September 27, 2016

Essex Zoning Commission Asked to Reconsider Three Conditions for Approval of Plains Rd. Apartment Complex

The Plains Road property where the Iron Chef restaurant has been long empty has been approved for apartments.

The Plains Road property where the Iron Chef restaurant has been vacant for many years has been approved for the Essex Station apartments. Now the applicant has filed a resubmission to revise or rescind three conditions.

ESSEX — Weeks after the zoning commission’s approval of a special permit for the three-building 52-unit Essex Station apartment complex on Plains Road, the applicant has filed  a resubmission that asks the commission to revise or rescind three of the 10 conditions that were part of the panel’s 4-1 vote of approval on June 20.

The commission has scheduled an Aug. 15 public hearing on the resubmission from Signature Contracting Group LLC for a review of the three conditions. The project, approved after a series of public hearings that began in February, calls for 52 units in three separate buildings on a 3.7-acre parcel at 21,27 and 29 Plains Road. The parcel includes the long vacant site of the former Iron Chef restaurant. and two abutting residential parcels.

The project includes an affordable housing component, and was submitted under state statute 8-30g, which is intended to promote additional affordable housing in Connecticut. The statute, in place for more than a decade, limits the jurisdiction of local zoning authorities to issues of public health and safety, and provides for waiver of some local zoning regulations. At least 16 units in the Essex Station complex would be designated as affordable moderate income housing, with a monthly rent of about $1,000.

In a July 6 letter to the commission, Timothy Hollister, lawyer for the applicants, contended three of the conditions ” materially impact the viability of the development plan, are infeasible, legally impermissible, or are unnecessary.”

One disputed condition is the requirement for a six-foot security fence around the perimeter of the property. Hollister contended in the letter a six-foot fence would have to be a chain-link fence, which he maintained would be unsightly and unnecessary. He suggested a nearby property owner, Essex Savings Bank, was uncomfortable with the idea of six-foot fencing on the southwest corner of the property. As an alternative, Hollister suggested a four-foot picket fence around most or the property boundary, including the street frontage.

Hollister also contended a requirement for elevators in the three buildings was “impractical and unnecessary” and would make the current floor plans infeasible. He noted the project is not age-restricted housing, adding that elevators have not been a requirement for many similar projects in Connecticut, including an apartment complex with affordable housing now under construction in Old Saybrook.

The third disputed condition involves the height of the three buildings. The commission had imposed a height limit of 35 feet for all three buildings, a condition that Hollister maintained would require an unattractive, institutional-style flat roof. He suggested a maximum height limit of 42-feet for the three buildings.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said this week the resubmission requires a new public hearing, but also allows for some negotiation between the commission and the applicant on the disputed conditions. The review must be concluded within 65 days, including a public hearing and decision, with no provision for any extensions.

The panel has also scheduled an Aug. 15 public hearing on a new and separate special permit application for an eight-unit condominium-style active adult community development on a 10-acre parcel on Bokum Road. The proposed Cobblestone Court development would be comprised of four duplex buildings The applicant is local resident and property owner Mark Bombaci under the name Bokum One LLC. The property abuts a little used section of the Valley Railroad line.
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Essex Zoning Commission Approves New Restaurant in Centerbrook Section of Town

30 Main Street, Centerbrook

30 Main Street, Centerbrook

ESSEX — The zoning commission Monday approved a special permit for a new restaurant to be located on the first floor of a partially vacant commercial building at 30 Main St. in the Centerbrook section.

The application of ECC Realty and Colt Taylor was unanimously approved after a brief public hearing where several residents spoke in support of the plans. Taylor told the panel he was raised in Essex,  has been involved with restaurants in both New York and California,and wants to return to open a restaurant in his hometown.

The three-story building at 30 Main St. once housed a restaurant for a few years in the late 1980s, but has housed mostly office uses in recent years. The plans call for a 130-seat restaurant and bar.
In approving the permit, the commission specified that use of the second floor would be limited to a small office for the business and storage. Taylor said he hopes to open the restaurant, which would offer “progressive New England comfort food,” before the end of the year.
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Essex Zoning Commission Approves 52-Unit Apartment Complex on Plains Rd.

The Plains Road property where the Iron Chef restaurant has been long empty has been approved for apartments.

The Plains Road property where the Iron Chef restaurant has been vacant for many years has been approved for the Essex Station apartments.

 

ESSEX — The zoning commission Monday approved plans for a three-building 52-unit apartment complex with an affordable housing component at a 3.7-acre parcel on Plains Road that includes the long-vacant former Iron Chef restaurant property.

The special permit for the Essex Station apartments at 21, 27 and 29 Plains Road was approved o a 4-1 vote, with commission Chairman Larry Shipman and members Alvin Wolfgram, Jim Hill and Susan Uihlein  voting to approve the permit and member William Reichenbach opposed. The application from Signature Contracting Group LLC was submitted under state statute 8-30g, a law intended to promote additional affordable housing in Connecticut.

The statute limits the jurisdiction of municipal land use commissions to issues of public health and safety, while requiring that at least 30 percent of the dwelling units in a development be designated affordable housing and reserved for people or families with incomes at or less than 80 percent of the median income for the municipality. At least 16 of the Essex Station units would be designated as moderate income housing with monthly rents expected to be about $1,800.

The plans were presented at a series of public hearings that began in February, and appeared to generate increasing objections from some residents as the review process continued. Many of the objections focused on the proximity of the site to the Valley Railroad tourist excursion line.

In more than 90 minutes of discussion Monday, the panel considered two draft motions prepared by longtime commission counsel Peter Sipples, one to approve the permit with conditions, and another to deny the application. In the end, the motion of approval included several conditions, most of which had been accepted by the applicant during the public hearing process.

The major conditions include a strict prohibition on any expansion or condominium conversion of the units, construction of a six-foot high security fence around the perimeter of the property,  installing sound barriers if needed between the residential units and the railroad, and construction of a walking-bicycle path on Plains Rd. that would extend east to connect with existing sidewalks on Rte. 154. There would also be a requirement for elevators in the buildings, particularly the single three-story building, and a provision in future leases that would note the proximity to other uses, including the tourist railroad and a nearby wood-processing facility. The development site is located in a business and industrial zone.

During the discussion, Shipman noted the apartments would be a better residential use near the railroad than owned condominiums, and suggested the requirements of the affordable housing statute limited the panel’s ability to control some aspects of the project, including density and building height. The sewage disposal system for the three building complex must be approved by the state Department of Public Health.
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Democrats Nominate Essex First Selectman Needleman for 33rd Senate District Seat

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman (file photo)

AREAWIDE — Democrats Monday nominated Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman to challenge two-term Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook in the 12-town 33rd Senate District.

Needleman, now in a third term as first selectman of Essex, was the unanimous choice of about 50 delegates gathered for the party nominating convention held at Angelico’s Lakehouse in East Hampton. 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.

Linares was first elected in 2012 to the seat, which was held for two decades by the late former State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook.  He won a second term in 2014, defeating Democrat Emily Bjornberg of Lyme on a 22,762-17,326 vote.

Needleman, 64, is a Brooklyn, N.Y. native who has lived in Essex since 1984. He is a founder and owner of Tower Labs, a company that manufactures effervescent products at plants in Clinton and the Centerbrook section of Essex. Needleman was elected to the Essex Board of Selectmen in 2003, and to the position of first selectman in 2011.

Needleman was nominated by Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield, who described Needleman as a “special friend,” who offers voters “three in one, a good person, a good businessperson, and a great local town leader.” Bransfield said getting more municipal leaders elected to the General Assembly would “help save Connecticut” friom its current fiscal problems.

There were seconding remarks from Mary Ellen Klinck of East Haddam, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in a Democratic primary in 2012, former State Rep. Brian O’Connor of Clinton, and 36th District State Representative Phil Miller of Essex, who picked Needleman as his running mate when he served as Essex first selectman from 2003-2011. Miller, who is seeking a third full term this year, described Needleman as “a person who cares for other people and follows through.”

In remarks to the convention, Needleman said small towns like most in the 33rd District are getting hurt as a result of the state’s fiscal problems. Needleman described himself as a “problem solver”, and contended Linares has been “an ineffective legislator who is working on building his own resume and not representing the 33rd District.”

Another candidate who recently expressed interest in the nomination, former Green Party nominee Colin Bennet of Westbrook, was present at the convention, but was not nominated and made no request to address the delegates. Bennet, who garnered 527 votes districtwide as the Green Party nominee in 2014, said he may pursue his campaign as a petition candidate in the Nov. 8 election.
Bennet said the Connecticut Green Party is expected to nominate a different candidate for the 33rd District seat this year.
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Duane Gates Appointed to Open Deep River Selectman Seat

DEEP RIVER — Eight weeks after the unexpected March 25 death of 26-year Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith, the board of selectmen returned to a full complement of members Friday with the appointment of Duane Gates to fill an unexpired term ending in November 2017.

Gates, a Democrat, was appointed at a special meeting by interim First Selectman Angus McDonald Jr., also a Democrat, and Republican Selectman Dave Oliveria to fill the vacancy created last month when McDonald, with Oliveria’s support, was appointed as interim first selectman. Gates was sworn in to office immediately by Town Clerk Amy Winchell.

McDonald said six residents had submitted letters of intent and qualifications since the vacancy was created after his appointment as first selectman on April 21. McDonald said he and Oliveria had met with all of the interested individuals, holding closed door special meetings with prospective candidates on May 14 and last Monday. “It came down to a very difficult decision,” he said.

Gates 52, is a lifelong Deep River resident with a background in the construction industry. Gates currently works as a union representative and recording secretary for the Hamden-based Operating Engineers Union Local 478. He is the married father of a 22-year-old daughter.

Gates has served previously on the local board of education, to which he was first elected as a Republican, and the Region 4 Board of Education, where he served eight years from 2005-2013. Gates was elected to a full six-year term as a Democrat in 2005, and for a two-year vacancy term from 2011-2013.

Gates said he has been interested in serving on the board of selectmen, and had expressed his interest in conversations with Smith. “I am honored to serve the remainder of the term and I look forward to working with Angus and Dave,” he said.

The appointment Friday completes the transition that was forced by Smith’s unexpected death. The Gates appointment could be forced to a special election with a petition signed by at least 158 town voters that must be submitted to the town clerk within 15 days of the appointment. There was no petition for special election with McDonald’s appointment as interim first selectman.

The current terms expire on November 21, 2017, two weeks after the next municipal election on Nov. 7, 2017

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36th House Election a Rematch Between Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller and Republican Bob Siegrist

Republican nominee Bob Siegrist stands with State Senator Art Linares (R-30th) after the former accepted the Republican nomination to run for the State Rep. seat currently held by Phil Miller.

Republican nominee Bob Siegrist (right) stands with State Senator Art Linares (R-33rd), who nominated Siegrist to run for the State Representative seat currently held by Phil Miller (D-36th).

AREAWIDE — Party nominating conventions this week have set up a Nov. 8 election rematch, with Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller’s bid for a third full term facing a challenge from Haddam Republican Bob Siegrist in the 36th House District that is comprised of the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.

In 2014, Siegrist was awarded the GOP nomination in June, following the withdrawal of a candidate nominated at the convention in May. After a spirited campaign, Miller was re-elected on a 5,522-4,701 vote, with Miller carrying Chester, Deep River and Essex and Siegrist carrying Haddam. Miller was elected to the seat in a February 2011 special election while serving his fourth term as first selectman of Essex. He was elected to a full term in 2012.

BobS&woman_204KB

State Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R-34th) offers congratulations to Bob Siegrist.

Siegrist was the unanimous choice of about 15 delegates and supporters at the convention Monday at the Pattaconk Bar & Grille in Chester. Seigrist was nominated by Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook, who holds the 33rd Senate District seat that includes the four district towns. In seconding remarks, Phil Beckman of Essex said Seigrist, “gets the priorities, the budget, economy and taxes,” which he described as the “Bermuda Triangle in the Legislature right now.”

The nomination of Siegrist (left) was seconded by of Essex.

Bob Siegrist (left) stands with Ed Munster.

In brief remarks after the nomination, Seigrist said he would focus on priorities and work to represent all of the residents of the four district towns. Seigrist, 32, currently works with a landscaping business after working previously as a bartender before his 2014 campaign.

Miller was nominated for a third full term Tuesday by delegates gathered in the community room at Chester Town Hall.  He was nominated by Lisa Bibbiani, the Deep River tax collector who said Miller has dedication and a positive attitude. In seconding remarks, Brian Cournoyer, chairman of the Essex Democratic Town Committee, praised the incumbent’s “passion for the environment and the Lower Connecticut River Valley.”

Miller told the delegates that this year’s legislative session, which struggles with a looming state budget deficit, mirrored the situation when he arrived at the Capitol in late February 2011. Miller defended the 2016-2017 budget plan approved by the House last week on a 74-70 vote, noting the plan made tough choices to address the budget deficit, including $900 million in cuts, while avoiding tax increases and a deeper cuts to education funding.

Miller said he was also proud to vote last week against a Republican amendment that would have ended the Citizen’s Election Program funding for legislative campaigns. Miller said the program, established in 2007 under a law pushed by his predecessor in the 36th District seat, current Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone, limits the influence of large campaign contributions while also helping to level the playing field for challengers, including Siegrist. Spallone, an Essex resident, was chairman of the Tuesday convention.

Miller said he plans to run an active and positive campaign, and is ready for public debates with Siegrist. “I’ll be out and about meeting people like I normally do,” he said, adding “It’s my case to make and I think it is going to be clear, if it is not already, that I am a much better candidate.”

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Republicans Nominate Art Linares for Third Term in 33rd Senate District

Sen. Art Linares (File photo)

Sen. Art Linares (File photo)

AREAWIDE — Republicans Tuesday nominated incumbent State Senator Art  Linares of Westbrook for a third term in the 12-town 33rd Senate District. Linares was the unanimous choice of about 45 delegates and alternates gathered for the nominating convention at the Old Town Hall in East Haddam.

Linares is facing a challenge in the Nov. 8 vote from Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman of Essex, who is expected to be nominated for the seat at the Democratic convention on May 23 in East Hampton. Needleman, 64, has served as first selectman of Essex since 2011. 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.

Linares was nominated by State Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Hampton, who described the incumbent as a “great advocate for all of the towns,” in the district. The nomination was seconded by Edward Marcolini of Old Saybrook, who described Linares as, “young, vibrant and personable.”

In brief remarks, Linares said he has worked for spending reform and fiscal responsibility at the capitol, contending that overly optimistic budget planning by legislative Democrats had led to first ever cuts in the state ECS (Education Cost Sharing) grants for cities and towns. Linares, 27, said he is ready for the election challenge. “I stand before you a four-year-veteran, a little more seasoned, but just as ready to knock on thousands of doors and wear out shoes as that 23-year-old kid was four years ago,” he said.

Linares declined to comment on Needleman’s candidacy, but confirmed he is ready to debate his opponent on more than one occasion during the fall campaign.

Linares, a co-founder of the Middletown-based Greenskies solar energy company, was elected in 2012 in a district that has been represented for 20 years by the late former Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook. He won a second term in 2014, defeating democrat Emily Bjornberg of Lyme on a  22,672-17,326 vote in a race where Bjornberg also had the Working Families Party ballot line and Linares had the ballot line of the Connecticut Independent Party.

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Essex First Selectman Needleman Declares as State Senate Democratic Candidate

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman makes a point during his speech announcing his run for the State Senate.

Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman makes a point during his speech announcing his run for the State Senate.

AREAWIDE — Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman Tuesday announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 33rd Senate District, setting up a high profile contest with two-term Republican State Senator Art Linares of Westbrook in the sprawling 10-town district.

Needleman, 65, told a crowd of about 60 friends and supporters gathered at the Gelston House in East Haddam that  he is ready to offer “common sense, sound business judgment, problem-solving skills, and an awareness of how decisions made in Hartford affect our small towns.” Needleman said he would work to build consensus at the Capitol, suggesting the 28-year-old Linares has been “just another partisan voice,” who “retreats to his ideological corners.”

A large crowd of supporters attended the event at the Gelston House in East Haddam.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, Deputy Secretary of the State and former state representative James Spallone and Democratic State Central Committeeman Justin Kronholm applaud Needleman’s announcement

A Brooklyn, N.Y. native who moved to Connecticut in the 1980s, Needleman is the founder and owner of Tower Laboratories, a manufacturer of effervescent products with 200 employees and plants in Essex and Clinton. He was elected to the Essex Board of Selectmen in 2003 as the running mate to former Democratic First Selectman Phill Miller, moving up to the town’s top job after Miller was elected state representative in the 36th House District in 2011. Needleman was unopposed for a second term in 2013, and last fall was re-elected to a third term, defeating Republican Selectman Bruce Glowac by an 80-vote margin.

Needleman said he made a final decision to run for the legislative seat on March 29, the day Linares cast one of only a handful of opposing votes against an interim deficit reduction package that was backed by both Democratic and Republican leaders. Needleman said he is planning an active campaign, and hopes to participate in several public debates with Linares.

Needleman_shaking_hands

Deputy Secretary of the State and former state representative James Spallone congratulates Needleman on the announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 33rd Senate District

Several area  Democratic leaders turned out for Needleman’s announcement, including Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, who described Needleman as a “true humanitarian,” who is widely respected by all of the other mayors and first selectmen in the state.”

Also on hand were the current roster of Democratic chief elected officials in the 10-town district, including  seven-term Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield, who described Needleman as “a man who understands the needs of Middlesex County,” Chester First Selectwoman Lauren Gister, elected last fall, and Deep River First Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. who was appointed as interim first selectman earlier his month after the unexpected death of long-time first selectman Richard Smith.

There was also one apparent Republican supporter in attendance, longtime Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno.

The district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Lyme, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.

Linares, a co-founder of the Greenskies solar energy company, was elected in 2012 to a seat that had been held for two decades by the late former Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook. Linares won a second term in 2014, defeating Democrat Emily Bjornberg of Lyme on a 22,672-17,326 vote in a race where Bjornberg also had the Working Families Party ballot line and Linares had a Connecticut Independent Party ballot line.

Needleman is the only candidate for the Democratic nomination that will be formally awarded at a May 23 convention. Republicans are expected to nominate Linares for a third term at a May 11 convention in East Haddam.  There may also be a Green Party candidate in the race. Colin Bennett of Westbrook, running on the Green Party line, garnered 527 votes in 2014.
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Trump Carries Three Local Towns in GOP Presidential Primary, Democrats Split

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Hilary Clinton

Hilary Clinton

AREAWIDE — Businessman Donald Trump carried Chester, Deep River and Essex as he rolled to a sweeping victory Tuesday in the state presidential primary, while Hillary Clinton carried Essex and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took Chester and Deep River in the Democratic vote.

Clinton, who won the statewide vote, led Sanders in Essex 513-458, with 13 voting uncommitted. In Deep River, Sanders led 339-242, with 6 uncommitted. In Chester, Sanders led  361-277, with 7 uncommitted.

In  the Republican contest, Trump took Essex with 407 votes, with Ohio Governor John Kasich polling 297 votes. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had 73 votes, with 10 uncommitted. In Deep River, Trump led Kasich 173-94, with  29 votes for Cruz and 4 uncommitted. In Chester, Trump led Kasich 133-103, with 27 votes for Cruz and 3 uncommitted.
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Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. Takes Office as Interim First Selectman for Deep River

A new Interim First Selectman for Deep River was sworn in April 21.

A new Interim First Selectman for Deep River was sworn in April 21.

DEEP RIVER — Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. was sworn into office as interim first selectman Thursday after he and Republican Selectman David Olveria voted for his appointment to serve the remainder of the unexpired term of the late Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith.

McDonald, 58, becomes the town’s first new first selectman since November 1989, when Smith was first elected for what would become more than 13 two-year terms in the top job.  McDonald will serve the remainder of the unexpired term ending on Nov. 22, 2017.
The two remaining selectmen had 30 days from Smith’s unexpected death on March 25 to appoint a successor, a period that was expected to expire Monday.  McDonald and Oliveria had discussed the appointment in two closed session special meetings held on April 7 and April 18.

Oliveria, in making a motion to appoint McDonald, said, “We have considered all options in front of us and feel that this is the right choice for Deep River at this time.”  McDonald said he looks forward to working in the best interests of the town over the next 20 months.  “It’s an honor to be in this position and to be asked to do it,” he said, adding that he and Oliveria’s agreement on the appointment is, “A good example of how a small town can pull together.”

The co-owner of an Old Saybrook-based engineering firm, McDonald moved to Deep River in 2005 after living previously in Old Saybrook and Westbrook.  He was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for first selectman of Westbrook in 1999, and served on the Westbrook Board of Selectmen.  McDonald was first elected to the Deep River Board of Selectmen as Smith’s running-mate in 2011.  He is married to Andrea Isaacs, and the couple own the Lace Factory building near the town’s riverfront landing.

Minutes after the appointment vote, McDonald received the oath of office from Town Clerk Amy Winchell.  McDonald’s appointment creates a new vacancy ion the board of selectmen, an opening that McDonald and Oliveria now have 30 days, or until about May 20, to fill by appointment.

McDonald said any resident interested in serving as selectman through November 2017 should send a letter of intent and qualifications to his office as soon as possible. McDonald said the interim selectman does not have to be a Democrat, with Oliveria saying qualifications and “a cooperative board” would be factors in the appointment decision.

The interim appointments could be forced to special elections with petitions signed by five percent of the town’s total voter registration, or about 158 signatures.  Petitions must be filed within 15 days of an appointment.
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Essex Zoning Commission Approves Centerbrook Cumberland Farms Rebuild, Expansion

ESSEX — The zoning commission has approved a special permit for a demolition/rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms store in Centerbrook section. The permit was approved on a unanimous vote Monday night after the panel closed a three session public heating on the project.

The permit will allow a 4,250 square-foot store that would double the size of the existing building, along with a third gasoline pumping station. The new building would also have public restrooms, a first for the Centerbrook section.

The project had drawn opposition from some residents over the three public hearings, with most objections focused on the size of the canopy over the six gasoline fueling stations. Some residents questioned the need for a third pump, though attorney Joseph Williams, representing Cumberland Farms, said the company would not pursue the expansion and improvement project without a third gasoline pump.

The commission imposed several conditions on the permit approval, setting the length of the canopy at 74 feet, and requiring a fire suppression system as part of the structure. The panel required a 24-foot distance between fueling stations, while also calling for the pumps to be set at an angle unless engineers for the applicant convince town engineers that this would interfere with traffic flow on the property. The panel also required two additional parking spaces, raising the total number of designated spaces to 24, with an area for eight reserve parking spaces to be designated on the site plan.

Another key condition requires the applicant to present a more detailed drawing of the south sight line along Westbrook Rd. (Rte. 153), particularly the abutting residential property on Westbrook Rd. that is owned by Town Clerk Joel Marzi. Marzi had asked for more information on the sight lines at Monday’s session, with commission member Alvin Wolfgram noting the issue is important because Marzi has the right to erect a fence on his property that could block sight line for motorists exiting on to Westbrook Rd.

The commission has continued a separate public hearing on site plan approval for a 52-unit apartment complex on Plains Rd. to a special meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. in town hall. The multi-family housing development would be located on a 3.7-acre parcel that would be created by combining parcels at 21, 27, and 29 Plains Rd., including the site of the long vacant former Iron Chef restaurant property. The apartments would be constructed in three separate buildings, with 16 units designated as affordable housing under a state law intended to encourage development of more affordable housing in Connecticut.

The plans for the Essex Station Luxury Apartments were first presented at a Feb. 22 public hearing that has been continued two times, on March 21 and Monday. Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said the panel intends to close the public hearing Monday, and would then have 65 days, or until late June, to vote on the site plan approval.

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No Action Yet on Deep River First Selectman Vacancy

Deep River Town Hall

A new Deep River First Selectman will be appointed by April 25.

DEEP RIVER — The two remaining members of the board of selectmen, Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. and Republican Dave Oliveria, met Wednesday, but took no action on filling the top job vacancy created by the March 25 death of longtime Democratic First Selectmen Richard Smith.

Oliveria told a handful of residents at the board’s regular meeting he and McDonald were “not ready” to act on a first selectman appointment Tuesday. Oliveria said he and McDonald would hold two special meetings next week, a closed session discussion with one prospective candidate for a seat on the board, followed by another special meeting later in the week to vote on a first selectman appointment. The two selectmen have already held one special meeting closed session discussion on the vacancy, an April 7 session that lasted about 30 minutes.

The state law governing filling of vacancies gives the two remaining selectmen 30 days to appoint a first selectman who would serve the remainder of Smith’s unexpired term ending in November 2017. Town officials have agreed the deadline for making an appointment is Monday, April 25.

McDonald said after the brief meeting he and Oliveria are seeking to “work cooperatively” on filling the vacancy. “A lot of thought is going in to this because it’s a really important role,” he said. But McDonald, who was first elected with Smith in 2011,  added that he remains interested in filling the open position for the next 19 months. A co-owner of an engineering firm, McDonald said he continues to discuss the possibility of assuming the first selectman job with his partners.

An appointment of McDonald as first selectman would create a new vacancy on the three-member board that would be filled under the same appointment procedure, with the same 30 days for action deadline.

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Deep River Selectmen Make No Decision on First Selectman Vacancy, Town Department Heads Reporting to Democrat Angus McDonald Jr.

DEEP RIVER— The two remaining members of the board of selectmen, Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. and Republican David Oliveria, Thursday made no decision on appointing an interim first selectman to fill the vacancy created by the March 25 death of longtime Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith.

More than 30 residents filled the meeting room at town hall Thursday as the selectmen held their first meeting since Smith’s death. In a prepared statement, Oliveria said he and McDonald would be working together to manage the town until the appointment of an interim first selectman, who would serve the reminder of Smith’s unexpired 14th term ending on Nov. 20, 2017.

Oliveria said they hope to make an appointment “as soon as possible,” while adding that until then town department heads will be reporting to McDonald, who will be keeping late afternoon office hours at town hall beginning Tuesday.  State statute gives the two remaining selectmen 30 days to appoint an interim first selectman, a period that runs through at least April 22.

If Democrat McDonald and Republican Oliveria cannot agree on an appointment, the statute would also give Democratic elected officials, including Selectman McDonald, the tax collector and the registrar of voters, an opportunity to make an appointment.  McDonald said after Thursday’s brief special meeting that he is “interested” in serving as interim first selectman, but has not yet made a final commitment with the Deep River Democratic Town Committee to accept the appointment.

Elected with Smith in 2011, McDonald is a co-owner of the Angus McDonald Associates engineering firm. McDonald said he is discussing with colleagues at the firm whether he would be able to serve as interim first selectman for the next 20 months. McDonald said he is hopeful the selectmen could vote on an appointment at the board’s next regular meeting on April 12. “We have 30 days and we may need 30 days but I hope not,” he said. The appointment of either McDonald or Oliveria as interim first selectman would create a new vacancy on the board that would be filled under the statutory appointment process. Any appointment of an interim first selectman, or even a new member of the board, could be forced to a special election with a petition signed by at least five percent of the town’s total registered voters, or about 158 voter signatures. The petition would have to be filed with the town clerk within 15 days of any appointment.

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Area Residents Pack Dick Smith Funeral Service at Chester Church

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St. Joseph RC Church, Chester, where hundreds of area residents turned out to participate in the funeral service for the late, longtime Deep River First Selectman Richard H. “Smitty” Smith.

CHESTER — St. Joseph RC Church was packed Thursday as hundreds of area residents turned out to participate in the funeral service for the late, longtime Deep River First Selectman Richard H. “Smitty” Smith.

The mass of Christian burial followed a three-hour wake and viewing Tuesday evening at Deep River Town Hall where more than 1,000 citizens turned out to file through the second floor auditorium to pay final respects to Smith, who died suddenly on March 25 at age 65. Smith, a Democrat first elected in 1989, was the longest serving chief elected official in Middlesex County, and one of the longest serving municipal elected leaders in the entire state.

Representatives of various organizations, including the police and Deep River Fife & Drum Corps., stand somberly outside Chester RC Church prior to the funeral service for Richard "Smitty" Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Representatives of various organizations, including the police and Deep River Fife & Drum Corps., stand somberly outside Chester RC Church prior to the funeral service for Richard “Smitty” Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

The hour-long service had much of the pageantry of a state funeral, with a squad of Connecticut state troopers in full dress uniform and a police bagpiper, along with dozens of uniformed volunteer firefighters with the large ladder trucks from both the Deep River and Essex volunteer fire departments. Smith had also served as a part-time town police officer since 1973.

The sad task of removing the coffin from the hearse.  Photo by Kim Tyler.

The sad task of removing the coffin from the hearse. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Present were many of the current selectmen from area towns, but the crowd also included former first selectmen from towns such as Essex, Killingworth, and Old Lyme, who worked with Smith on regional issues during his long 26-year tenure. Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman was one of the speakers, describing Smith as a “cheerleader for economic development and a relentless advocate for small towns.” Wyman said Smith’s legacy would be, “Serve your community proudly.”

flag_outside_church

Photo by Kim Tyler

Grieving town hall employees filled the front seats of the church, with Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani and selectmen’s assistant Gina Sopneski speaking about their fond memories of Smith. Bibbiani said Smith was an elected leader, who was always “approachable to everyone,” adding, “Dick Smith was sincere, he was honest, he was loyal, and he was funny.”

After the service, with the bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” Smith was laid to rest in a plot at the cemetery that is part of the church property on Rte. 154.

 

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Farewell, Dick ... farewell.

Farewell, Dick … farewell.

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Hundreds Vigil for Late First Selectman Richard Smith, Selectmen to Meet Thursday to Discuss Succession

Candles are lit in honor of " a remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River." Photo by Kim Tyler.

Candles are lit in honor of Dick Smith’s “… remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River.” (Angus McDonald Jr.)  Photo by Kim Tyler.

DEEP RIVER — The town showed its affection and appreciation for the late First Selectman Richard H. “Smitty” Smith Monday as hundreds gathered at sunset around town hall in a vigil for the longtime municipal leader who died suddenly Friday at age 65.

Hundreds gathered at Deep River Town Hall yesterday evening to pay tribute to their beloved First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered at Deep River Town Hall Monday evening to pay tribute to their beloved First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday afternoon.

The vigil, which precedes the funeral for Smith Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph Church in Chester, came as the two remaining members of the board of selectman, Democrat Angus McDonald Jr. and Republican David Oliveria, scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the process for filling the vacancy for the remainder of Smith’s term that runs through November 2017.

A quiet, candlelit moment of contemplation on a life well lived.

A quiet, candlelit moment of contemplation on a life well lived. Photo by Kim Tyler.

McDonald, who joined Oliveria to meet with town hall employees Monday afternoon, said the special meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. in town hall would review “temporary organizational changes to cover leadership in the coming month.” McDonald, who was first elected with Smith in 2011, said he and Oliveria are still discussing who would assume the full-time job of interim first selectman through the unexpired term. The appointment of either McDonald or Oliveria to the top job would also create a new vacancy on the board of selectman.

A boy sets a candle in remembrance of Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away last Friday, March 25.

During the vigil, a boy places a candle on the town hall steps in remembrance of Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith, who passed away Friday, March 25.  Photo by Kim Tyler.

“Dick Smith leaves a remarkable legacy to service, commitment, and dedication to the people of Deep River,” McDonald said. “While we know we can never replace him, we have an obligation to our community to move quickly to fill the vacancy.”

Photo by Kim Tyler.

Candles light the faces of those gathered to remember Deep River First Selectman Richard “Smitty” Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Town officials from both political parties joined elected officials from around the state in praising Smith, a Democrat whose 26-year tenure made him one of the longest serving municipal chief elected officials for both Middlesex County and the entire state. A South Carolina native who arrived in Connecticut around 1970, Smith was elected first selectman in 1989, and had been unopposed for a 14th consecutive term in the town election last fall. Smith had also served as a part-time town police officer since 1973.

Candles and roses are held in remembrance of Richard "Smitty" Smith at Monday night's vigil. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Candles and roses are held in remembrance of Richard “Smitty” Smith at Monday night’s vigil. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Oliveria, first elected to the board in 2009, said Smith had done “an incredible job as first selectman running all aspects of the town.” Town Treasurer Tom Lindner, a Republican who was elected to the part-time position in 1989, said Smith was “always there for everybody in Deep River.”

State Senator Phil Miller addresses the vigil participants.

State Rep. Phil Miller speaks at Monday’s vigil. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Speakers at the vigil, where residents of Deep River and other nearby towns held lighted candles and roses in honor of the longtime town leader, recalled Smith’s tireless dedication to the town and its people. Jonathan Kastner, the first selectman’s assistant and friend, said Smith was “a problem solver who somehow found a way to keep adversaries from being too adversarial.” State Rep. Phil Miller, a former first selectman of Essex, said Smith was “a role model for anyone in any kind of public service.”

Photo by Kim Tyler.

Remembering a leader who Sen. Phil Miller described as, “a role model for anyone in any kind of public service.”  Photo by Kim Tyler.

Smith built a record of accomplishment that changed and improved Deep River during his 26 years as first selectman. There is the row of fully occupied industrial buildings at the Plattwood Park Industrial Area off Rte. 80, a 20-year- development process where Smith earned statewide recognition for using state and federal grant funds to construct buildings for small or start-up businesses as a way to help grow the town’s tax base. One of Smith’s most recent accomplishments was a Main Street redevelopment effort that began in 2005, and concluded in 2009 with construction of a Walgreen’s pharmacy on the former Deep River Inn parcel, along with various streetscape improvements for the entire length of Main Street.

Photo by Kim Tyler.

Richard “Smitty” Smith: In Memoriam.  Photo by Kim Tyler.

State statute gives the two remaining selectmen up to 30 days from March 26, the day after Smith’s death, to appoint an interim first selectman who would serve until November 2017. The appointment could be forced to a special election by a petition with signatures from five percent of the town’s total voter registration, or about 158 voter signatures, that must be submitted within 15 days after any appointment to fill the vacancy.

Roses in remembrance of Richard "Smitty" Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Roses in remembrance of Richard “Smitty” Smith. Photo by Kim Tyler.

Editor’s Note: Deep River resident and professional photographer Kim Tyler, who graciously supplied all of these photos to ValleyNewsNow.com for publication, has also generously agreed to make many of the photos that she took at the vigil available to our readers at no charge.  We applaud her wonderful act of public service.  The photos will be uploaded later this evening and we will provide a link to them at that time.  For more information about Kim Tyler Photography, visit ktphoto.net

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Essex Zoning Commission Continues Hearings on Cumberland Farms Rebuild, Plains Rd. Apartments to April 18

ESSEX — The zoning commission has continued to April 18 the public hearings on separate applications for a rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms store at 82 Main St. in the Centerbrook section, and a 52-unit apartment complex with an affordable housing component on Plains Rd.

Both applicants agreed at public hearings Monday to extend the legal deadline for closure of the public hearings on the two applications.  Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said the extensions will require the commission to vote on April 18 on the site plan review application from Signature Contracting Group LLC of Westport for the apartments, while the panel will have until June to act on the Cumberland Farms application.

The Cumberland Farms application includes a demolition, rebuild, and expansion of the existing store to include three gasoline pumping stations under an canopy.  The new 4,250-square-foot store would include a public restroom, a new septic system, and lighting.  The size of the canopy, along with the need for a third pumping station, generated the most discussion, and some objections, Monday.

Nearby residents  Robert and Laurie Hernandez objected to the size of the canopy, which would be about 80-feet long, and the third pumping station.  Laurie Hernandez said the applicants were ‘trying to jam and prototype onto a very small lot,” to build “something that would be at an I-95 off ramp.”

Joel Marzi, the town clerk who is an abutting property owner at 21 Westbrook Rd., said he has concerns about the size of the canopy, but would also appreciate an upgrade of the site.

Joan Wallace, who lives on the opposite side of Westbrook Rd., said she has concerns about the canopy, lighting, and also traffic flow, contending there are already traffic backups for vehicles heading north to the Centerbrook traffic light.  Wallace asked if Cumberland Farms would be willing to proceed with an expansion and upgrade of the store without a third fuel pumping station.

Joseph Williams, an attorney for Cumberland Farms with the firm of Shipman & Goodwin, said an additional fueling station was key to the company’s plan to pursue an estimated $3 million expansion and upgrade of the store.  Two residents, Kenneth Bombaci and Strickland Hyde, spoke in support of the project.

With several issues still under discussion, and approval of the new septic system still pending from the town health department, Williams agreed to continue the hearing to April 18.

The site plan for the apartment complex on a 3.7-acre parcel that would combine parcels at 21, 27, and 29 Plains Rd., including the long vacant Iron Chef restaurant property, has been filed under state statute 8-30g, which is intended to encourage additional affordable housing in Connecticut.  The proposed 52 units in three separate buildings would include 16 units designated as moderate income housing.  Each building would have a septic system, which requires approval from the state Department of Public Health.

One new development Monday came when lawyer John Bennet announced that he has been designated an intervener in the application process for Northbound 9 LLC, which owns the commercial building on the opposite side of Plains Rd.  The building contains the office of Bennet’s law firm, and a local construction company.

Bennet said the objections to the project focus on the potential for “environmental damage.”  Under the 8-30g law, the commission could reject the application only for public health and safety reasons.

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Essex Zoning Commission Resumes Public Hearings Monday on Apartment Complex and Centerbrook Cumberland Farms Rebuild

ESSEX — The zoning commission will resume public hearings Monday on two large-scale development proposals, a proposed 52-unit apartment complex on Plains Rd., and a rebuild and expansion of the Cumberland Farms store at 82 Main St. in the Centerbrook section. The hearings reconvene at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.

Public hearings on both proposals opened on Feb. 22. Signature Contracting Group LLC of Westport is seeking site plan approval for 52 apartment units in three buildings on a 3.7-acre parcel that would combine properties at 21, 27, and 29 Plains Road. The parcel at 21 Plains Rd. was the site of the former Iron Chef restaurant, and was previously the location of a bowling alley and the Essex Junction restaurant and movie theatre. Now owned by Treuhold Essex LLC of Scarsdale, N.Y. it has been vacant for about nine years. The properties at 27 and 29 Plains Rd. are residential properties owned by the local Costa family.

The plans for the Essex Station Luxury Apartments call for 52 units in three buildings, including two buildings with three floors and one two-story structure. Thirty percent of the units, or16 units, would be designated as moderate income housing under state statute 8-30g, which was adopted more than a decade ago to promote low and moderate income housing in Connecticut. The maximum rent for these units would be about $1,800 per month.

Because the site plan review application is filed as a proposed 8-30g project, the commission faces some limits on its authority to reject or demand major changes in the plans. Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said the panel has been advised by legal counsel that it could only reject the project for reasons directly related to safety and public health. Budrow said the plans drew a generally mild reaction at the Feb. 22 hearing , with “questions but not a lot of vocal opposition.”

The Cumberland Farms project calls for demolition of the 1,800-square-foot existing store that opened in the 1990s, replacing it with a 4,200-square-foot store with three gasoline pump islands, one more than the two currently on site. The pumping stations would be under a 24-foot by 55-foot canopy. The plan drew some objections at the Feb. 22 hearing, mostly focused on traffic flow and the size of the canopy.

Budrow said legal timelines require the commission to close the public hearing on the Plains Rd. apartment complex, and vote on the application Monday, unless the applicant approves an extension that would push the deadline for a decision to April 18. He said the panel also faces an April deadline for action on the Cumberland Farms project.

Another public hearing on a new application scheduled to open Monday is for a proposed take-out pizza shop in a section of the former Ivoryton Store building at 104 Main St. in the Ivoryton section. The applicant is Paul Cappazone.

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Town Committees Reorganize for 2016-18 Term

CHESTER / DEEP RIVER / ESSEX — Democratic and Republican Town Committees for Chester, Deep River, and Essex have reorganized for the 2016-2018 term after party caucuses held in January. The new town committees will pick delegates for state and district nominating conventions in May, and also nominate candidates for the next town elections in 2017.

One new twist in the process this year is a new state law requiring signatures from all prospective town committee members at the time of the caucus. Republicans in Chester and Deep River were unable to secure some signatures in time for the caucus, but will fill out the membership by appointments when the new committees are seated in March.

CHESTER — Chester Democrats have picked a 25-member town committee with six new members, including newly elected First Selectwoman Lauren Gister, Trisha Brookhart, Ted Taigen, Jacqueline Stack, Michael Price, Isaac Ruiz, and Susan Wright. Incumbents returning to the town committee are former First Selectman Edmund Meehan, Sandy Senior-Dauer, David Fitzgibbons, Lynne Stiles, Henry Krempel,, newly elected Selectwoman Charlene Janecek, Robert Gorman, Roger Goodnow, Marta Daniels, Lori Ann Clymas.

Chester Republicans picked a 26-member town committee that includes five new members, newly elected Selectwoman Carolyn Linn, Mandy Grass, Chris Fryxell, Meredith Devancy, and Robert Blair, who is the son of former longtime Republican First Selectman Robert Blair. Returning incumbents are Mario Gioco, former Selectman Bruce Watrous, Beverly Watrous, Joyce Aley, Joel Severance, former Selectman Tom Englert, Terri Englert, Karl Ohaus, Tracey Ohaus, Jonui Malcynsky, David Clark, John Hutson, Kristina Seifert, Melvin Seifert, Victor Hoehnebart, Jill Sakidovitch, Brian Sakidovitch, Jamie Grzybowski, Alex Strekel, and Virgil Lloyd.

DEEP RIVER — Democrats have picked a 22-member town committee that is comprised entirely of incumbents. The committee includes Carmela Balducci, Leigh Balducci, Richard Balducci, Stephen Bibbiani Lisa Bibbiani, Richard Daniels Jr. Dorothy DeMichael, Bruce Edgarton, Janet Edgarton, Nancy Fischbach, Joanne Grabek, George Howard, Ann Joy, Jonathan Kastner, Russell Marth, Karol Tulp Magee, Mary Maraschiello, Roy Monte, Valerie Nucci, Mark Reyher, Selectman Angus McDonald Jr., and First Selectman Richard Smith.

Republicans have picked a 15-member town committee that includes two new members, Dale Winchell and Mark Grabowski. Returning incumbents are Greg Alexander, Douglas Dopp, Michelle Grow, Alice Johnson, Town Treasurer Tom Lindner, Doug Nagan, Selectman David Oliveria, Rolf Peterson, Grace Stalsburg, Cynthia Stannard, Rosemary Unan, Donald Routh, and Town Clerk Amy Winchell.

ESSEX — Democrats have selected a 28-member town committee that includes three new members, William French, Ellen Pfarr and Yolanda Lowe. Returning incumbents are John Bairos, Mark Bombaci, Brian Cournoyer, former First Selectman Carl Ellison, Lois Ely, Geraldine Ficarra, Town Treasurer Jim Francis, Frank Hall, Tax Collector Megan Haskins, Campbell Hudson, Jonathan James,,Louise Ketron, Loretta McClosky, State Rep. Phil Miller, First Selectman Norman Needleman, Selectwoman Stacia Llibby, Lon Eeidman, Stanly Sheppard, Mary Ellen Pleva, James Spallone, John Stannard, Claire Tiernan ,Kathleen Tucker, Alvin Wolfgram, and Lawrence Shipman.

Republicans have picked a 25-member town committee that includes five new members The new members are Mary Louise Till, Keith Russell, Lynn Herlihy, John Frese, and Phil Beckman, the party’s unsuccessful nominee for board of selectmen in the 2015 town election. Returning GOP incumbents are  Susie Beckman, Kenneth Biombaci, Herb Clark, Edward Cook, Peter Decker, Ann Dixon, Selectman Bruce Glowac, Robert Fisher, D.G. Fitton,, Adrienne Forrest, John Heiser, James Hill, Jerri MacMillian, Bruce MacMillian, Town Clerk Joel Marzi, Barbara Ryan, David Sousa, Alice Van Dueursen, Gary Van Deursen, and  June Wilson.
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Chester Grand List Registers Small Increase

CHESTER – The grand list of taxable property in Chester showed little growth last year. Assessor Loreta Zdanys filed an October 2015 grand list that totals $443,781,440, an increase of $7,954,680, or 0.18 percent, over the 2014 grand list total. The increase would generate about $201,000 in new revenue at the current property tax rate of 25.32 mills.

The increase was smaller than 2014, when the grand list increased by a full one percent after dropping almost 12 percent the previous year with the townwide property revaluation that was completed in 2013. The 2015 list shows small increases in all three categories.

The net real estate total of $400,628,690 is up by $7,579,130 from the 2014 real estate total. The personal property total of $14,842,130 is up by $366,403 from the 2014 personal property total. The motor vehicles total of $28,310,620 is up by a tiny $9,167 from the previous year.

The list of the Chester’s top ten taxpayers is unchanged from recent years. Here are the top ten taxpayers with 2015 assessment totals.

  1. Chester Woods Inc. (Chester Village West) – $14,845,590
  2. Whelen Engineering Co,. Inc. – $6,760,220
  3. Connecticut Water Company – $5,211,140
  4. Eversource Energy Service Company – $4,652,850
  5. Whelen Aviation LLC (Chester Airport) – $3,843,340
  6. The Eastern Corp. – $3,648,140
  7. Roto Frank of America Inc. – $2,467,370
  8. Margaret & Robert Spriglio (Aaron Manor) – $2,237,320
  9. Chester Point Real Estate LLC – $2,079,830
  10. Arthur & Judith Schaller (residential) – $2,045,890
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Town Committees in Essex Selected for 2016-18 Term

ESSEX – Democratic and Republican town committees for Essex have reorganized for the 2016-2018 term after party caucuses held in January. The new town committees will pick delegates for state and district nominating conventions in May. They will also nominate candidates for the next town elections in 2017.

Essex Democrats selected a 28-member town committee that includes three new members, William French, Ellen Pfarr and Yolanda Lowe. Returning incumbents are John Bairos, Mark Bombaci, Brian Cournoyer, former First Selectman Carl Ellison, Lois Ely, Geraldine Ficarra, Town Treasurer Jim Francis, Frank Hall, Tax Collector Megan Haskins, Campbell Hudson, Jonathan James, Louisa Ketron, Loretta McClosky, State Rep. Phil Miller, First Selectman Norman Needleman, Selectwoman Stacia Libby, Lon Seidman, Stanley Sheppard, Mary Ellen Pleva, James Spallone, John Stannard, Claire Tiernan, Kathleen Tucker, Alvin Wolfgram and Lawrence Shipman.

Essex Republicans picked a 25-member town committee that includes five new members, Mary Louise Till, Keith Russell, Lynn Herlihy, John Frese, and Phil Beckman, the party’s unsuccessful nominee for board of selectmen in the 2015 town election. Returning GOP incumbents are  Susie Beckman, Kenneth Bombaci, Herb Clark, Edward Cook, Peter Decker, Ann Dixon, Selectman Bruce Glowac, Robert Fisher, D.G. Fitton, Adrienne Forrest, John Heiser, James Hill, Jerri MacMillian, Bruce MacMillian, Town Clerk Joel Marzi, Barbara Ryan, David Sousa, Alice Van Deursen, Gary Van Deursen and  June Wilson.

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Deep River Republican and Democratic Town Committees Reorganize for 2016-18 Term

DEEP RIVER – Deep  River’s Democratic and Republican town committees have reorganized for the 2016-2018 term after party caucuses held in January. The new town committees will pick delegates for state and district nominating conventions in May. They will also nominate candidates for the next town elections in 2017.

One new twist in the process this year is a new state law requiring signatures from all prospective town committee members at the time of the caucus. Deep River Republicans were unable to secure some signatures in time for the caucus, but will fill out the membership by appointments when the new committees are seated in March.

Democrats picked a 22-member town committee that is comprised entirely of incumbents. The committee includes Carmela Balducci, Leigh Balducci, Richard Balducci, Stephen Bibbiani, Lisa Bibbiani, Richard Daniels Jr., Dorothy DeMichael, Bruce Edgarton, Janet Edgarton, Nancy Fischbach, Joanne Grabek, George Howard, Ann Joy, Jonathan Kastner, Russell Marth, Karol Tulp Magee, Mary Maraschiello, Roy Monte, Valerie Nucci, Mark Reyher, Selectman Angus McDonald Jr. and First Selectman Richard Smith.

Republicans chose a 15-member town committee that includes two new members, Dale Winchell and Mark Grabowski. Returning incumbents are Greg Alexander, Douglas Dopp, Michelle Grow, Alice Johnson, Town Treasurer Tom Lindner, Doug Nagan, Selectman David Oliveria, Rolf Peterson, Grace Stalsburg, Cynthia Stannard, Rosemary Unan, Donald Routh and Town Clerk Amy Winchell.

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Chester Town Committees Reorganize for 2016-18 Term

CHESTER – Democratic and Republican town committees for Chester have reorganized for the 2016-18 term after party caucuses held in January. The new town committees will pick delegates for state and district nominating conventions in May. They will also nominate candidates for the next town elections in 2017.

One new twist in the process this year is a new state law requiring signatures from all prospective town committee members at the time of the caucus. Republicans in Chester were unable to secure some signatures in time for the caucus, but will fill out the membership by appointments when the new committees are seated in March.

Chester Democrats have picked a 25-member town committee with six new members, including newly elected First Selectwoman Lauren Gister, Trisha Brookhart, Ted Taigen, Jacqueline Stack, Michael Price, Isaac Ruiz and Susan Wright. Incumbents returning to the town committee are former First Selectman Edmund Meehan, Sandy Senior-Dauer, David Fitzgibbons, Lynne Stiles, Henry Krempel,, newly elected Selectwoman Charlene Janecek, Robert Gorman, Roger Goodnow, Marta Daniels and Lori Ann Clymas.

Chester Republicans chose a 26-member town committee that includes five new members: newly elected Selectwoman Carolyn Linn, Mandy Grass, Chris Fryxell, Meredith Devaney, and Robert Blair, who is the son of former longtime Republican First Selectman Robert Blair. Returning incumbents are Mario Gioco, former Selectman Bruce Watrous, Beverly Watrous, Joyce Aley, Joel Severance, former Selectman Tom Englert, Terri Englert, Karl Ohaus, Tracey Ohaus, Jonui Malcynsky, David Clark, John Hutson, Kristina Seifert, Melvin Seifert, Victor Hoehnebart, Jill Sakidovitch, Brian Sakidovitch, Jamie Grzybowski, Alex Strekel and Virgil Lloyd.

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Essex Grand List Shows Slight Increase

ESSEX — The grand list of taxable property remained flat in 2015, showing only a slight 0.38 percent increase that was nearly identical to a similar tiny rise in 2014. Assessor Jessica Sypher has filed an October 2015 grand list that totals $1,040,877,591, a net increase of $3,950,411, or 0.38 percent, from the 2014 grand list total.

Sypher said a small decrease in the real estate assessment total was offset by modest increases in the assessment totals for personal property and motor vehicles. The $3,950,411 increase would generate about $83,000 in new tax revenue at the current property tax rate of 21.08 mills. The 0.38 percent increase for 2015 was nearly identical to the slight 0.36 percent rise in the 2014 grand list.

The net assessment total for real estate was $942,723,310, representing a decrease of $523,140 from the 2014 real estate assessment total.  Sypher said nearly all of the decrease resulted from a property owner’s decision to combine two building lots in the high value Foxboro Point subdivision on the Connecticut River.

The net assessment total for motor vehicles was $63,713,960, representing an increase of  $832,790 from the 2014 real estate total. The net assessment total for personal property was $34,440,321, representing an increase of $3,640,761 from the 2014 personal property total. Sypher said nearly all of the increase resulted from the new Southern Connecticut Gas Company natural gas line that was installed in sections of town last year.

The town’s top ten taxpayers showed one change from recent years. Solid waste hauler All Waste Inc. edged local businessman Herbert Clark III, who owns various residential, commercial and industrial properties. Following are the top ten taxpayers with current assessment totals:

  1. Essex Meadows Inc. — $22,875,400
  2. Lee Company — $15,633,120
  3. Connecticut Light & Power — $7,185,030
  4. SKR Partners LLC — $4,315,000
  5. All Waste Inc. — $4,147,560
  6. River Properties Inc. — $3,624,190
  7. Griswold Inn LLC — $3,377,680
  8. Stephen R. Cline Successor Trustee — $3,322,800
  9. Essex Savings Bank — $3,305,820
  10. MacBeth Ventures LLC — $2,759,500
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Revaluation Leads to $9 Million Decrease in Deep River Grand List

DEEP RIVER — A townwide property revaluation update completed last year has resulted in a 1.81 percent decrease in the grand list of taxable property.  Assessor Robin O’Loughlin has filed an October 2015 grand list that totals $490,476,253, a decrease of $9,076,156, or 1.81 percent, from the 2014 grand list total.  Small increases in assessment totals for motor vehicles and personal property were offset by an $11.96 million decrease in the real estate assessment total.

The revaluation update, required every five years under state law, was completed last year by O’Loughlin with assistance from Vision Appraisal of Northboro, Mass.  The town had used Vision Appraisal for the full property revaluation, including visual inspections of properties, that was done in 2010.

O’Loughlin said the decrease was less than expected, and smaller than the drop that had occurred with the 2010 revaluation.  The $9 million decrease would represent a loss of about $238,500 in tax revenue at the current property  tax rate of 26.28 mills, or $26.28 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.  The real estate assessment total was $430,864,720, a decrease of $11,960,340, or about 2.6 percent, from the 2014 real estate total.

The assessment total for motor vehicles was $35,876,260, representing an increase of $1,732,036. The personal property assessment total was $423,735,273, representing an increase of $1,152,148.

First Selectman Richard Smith said assessments for commercial and industrial properties in Deep River increased, despite the drop in assessed values for residential properties.  “We knew it was going to come,” Smith said of the grand list decrease, adding that effect on tax bills would vary between properties.  O’Loughlin said the revaluation was a “smooth process” that has generated few objections from property owners.  “It’s a market adjustment over five years,” she said.

The list of the town’s top ten taxpayers was largely unchanged from recent years.  Following are the top ten taxpayers with assessment totals.  The Boyd-Dernocoeur and Matalaniec accounts are for high value residential properties.

  • Connecticut Light & Power Co. — $5,649,517
  • BDRM Inc. — $4,197,840
  • Mislick Family Limited Partnership — $3,300,150
  • Silgan Plastics Corp. — $3,079,637
  • Deep River Associates LLC — $2,695,770
  • Connecticut Water co. — $2,587,473
  • 180 Main St. Partners LLC — $2,314,620
  • Thomas Boyd & K. Dernocoeur — $2,269,930
  • Goodspeed Lasng Co. LLC — $2,218,790
  • Zbigniew Matulaniec — $2,159,290
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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$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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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