring recommendation to the board of selectmen for a new director. The salary range for the full-time 35 hours per week position is between $49,098 to $61,712, which was the salary Audet was receiving at the time of his departure. Barnes also has part-time duties as the town’s social services coordinator.

Three Region 4 Administrators to Swap Positions in Next School Year

REGION 4— Region 4 school boards this week unanimously approved a reassignment of three administrators that was recommended by superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy after a retirement decision by one administrator. The changes that are effective in July 2015 will  put different people in the positions of assistant superintendent and principals at Valley Regional High School and Chester Elementary School.
Levy said Friday the moves were prompted by the decision of Assistant Superintendent Joanne Beekley to retire in June after a 38-year career in  public education. Beekley, a Haddam resident, assumed the assistant superintendent position in 2012 after six years as principal at Essex Elementary School, the largest of the three district elementary schools.
Levy said after Beekley confirmed her plans at the beginning of the month, she began considering options that would allow the district to retain experienced administrators while also promoting from within the ranks of the current team. Levy said she met with the Region 4 Administrators Association, the bargaining unit for district administrators, and found support for her plan.
Under the plan, Beekley will retire on June 30, but continue working for two years as principal at Chester Elementary School, the smallest of the three elementary schools. Kristina Martineau, principal at Valley Regional High School since 2010, will assume the position of assistant superintendent. Michael Barile, a Haddam resident who has served as principal at Chester Elementary School since 2008, will become principal at Valley Regional High School.
The reassignments prompted a series of special school board meetings this week, where the boards conducted closed door interviews before voting to approve the changes recommended by the superintendent. Levy advised district staff and the first selectmen of Chester, Deep River, and Essex of the changes on Tuesday.
Levy said the reassignments will maintain continuity, while also allowing the district to move forward and give experienced administrators an opportunity to advance. She noted that each administrator will remain with the district and available to assist and mentor their successor.  “This will provide a whole circle of support for one another,” Levy said. The Chester Board of Education will begin the process of hiring a successor for Beekley in 2017.

Chester Library Trustees to Seek Appropriation for Design Work on New Library at North Quarter Park

CHESTER— Wasting no time after receiving a  $1 million state grant with a three-year timeline, members of the library board of trustees advised the board of selectmen Tuesday of plans to seek a town funding appropriation to prepare engineering design plans for a proposed new library at North Quarter Park.

Trustee Terry Schreiber said the group, working with a volunteer building committee, would have a specific total for the funding request at the board’s next meeting on Jan. 6. Any appropriation of town funds, which is expected to be in the range of $100,000, would also require approval from the board of finance and voters at a town meeting. The appropriation would pay for preparation of a site plan and schematic design plans for a new library building at the park.
Schreiber said the trustees have also met with a professional fundraiser to discuss options for a fundraising campaign for a library building project that could cost as much as $4 to $5 million to complete, with the state grant covering only a portion of the total cost. An authorization of town bonding would also be needed to pay for the project

The building committee was established by the selectmen last summer as part of an effort to complete the state grant application by an end of August deadline. The committee, with support from the selectmen, hired Lerners, Lads, & Bartells Architects, a Pawtucket, R. I. firm that has experience with library construction projects.

As part of information required for the grant application, the architects prepared very preliminary plans for a two-story 5,600-square-foot library building that would be located in the front section of the 22-acre park on the east end of Main Street. The $1 million grant was approved by the State Library Board last month

Schreiber said the trustees and building committee have made no final decisions on the size of a new library, whether it should have one or two floors, or whether a community center component should be included in the project. The trustees are planning a public information meeting on the project for Saturday Jan. 10 at the library.

The trustees had spent nearly two years considering options for a renovation and expansion of the 108 year-old existing library building on West Main Street before deciding earlier this year, with encouragement from the selectmen, to focus on the option of a building a new library at North Quarter Park.

All Five Essex Bonding Authorizations Approved in Low Turnout Referendum

ESSEX— Voters Monday authorized up to 8.085 million in municipal  bonding, approving five separate ballot questions in a low turnout referendum. A total of 257 of the town’s 4,654 registered voters turned out for the 14-hour referendum, along with two property owners who are not registered voters in Essex.

An authorization of $2,845,000 to replace the Walnut and Ivory street bridges in the Ivoryton section had the widest margin of approval, 221-38. A combination of federal and state funds will reimburse 80 percent of the cost of the Walnut Street bridge project, while the much smaller Ivory Street bridge will be paid for entirely by town bond funds.

A $2,815,000 bonding authorization for improvements at Essex Elementary School was approved on a 193-64 vote. The improvements include replacement of the school roof, which will be eligible for partial state funding reimbursement, along with $600,000 for air conditioning at the 61 year-old school.

Improvements to the town  hall, including renovations to the land use offices, at an estimated cost of $1.3 million won approval of a 175-81 vote.  Improvements at the town public works garage, with an estimated cost of $525,000, won approval of a 178-80 vote. Voters authorized bonding of $600,000 to purchase a new fire truck on a 186-71 vote.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said he is pleased the capital projects initiative won voter approval. ” Thanks to everyone that came out and voted and thanks to the committee that did all of the hard work,” he said.
The capital projects plan was developed over the past year by a building committee chaired by Selectman Bruce Glowac. The first bonds are expected to be issued by 2017 for a pay off over 20 years ending in 2037.

Essex Zoning Commission has January Public Hearing on Separate Proposals for Bokum Road Life Care Zone

ESSEX— The zoning commission has scheduled a Jan. 26 public hearings on separate proposals to expand and revise regulations for the residential life care zone on Bokum Road. The zone had been established in the 1980s to accommodate the Essex Meadows life care complex that is now the town’s largest taxpayer.

Resident Marc Bombaci has submitted an application for a zone change from rural residential to residential life care for a 35.8-acre parcel that surrounds his 80 Bokum Road residence. Sections of the property on the  west side of Bokum Road abut land owned by Essex Meadows.

Bombaci, represented by local lawyer Campbell Hudson, has also proposed a zoning text amendment that would apply more recent regulations for active adult communities, or cluster-style housing for persons over age 55, to the residential life care zone that refers to housing and services for persons over age 62 The revised regulation would also allow the commission to waive under certain conditions a requirement that 80 percent of all the units in an active adult community must be owned by persons over age 55

Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said if the zone change is approved, Bombaci would have to secure special permit and site plan approval from the commission for any future residential life care or active adult community development on his property.

The commission will also hold a public hearing next month on an application by Essex Glen LLC to revise the residential life care and active adult community regulations for a parcel on the opposite side of Bokum Road that was approved for a 55-unit active adult community development in 2007. The partnership never pursued the development plan that was approved in 2007.

Budrow said the partnership, represented by lawyer Terrance Lomme, is preparing to submit a new application and plan for the property that calls for 22 units in separate buildings. Essex Glen LLC is requesting a revision to regulations for an active adult community that would change the setback requirements that are part of the current regulations.

The change would reduce the front setback requirement from 80-feet to 40-feet, and the side and rear setback rule from 80-feet to 30-feet. Budrow said the change would accommodate a revised development proposal for the property with separate buildings. Lomme, who was re-elected last month as judge of probate for a nine-town region, had represented Essex Glen LLC during the 2007 application process.

Chester Town Meeting Approves Accepting State Grant Funds for Main Street Project

CHESTER— Voters at a town meeting Tuesday formally authorized acceptance of two state grants totaling $783,088 that will be directed to the revised Main Street East improvement project. Despite some talk of rejecting the grant funding over opposition to a now deferred element of the project plan, voters authorized accepting the funding on a unanimous voice vote.

About 60 voters turned out for the town meeting, acting on the resolution after about 45 minutes of discussion. The vote comes two weeks after the Main Street Project Committee, and the board of selectmen, decided to scale back the project to eliminate plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street that had drawn opposition from some residents and at least one property owner fronting on the proposed sidewalk. There were concerns that opposition to the sidewalk, which would also require removal of two mature trees, would delay the project and lead to a possible loss of the state grant funding.

The town has received two separate Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants, one of $450,000 and the other $333,088. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the grant funds would cover most of the cost of the revised Main Street East Project that is now estimated at about $800,000. The project area is now limited to a 1,000-foot section from the intersection with School Lane west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery.The initial plan, including the north side sidewalks had a cost estimate of about $1.2 million.

Meehan said the revised plan includes five new drainage catch basins in the vicinity of the Chester Post Office, new granite curbing, new sidewalks with a four-foot width that meets Americans With Disabilities Act standards, and additional lighting for the parking area at the entrance to the historic cemetery. Improvements to the street east from School Lane to the intersection with route 154 would be limited to milling and repaving, and possibly some repairs to a decaying state wall along the Chesterfields Health Care Center property on the south side of the street.

Meehan said final details of the revised plan are now under review by the committee and project engineers, with a goal of putting the project out to bid for a start of construction in the spring. Meehan added that further improvements to the eastern section of the street would await future community decisions on whether to building a new library with other improvements to North Quarter Park on the north side of the street. The town was recently awarded a $1 million state grant for construction of a new library at the park, but it would cover only about a quarter of the total cost of a library building project.

Voters also authorized the release of capital improvement funds, including $10,000 for two new police mobile radios and $6,934 for security enhancements at Chester Elementary School. The funds for the elementary school are a town match for a $59,000 state grant awarded to Regional School District 4 for security enhancements at the five district schools. The Chester Elementary School enhancements will include new interior and exterior cameras and a locked gate that would limit access from a wooded area on the west side of the school property.

Essex Town Meeting on Proposed $8.085 Million Bonding Plan Adjourns to December 15 Referendum Without Discussion

ESSEX— Voters Monday adjourned a town meeting on a proposed $8,085,000 bonding plan without discussion, setting the stage for an all day referendum on Dec. 15 on a plan that is expected to result in an increase in property taxes beginning in 2017.

About 40 residents, nearly half of them volunteer firefighters, turned out for the required town meeting on a plan that was first presented at a public hearing on Nov. 19. But the meeting was quickly adjourned to the referendum without questions or discussion. No one expressed opposition to any of the components of the bonding plan that will be presented for approval as five separate ballot questions in the referendum.

The bonding plan, developed over the past year by a building committee chaired by Selectman Bruce Glowac, was first presented at a Nov. 19 public hearing.. The plan includes two bridge replacement projects in the Ivoryton section and replacement of the roof at Essex Elementary School, which were identified as priorities at the start of the process, along with several other projects. The components, each presented as a separate yes-or-no ballot question, include $2,845,000 for replacement of the Walnut and Ivory street bridges, $2,815,000 for improvements at the elementary school, $1.3 million for improvements at town hall, $535,000 for improvements at the town public works garage, and $600,000 for purchase of a new pumper fire truck.

The two bridge projects and the school roof replacement are eligible for state or federal funding reimbursement of $2,055,000, leaving town tax payers to finance bonding of up to $3,030,000. The elementary school project also includes $600,000 for air conditioning at the school.

The town is expected to use bond anticipation notes to fund some of the initial projects, with the full 20-year bonds expected to be issued in late 2016 or early 2017. The highest year for debt service payments is expected to be 2017-2018, when the bonding plan is expected to require a 0.49 mill increase in the property tax rate that is currently set at 21.99 mills.

Town Finance Director Kelly Sterner said at the Nov. 19 hearing the 0.49 mill increase would represent about $147 in additional tax for a residential property assessed at $300,000. Debt service costs would begin to drop in 2021, falling off more steeply beginning in 2027 for a final pay off of the bonds in 2037. Polls will be open Monday at the town hall auditorium from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.



Essex Conservation Commission to Hold Off Lethal Trapping of Beavers

The conservation commission agreed Thursday to defer any possible lethal trapping of beavers in the ponds at Viney Hill Brook Park after hearing objections from dozens of residents at the panel’s regular meeting.

More than 80 residents turned out for the meeting of the commission that supervises the town’s open space lands, with most voicing opposition to the decision at a Nov. 6 meeting to pursue the trapping. The commission in recent months has been discussing damage caused by beavers to trees and trails at the 90 acre park. The commission had authorized some lethal trapping of beaver at the park in March 2011, a decision that drew objections from some residents, but not the public outcry sparked by the latest consideration of the trapping option.

About two dozen residents, including some children and teenagers, spoke in opposition to the option of lethal trapping. Many called the trapping, in which beavers are restrained and held underwater until drowning, as cruel and inhumane. Paul Leach said the method of removal “is unkind and therefore unacceptable,” while Scott Konrad maintained it take the animals several minutes to expire during the trapping. Several residents urged the commission to further investigate options for controlling beaver activity that do not include lethal trapping, with some offering to contribute money to pay for any devices or piping that could control the beaver without trapping.

But some residents, including parks and recreation commission members Jim Rawn and Robert Russo, contended too much beaver activity could impact water quality in the larger of the two ponds that is used as a town swimming area. Rawn said the swimming area was closed for a period in 2001 due to contamination of the water from animal feces, while also suggesting that beaver activity could undermine the man-made dams that help contain the two man-made former sand and gravel quarry ponds.

After hearing more than 90- minutes of public comment, commission members, some reluctant, agreed to hold off any lethal trapping this year to investigate other options for controlling and limiting damage caused by beaver activity. State rules limit beaver trapping to the colder weather months.

First Selectman Norman Needleman, who joined commission members at the table as an ex-officio member, urged the commission to spend additional time exploring other options for beaver control. Needleman also offered the services of the town’s consulting engineer, Robert Doane, to help establish whether the beaver activity truly poses any threat to the structure of the two ponds.

Chester Town Meeting Vote on Accepting Grant Funds for Main St. Project, Tuesday

Voters will be asked at a town meeting Tuesday to formally accept two state grants totaling $783,000 for the Main Street East reconstruction project. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the community room at town hall.

The required town meeting action comes after the board of selectmen and the Main Street Project Committee approved a change in the long-planned project that would limit most improvements to the section of the street from the intersection with School Lane west to the Laurel Hill Cemetery, while eliminating plans for a continuous sidewalk on the north side of the street that had drawn opposition from some residents. One factor in the now deferred plans for a north side sidewalk was a preliminary plan to construct a new library in North Quarter Park, a plan for which the town was recently awarded a separate $1 million state grant.

But when the board of selectmen discussed the project at a meeting Tuesday, some residents voiced continuing objections to both the revised Main Street plans, and the idea of building a new library at North Quarter Park. Christopher Moore raised concerns about town costs for both projects, while Caryn Davis questioned the need for a library. “It’s not as if we don’t have services,” she said.

Cary Hull, a library supporter, responded to the comments by noting the award of the state grant, which must be directed to a town approved library building project within three years, is only the first step. ” We realize our work is just beginning for a library that is accessible to everyone in the community,” she said.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said plans for a library project are in the early stages, and would require both private fundraising and possible town bonding because the $1 million grant would cover only a portion of the cost of a new library. But Meehan added that failing Tuesday to accept the two state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants awarded for the Main Street Project would likely mean a loss of the grant funding and leave town taxpayers responsible for all of the expense of any improvements to Main Street. “If we keep delaying this we have a high risk of having that money pulled back,” he said.

Michael Joplin, chairman of the Main Street Project Committee, said the panel needs to complete the revised plans for the Main Street East Project soon to allow the project to be put out to bid for a start of construction by the spring. “We have to move this along,” he said. Joplin, at a Nov. 25 meeting, had urged the committee to scale back the project plans out of concern that controversy over the north side sidewalk would delay the project and lead to a possible loss of the grant funding.

Chester Selectmen Vote to Take No Action on Residential Target Shooting Ordinance

The board of selectmen will take no further action on the issue of a residential target shooting ordinance that was requested by a group of Wig Hill Road residents living near an undeveloped property that is used for target shooting.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday on a motion by Selectman Larry Sypher to take no further action on an issue that had drawn dozens of target shooting enthusiasts and gun rights supporters to an Oct. 21 public information meeting. The issue had been discussed further when more than two dozen residents turned out for the board’s Nov. 18 meeting.

The nine-acre Wig Hill Road property that sparked the public debate on the issue is owned by Deep River resident Warren Elliot and has been used as a private target shooting range for several years. A group of residents living near the property, raising concerns about noise and public safety, had submitted a petition last summer urging the selectmen to consider a town ordinance that would prohibit target shooting on properties in a residential zone.. The idea of an ordinance, which would have required approval from voters at a town meeting, was strongly opposed by most of the residents that turned out for the Oct. 21 information meeting.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said he concluded that any town wide ordinance regulating target shooting would be unworkable, and suggested the issue should be handled on a “case by case basis.” Meehan said he believes concerns about activity on the Wig Hill Road property could be resolved with “the cooperation of the property owner and using law enforcement when necessary.”

Chester Committee Drops Plan for Main Street North Side Sidewalk as Town is Awarded $1 Million Grant for Library Project

CHESTER— In an abrupt change of plans, the Main Street Project Committee voted Tuesday to drop plans for a continuous north side sidewalk as part of the Main Street East reconstruction project. The decision came as town officials learned Monday that Chester has been awarded a $1 million state grant for construction of a new library at North Quarter Park, the 22-acre town park that would have been served by the proposed north side sidewalk.

The Main Street Project Committee, working with engineers Kent & Frost Associates of Mystic, last March recommended the continuous north side sidewalk as part of the Main Street East plan to reconstruct 1,800 feet of Main Street from the intersection with Middlesex Avenue (Route 154) west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. The plan drew a mixed response at an April 22 public information meeting, with some residents objecting to removal of two mature maple trees along the section of street, while others agreed a sidewalk was necessary, particularly if the town pursues construction of a new library at North Quarter Park.

The plan also drew strong objections from Jeff and Comer Gates, property owners at 137 Main Street, who contended the sidewalk would be too close to the front of their house. The board of selectmen later endorsed the plan with the north side sidewalk, and directed engineers to prepare design plans that included it. Officials were hoping to put the project out to bid this winter.

But earlier this fall, selectmen learned the total cost of the project would be about $1.3 million, exceeding the approximately $1,154,000 in available funding that included  $780,000 in state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants, and $374,000 in set aside town capital funds. Engineers were reviewing the plans for possible cost savings as the board of selectmen last week scheduled a Dec. 9 town meeting to vote on authorizing a release of the $374,000 in set aside town funds for the project. The Gates’s continued to oppose the plan, posting a large sign on the front of their property calling for removal of the continuous north side sidewalk to save money.The board of finance at a Nov. 20 meeting expressed concerns about the approximate $150,000 funding gap, and tabled a any decision on authorizing release of the town funds.

As the Main Street Project Committee convened Tuesday evening, Chairman Michael Joplin announced that he would recommend scaling back the project to include only the area from the intersection with School Lane west to the parking area at the entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery, deferring any work east of School Lane including a continuous north side sidewalk. Joplin said the reluctance of the finance board top approve release of the town funding indicated the plan could face opposition, and possible rejection, by voters at the Dec. 9 town meeting. He said a town meeting defeat could jeopardize the state grant funding that is needed for the project.

Other committee members, and First Selectman Edmund Meehan, reluctantly agreed. Meehan said the plans for a continuous north side sidewalk could be “pulled off the shelf,” and revisited when the town is closer to completing final plans for a new library at North Quarter Park. The committee later voted to direct project engineers to revise the plans to focus on the segment west of School Lane, along with some limited, and possibly temporary, improvements to roadway from School Lane east to Route 154.

Meehan said Wednesday the board of selectmen would discuss the Main Street East Project, and the proposed new library, further at its Dec. 2 meeting. The selectmen over the summer appointed a library building committee that has hired a Pawtucket, R.I. firm, Lerner, Lads & Bartells, to prepare preliminary plans for a new 5,600-square-foot library on the front section of North Quarter Park.

Meehan said the terms of the $1 million grant require the town to approve full funding for a library project within three years. He said the grant is only expected to cover about a quarter of the total cost for a new library, with an authorization of town bonding funds and private fundraising expected to be needed for the plan for a new library to move forward.

Essex Conservation Commission Considers Lethal Trapping of Beavers at Town Park – Meeting Dec. 4


ESSEX— The conservation commission will discuss possible lethal trapping of beavers in a pond at Viney Brook Park at its next regular meeting on Dec. 4. The meeting is set for 7:30. PM at town hall.

The appointed commission, which supervises town open space land, had already voted unanimously at a Nov. 6 meeting to pursue the trapping with a state licensed trapper that had worked with the commission previously. But word of the plan to allow lethal trapping of the beavers has drawn objections from some residents, including several residents who expressed their opposition at the Nov. 19 meeting of the board of selectmen.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the commission has decided to receive public comment on the plan at the Dec. 4 meeting, and then vote again on whether to authorize the trapping. The panel is concerned that a beaver lodge in one of the ponds in the 90-acre park is leading to damage to trees and a trail. The commission had previously authorized lethal trapping of beavers at the park in March 2011, a decision that also generated objections from some residents.

Chester Main Street Bridge Reconstruction Expected to Begin 2016

CHESTER— State Department of Transportation officials reported Monday that a $3 million reconstruction of the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook is expected to begin in early 2016, with the bridge in the downtown village expected to be closed to vehicular traffic from mid-January to mid-May 2016. About 30 residents turned out at the Chester Meeting House Monday for a public information meeting on a project that is entirely funded by the state.

Project managers Andrew Fesenmeyer and David Stahnke presented the latest plans for replacement of the 1921 bridge that carries up to 3,600 vehicles per day. Town officials and residents were supportive of the project, which is expected to set the stage for completion of the final phase of a town sponsored Main Street improvement project that would begin after the new bridge is completed.

But DOT officials cautioned that any delays in securing permits for the project could delay a start of construction to 2017. Fesenmeyer said the project requires permits from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the permits must be approved by May to allow the project to be put out to bid for a start of construction late next year that would precede the five month bridge closing in 2016. First Selectman Edmund Meehan, along with several residents, said they want to be notified as soon as possible if the bridge closing is to be delayed until January 2017.

DOT has already accepted a construction schedule requested by the town that would limit any closing of the road and bridge to the winter and spring months to reduce disruption for Main Street businesses and annual events. Under the planned schedule, the bridge and road would reopen no later than May 22, 2016. The plan calls for work to be done between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m,. six days per week, with no night work.

The new bridge would be slightly longer and wider than the existing bridge, with a concrete deck and a roadway width of 37-feet. Plans call for preserving the existing stone abutments while reinforcing the abutments with concrete. There would also be improvements to a small section of Main Street and West Main Street (Route 148) in the vicinity of the bridge, including new sidewalk, granite curbing, a new crosswalk, added street trees, and an improved and wider turning radius from Route 148 on to Main Street.

Dec. 15 Referendum Set for Proposed $8.085 Million Bonding Authorization for Essex Capital Projects

ESSEX— Voters will go to the polls for an all-day referendum on Dec. 15 to act on a proposed $8,085,000 bonding authorization for town capital projects. The board of selectmen approved the bonding resolution question Wednesday after a public hearing where the plan drew general support from residents.

About 60 residents turned out for the public hearing on the capital projects plan that was developed over the past year by a three-member Capital Projects Building Committee led by Selectman Bruce Glowac. While there were several questions, no one spoke in direct opposition to any of the proposed building projects or the proposed $8 million bonding total. The cost estimates for each project were developed by CME Associates Inc. a Woodstock engineering fire retained by the town.
The bonding authorizations would be presented as five separate ballot questions for bridge projects, Essex Elementary School projects, town hall projects, public works garage projects, and a $600,000 authorization to purchase a new pumper fire truck for the volunteer fire department.

The largest projects, which had already been identified as priorities when the committee began its work, include replacement of the Walnut Street and Ivory Street bridges in the Ivoryton section for an estimated cost of  $2,845,000, and replacement of the elementary school roof for an estimated cost of $1.4 million. Four additional projects, including $600,000 for air conditioning the school building, would bring the total estimated cost for elementary school projects to $2,815,000. The Walnut Street bridge replacement and the elementary school roof would be eligible for federal or state grant funding reimbursement of $2,055,000.  The funding reimbursement would reduce the total cost borne by town taxpayers to $6,030,000, though the bonding authorizations must be for the total project cost amounts.

The six improvement projects at town hall have an estimated cost of $1.3 million, including $500,000 to renovate land use offices, $200,000 for roof replacement, and $200,000 for air conditioning the building that was first constructed as a high school in the 1890s. Four projects at the town public works garage have an estimated cost of $525,000 including $109,000 for roof replacement and $264,000 for a two bay addition that would provide space for equipment storage.

Glowac acknowledged the proposed $8 million in bonding is ” a big number,” but maintained all of the projects are “real needs as opposed to wants,” that would address town and elementary school capital improvement issues for the next 20 years, which would also be the term of the bonds. He said all of the cost estimates represent  “worst case” projections with the actual amount to be bonded likely to be less than the requested authorizations. First Selectmen Norman Needleman said selectmen and the finance board may decide to pay for some of the smaller projects with transfers from the town’s $2.9 million undesignated fund balance, without the need for bonding.

Finance Director Kelly Sterner said the town expects to use bond anticipation notes, which have a one-year maturity, for some of the initial projects, such as the bridges. Most of the bonds would be issued in late 2016 or early 2017. The highest year for debt service is expected to be 2017-2018, when debt payments would add about 0.49 mills to the property tax rate that is currently set at 21.99 mills, or $21.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Sterner said the 0.49 mills in 2017-2018 would represent about $147 in additional tax for a property assessed at $300,000. Debt service costs would begin dropping in 2020-2021, falling more steeply around 2027 leading to a final pay off in the 2036-2037 fiscal year.

The bonding resolutions will be presented for further discussion, but not amendment from the floor, at a Dec. 3 town meeting that begins at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall. The Dec. 15 referendum would be conducted from 6 a.m.  to 8 p.m.

State Police Investigate Bomb Threat at Valley Regional High School

DEEP RIVER— State police are investigating a bomb threat that was called in Monday to Valley Regional High School. The telephone threat was received around 12:45 p.m., with students and staff evacuated as police with bomb-detecting dogs searched the building. Students were transported to the nearby John Winthrop Middle School.

By 1:15 p.m. students and staff were allowed to return to the building after no explosives were detected. Minutes later, around 1:30 p.m. there was a bomb threat made to East Hampton High School that also prompted an evacuation and police search of the school building. Both incidents remain under investigation by police.

Essex Annual Town Meeting Monday to Act on Board and Commission Appointments

ESSEX— Voters at the annual town meeting Monday will act on 20 board and commission appointments and two additional appropriations, along with acceptance of the annual town report for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The meeting begins at 7 p,m., in the auditorium at town hall.

All of the appointments subject to town meeting confirmation Monday are incumbent members currently serving on the respective panels, with most of the appointments for three year terms. Voters will be asked to confirm  seven appointments to town land use commissions, including Alvin Wolfgram and William Reichenbach for the zoning commission, with Adrienne Forest as commission alternate, Thomas Danyliw for the planning commission, Fred Szufnarowski for the inland-wetlands commission, and William Veillette for zoning board of appeals, with Barbara Sarrantonio and Peter Decker as ZBA alternates

Voters will be asked to confirm appointment of Douglas Senn Robert Russo, and Anthony Mosa for the parks and recreation commission, and Walter Weigert for the harbor management commission, with Terry Stewart as harbor management commission alternate. Voters will be asked to confirm the appointment of David Winstead, Robert Laundy, and Edward Cook for the economic development commission, with Susan Malan and Mark Reeves for the water pollution control authority, with Alvin Wolfgram as WPCA alternate.

Voters will be asked to approve two supplemental appropriations for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that ended on June 30, including $21,431 for the town clerk’s office, and $68,653 for the highway department. The highway department overrun is for snow removal expenses last winter. Voters will also be asked to accept the annual town report for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

State Dept. of Transportation Public Information Meeting on Chester Main Steet Bridge Replacement Project

CHESTER— The state department of Transportation will hold a public information meeting Monday on the latest plans for the replacement of the Main Street Bridge The session begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street.

DOT is planning to replace the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook, with the latest information indicating that construction would begin in the spring of 2016.  DOT staff will be at the meeting to present the latest plans and construction schedule for the bridge project, with interested residents, business owners, and commuters invited to the session to learn about the project.

The town is planning a separate Main Street project for next year, reconstruction of the street from the intersection with Route 154 east to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery  Plans for additional reconstruction of Main Street through the downtown business district are expected to be done after the state completes the Main Street Bridge project.

Essex Selectmen Set Nov. 19 Public Hearing on Proposed $8 Million Bonding for Capital Projects

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has scheduled a Nov. 19 public hearing on a plan for $8 million in bonding to fund capital improvement projects for town and school buildings, along with replacement of two bridges in the Ivoryton section. The hearing, which begins at 7 p.m., in the auditorium at town hall, will be followed by a regular meeting where the board may set the dates for a town meeting and subsequent December referendum to vote on the proposed bonding authorization.

The bonding plan was developed over the past year by a capital projects committee chaired by Selectman Bruce Glowac. The board of selectmen gave tentative approval for up to $8,085,000 in bonding last month, with the board of finance also voting preliminary approval after a presentation at an Oct. 16 meeting.

Plans discussed by the board at a Nov. 5 meeting call for the bonding resolution to be presented as five questions, with funding totals that are based on the latest cost estimates provided by engineers. The questions/authorizations include $2,845,000 for replacement of the Walnut and Ivory street bridges in Ivoryton, $2,815,000 for improvements at Essex Elementary School, including roof replacement, $1.3 million for improvements at town hall, $525,000 for improvements at the town public works garage, and $600,000 for a new fire truck.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said selectmen and the finance board could decided not to bond some projects on the list, particularly projects at town hall and the public works garage, even if an $8 million bonding authorization is approved by voters. Needleman said some smaller projects could be funded with surplus or set aside funds without the need for bonding.

Needleman said the bonding plan is still subject to change based on input received from residents at the Nov. 19 hearing.  Selectmen have agreed the top priorities of the capital projects are the two bridge replacement projects, which must be done in 2015, and the roof replacement for the elementary school. The bridge projects and most of the elementary school improvements would be eligible for federal/state funding reimbursement of about $2 million.

Selectmen are considering holding the town meeting on the bonding resolution, which would be for discussion only, on Dec. 3, with a tentative Dec. 15 date for a referendum vote on the bonding authorizations.

Ivoryton Village Project Draws Support and Some Questions at Public Hearing

ESSEX— A grant-funded improvement project for Main Street in Ivoryton village drew support and some questions from residents at a public hearing Wednesday. About 30 residents turned out to learn details and discuss the project that is funded by a $435,000 state Main Streets Investment Fund grant that was awarded in the summer of 2013.

The plan prepared by Anchor Engineering Services of Glastonbury drew general support, but several residents questioned the inclusion of two raised crosswalks that would be located on the east end of the village, near the intersection with North Main St. (Route 80), and to the west near the intersection of Main and Summit streets.

Project engineer Kevin Brendel said the raised crosswalks would be more accessible for the handicapped and would further a project goal of slowing traffic through the village area. But one resident contended the raised crosswalks would be “gridlock waiting to happen,” particularly when buses are dropping off patrons for the Ivoryton Playhouse. There were also questions about whether the raised crosswalks would hamper winter snow removal.

Selectwoman Stacia Libby, who is chairing a volunteer committee coordinating the project, said public works employees and the town engineer would be consulted to ensure the crosswalks would not interfere with snow removal. Jacqueline Hubbard, executive director of the playhouse, said buses do not discharge passengers on Main Street where the crosswalk would be located, but rather from Summit Street or the private parking lot on the south side of Main Street. But First Selectman Norman Needleman said he is not completely sold on the idea of raised crosswalks as part of the project.

Other elements of the project drew general support, including plans to remove a paved island at the intersection of Main and Summit streets to create a T shaped intersection, new lighting at the back section of the Ivoryton Park, new curbing, and about 400 feet of new sidewalk in front of the playhouse property and around the park,

Libby said the committee and project engineer would consider input received at the hearing and review the plans with a goal of putting the project out do bid in the early spring for a start of construction in May 2015.

Republican Art Linares Takes 57 Percent of Vote in Reelection Win Over Democrat Emily Bjornberg

AREAWIDE— Republican State Sen. Art Linares took 57 percent of the vote to win a second term Tuesday over Democrat Emily Bjornberg in the 12 town 33rd Senate District.Linares had 22,746 votes to 16,482, or 42 percent, for Bjornberg.2 The 6,264 vote margin is more than double the incumbent’s 2,562 vote victory over Democrat Jim Crawford in winning his first election in 2010.

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett had 484 votes, one of his lowest totals in four previous runs for the state senate seat. But the one percent of the total vote preserves the Green Party ballot line in the district for the 2016 election. Linares carried ten towns, with Bjornberg winning only in Chester and her hometown of Lyme.

Unofficial results gathered from town clerks are:

CHESTER— Bjornberg 798-Linares 724
CLINTON– LInares 2,693 Bjornberg 2,328
COLCHESTER– Linares 3,172 Bjornberg 2,312
DEEP RIVER– Linares 990 Bjornberg 915
EAST HADDAM– Linares 2,078 Bjornberg 1,455
EAST HAMPTON– Linares 3,153 Bjornberg 1,939
ESSEX– Linares 1,647 Bjornberg 1,504
HADDAM– Linares 1,946 Bjornberg 1,260
LYME– Bjornberg 636 Linares 539
PORTLAND–Linares 2,198 Bjornberg 1,680
OLD SAYBROOK—Linares 1,508 Bjornberg 1,184
WESTBROOK– Linares 1,687 Bjornberg 1.035

Foley Takes Essex While Malloy Carries Chester and Deep River in Governor Race

AREAWIDE— Republican Tom Foley carried Essex in his unsuccessful run for governor, while Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy carried Chester and Deep River on his way to re-election for a second term

In Essex, the Foley-Sommers ticket led 1,600-1,576.  Malloy carried Deep River 1,003-917, and Chester 907-693. Petition candidate Joe Viosconti, who ran with Haddam Neck resident Chester Harris for lt. governor before withdrawing Sunday, had 30 votes in Essex, 21 in Deep River, and 22 in Chester.

Democratic incumbents carried the three towns in most other state races. Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill led Republican Peter Lumaj 1,588-1,471 in Essex, 994-817 in Deep River, and 919-588 in Chester. Green Party nominee Michael DeRosa had 52 votes in Essex, 61 votes in deep ruiver, and 53 votes in Chester. Democratic Attornmey general George Jepson carried the towns over Republican Kie Westby,1,747-1,300 in Essex, 1,079-726 in Deep River, and 1,010-503 in Chester. Democratic Comptroller Kevin Lembo led Republican Sharon McClaughlin 1,582-1,438 in Essex, 968-821 in Deep River, and 902-594 in Chester.

But in the extremely close race for state treasurer,Republican Tim Herbst carried Essex over incumbent Democratic Treasurer Denise Nappier 1,636-1,470. But Nappier took Deep River 946-916 and Chester 878-691.

Republican State Senator Art Linares Elected for Second Term in 33rd District

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook was re-elected to a second term Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme by a decisive margin and carrying 10 of the 12 district towns.

Unofficial results showed Linares with 22,170 votes to 16,922 votes for Bjornberg. Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook garnered about 150 votes. Bjornberg carried her hometown of Lyme, 636-539, and Chester, 829-708. But Linares carried the other ten towns by decisive margins, with the closest result in Deep River, Linares, 975, Bjornberg 897.  The result in Essex was Linares 1,647 to Bjornberg 1,504. Linares also carried the district towns of Clinton, Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Portland, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook.
Bjornberg received the results while gathered with family members and supporters at the Democratic headquarters in Deep River. Bjornberg said she called Linares to concede when the result became clear around 9:20 p.m. “It was a good race but it was a tough year for Democrats in eastern Connecticut,” she said.
Linares appeared around 9:50 p.m. before a crowd of about 100 cheering supporters gathered in the ballroom at the Water’s Edge Resort in Westbrook., declaring that his victory, along with wins in state House races by Republicans Devin Carney in the 23rd District and Jesse McCLachlin in the 35th district represented ” a new generation of leadership.”
Linares also alluded to the sometimes harsh contest with Bjornberg. “We were attacked over and over again but the decent people of this district knew better,” he said. Linares, 26, also praised his 24-year-old brother Ryan Linares, who served as campaign manager. “He was the only campaign manager who actually lived with the candidate,” Linares said.

Republican Senator Art Linares and Democratic Challenger Emily Bjornberg in Hotly Contested 33rd District Race

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares’s bid for a second term is facing an aggressive challenge from Democrat Emily Bjornberg in of Lyme in a contest that also includes Green Party nominee Colin Bennett.

The race, which included three well-attended debates, has attracted statewide attention as Democrats make a determined effort to reclaim the seat that was held for two decades by former Democratic State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook before Linares won it after a three candidate contest in 2012. This week U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman campaigned for Bjornberg at separate appearances in Portland and Clinton. The district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

State Senator Art Linares

State Senator Art Linares

Linares, of Westbrook, was elected in 2012 on a 23,813 to 21,251 vote, over Democrat Jim Crawford, a one term state representative from Westbrook, in a race where Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag received over 4,000 votes. This year, Linares also has the Connecticut Independent Party ballot line while Bjornberg also holds the ballot line for the Working Families Party.

Linares, who turned 26 Friday, and Bjornberg, 33, have campaigned heavily since last spring, making thousands of door-to-door visits throughout the 12 district towns. Both major party nominees have received the $94,850 grant available for state senate candidates under the state’s Citizens Election Program, using the funds to pay for several voters mailings and television ads on the cable channels.

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett

Green Party nominee Colin Bennett

Bennett, 34, of Westbrook, is spending little money on his campaign, but has raised some signs and participated in each of the debates. Bennett, who currently works as a substitute teacher in Region 4 schools, was the Green Party nominee for the seat in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, garnering as many as 1,682 votes in 2008.

Linares, who co-founded the Middletown-based Greenskies solar power company in 2008, said he has focused his campaign on economic issues. He contends tighter controls on government spending and easing of some business regulations would help add jobs and boost the economic recovery in Connecticut. While predicting a possible state budget deficit would approach $2 billion next year, Linares pledges to oppose any new or increased taxes and calls for reductions in taxes on gasoline, hospitals, and retirement income.

Democratic State Senate Candidate Emily Bjornberg

Democratic State Senate Candidate Emily Bjornberg

Bjornberg, a mother of two young children who works part-time with the youth and families ministry at Deep River Congregational Church, has also talked about helping small businesses and pledges to oppose any tax increases that would impact middle and working class families. But the first time candidate whose family owns the Reynolds Subaru dealership in Lyme has also sharply criticized the incumbent’s record over the past two years and questioned several aspects of his business, including purchasing solar panels from China rather than from companies in the United States.

Bjornberg has also brought social issues in to the fray, contending an endorsement from the Connecticut Family Institute shows Linares is an ultra-conservative who would seek to overturn state laws on same sex marriage and abortion rights. “People have a very clear choice in this election,” she said, promising to be a voice in the Democratic majority caucus for children, the environment, and small towns.

Linares said he “has no social agenda,” and is personally opposed to abortion while supporting same sex marriage rights. Linares said he would make no effort to change state law on the social issues, and suggests Bjornberg is highlighting these issues “just to scare people.” He said Bjornberg has “offered no solutions or new ideas,” while criticizing his two-year record and a business that he claims has created 300 jobs in the state.

Bennett has called for increased investments in clean energy, raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens, and legalization or marijuana. While Bjornberg confirmed that she has asked Bennett to withdraw to avoid splitting progressive votes on Tuesday, Bennett said he is remaining in the race to provide another choice for “people who have lost faith in government.”

The candidates show both common ground and some differences on two issues that affect motorists, the option of restoring tolls on state highways and allowing use of red light cameras. Linares and Bennett expressed strong opposition to allowing red light cameras, while Bjornberg said she would want to see a specific proposal, including “where cameras would be placed and why and what safeguards would be in place for due process.”

On tolls, Bjornberg is opposed while Linares said he could be open to the option if it did not include new toll booths at multiple locations. “I would like to see the proposition in detail and what the new technologies are,” he said. Bennett acknowledged he is undecided on the issue of tolls.

Deep River Awarded $4.2 Million State Grant for Expansion and Renovation of Kirtland Commons Elderly Housing Complex

DEEP RIVER— The town has been awarded a $4.2 million state Department of Housing grant for an 18-unit expansion and renovations at the Kirtland Commons elderly housing complex. The grant was announced last week under the department’s Competitive Housing Assistance for Multi-family Properties program.

Joanne Hourigan, executive director for Kirtland Commons, said the award comes after more than three years of efforts to obtain grant funding for improvements at the 21-year-old complex on the northern end of Main Street (Route 154). “We’re beyond happy about finally getting a grant,” she said.

The plans call for adding 18 units to the existing 26-unit complex that opened in the spring of 1993. The new units would be added to the north on each of the three floors of the building.  The grant will also pay for other needed improvements, including new windows, doors and locks, along with a new entrance area and upgrades to the building’s heating system.

Hourigan said the long effort to obtain funding has resulted in design plans for the project that are nearly ready to be put out to bid. Hourigan said the “project team” includes consultant Dale Kroop of Hamden and architect Chris Widmer of Guilford. She said construction for the renovations and expansion should begin in 2015.

36th House District Contest Pits Two-Term Democratic Incumbent Against Republican Newcomer

State Representative Phil Miller

State Representative Phil Miller

AREAWIDE— The election contest in the four-town 36th House District pits a two-term Democratic incumbent with previous experience as a first selectman against a Republican newcomer whose most recent full-time job was as a bartender. The district includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.

Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller, 56, of Essex, is seeking a second full term in a seat he first won in a Feb. 2011 special election. After serving a nearly full term that included votes for the tax and budget plan presented by Democratic Governor Danel Malloy, Miller was re-elected in 2012, defeating Republican Vince Pacileo of Essex on a 7.105-5,352 vote. Miller previously served four terms as Essex first selectman, winning the top job in 2003 after unsuccessful runs in 1999 and 2001.

Robert Siegrist

Republican candidate Robert Siegrist

Robert Siegrist, 31, of Haddam, is making his first run for political office from a spot on the Haddam Republican Town Committee. Siegrist emerged as a candidate in June after the nominee of the May party convention, Chester Harris of Haddam, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket. A 2001 graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School, Siegrist received a degree in political science from Quinnipiac University and has worked as a bartender in recent years at two establishments in Chester. Siegrist said he gave up bartending in August to focus on the campaign, and currently works for a local landscaper.

Both candidates have received the $27,850 grant for House races through the state’s Citizen’s Election Program, and are waging active campaigns that have included door-to-door visits in the four towns. Siegrist, seeking to build some name recognition, has deployed more than a dozen large signs at various locations in the district.

An Oct. 8 debate at Valley Regional High School in Deep River showed Miller, known as a progressive with a focus on the environment, and Siegrist, who has a libertarian bent, agree on several social issues such as support for abortion rights, same sex marriage, and decriminalization of marijuana. But differences have emerged over state spending, taxes, and the possibility of returning tolls to two interstate highways in Connecticut.

Miller said this week he does not believe any possible budget shortfall in 2015 will be as large as predicted by some fiscal analysts. He discounts the possible need for new or higher taxes, and suggests any future tax increase should be limited to a hike in income tax for the state’s wealthiest citizens. Siegrist believes the deficit could be higher, and calls for a renewed effort to cut state spending. He also calls for reducing state taxes on gasoline and social security income, along with elimination of a business entity tax on companies with less than 50 employees.

The rivals differ sharply on the issue of restoring tolls, with Siegrist rejecting any consideration of tolls as a way to boost funding for road and bridge projects. Miller said he could support restoring tolls to certain locations on Interstate 95 and Interstate 84 as a way to build funding for transportation projects while also allowing for reductions in the gasoline tax that would put Connecticut prices more in line with prices in neighboring states.

The candidates may also differ on the possible authorization of red light cameras in Connecticut. Siegrist said he would oppose any legislation for red light cameras. Miller said he is undecided, but sees some possible benefits that could include greater safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders “It’s a tough issue and there needs to be a lot more discussion on it,” he said.

The candidates have avoided negative campaigning and personal attacks, Siegrist said he has been running a positive campaign that seeks to present himself as a new face in local politics. Miller said Siegrist’s lack of government experience could hamper his efforts for the district. “I respect that he is a working person but I don’t think Bob has the knowledge and skills to discern what is important.” Miller said.

Court Orders Recovery of Legal Expenses in Region 4 Principal Lawsuit

REGION 4— A Middlesex Superior Court judge has authorized the regional school district to recover legal costs in the lawsuit involving former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice that was resolved in the district’s favor in August after more than two years of legal proceedings.

After an Oct. 21 hearing at the Middletown court, Judge Julie Aurigemma ordered Rice to pay the district $54,149 in attorney fees and court costs for the lawsuit he filed in December 2011 against the three town school district, Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy and former assistant superintendent Ian Neviaser. The amount includes $52,327 in attorney fees and $1,832 in court costs.

Rice, who was a Chester resident, resigned as principal at the high school in October 2010 after only weeks in the job amid reports he had been given a resign or be fired ultimatum from Levy based on complaints and concerns raised by some staff at the high school. Under terms of the resign and release agreement, Rice received $62,000 in severance pay and medical coverage until he secured new employment. The agreement also called for both parties to refrain from public comment about Rice’s employment with the school district.

But Rice, represented by the Hamden firm Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Srignari, later claimed in the lawsuit that he was defamed in a June 2011 Hartford Courant article about the situation that included information from emails and other communications released by the district to the newspaper under a freedom of information request. In a summary judgment issued in August, Judge Aurigemma dismissed the lawsuit after determining the resign and release agreement signed by Rice was comprehensive, and that school officials responded properly to the newspaper FOI request.

In the Oct. 21 order on legal fees, Aurigemma also noted the resign and release agreement included a provision that could require Rice to pay “all costs including court costs and reasonable attorney fees,” if he later filed suit against the district. The judge noted she had reviewed an accounting of legal fees and court costs provided by attorney Peter Murphy with the Hartford firm Shipman and Goodwin, who worked on the case for the school district.

Rice is attempting to appeal the Middlesex judge’s decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Aurigemma rejected a motion from Rice’s attorneys to stay the order on legal fees, noting that issue could be part of any appeal to the higher court.