August 14, 2022

Departing Essex First Selectman Philip Miller Looks Back at his Record of Service to the Town

Former First Selectman Philip Miller at the new boat ramp at the end of Main Street in Essex

Question:What were your first priorities as First Selectman of Essex?

Miller: Several things; first, my philosophy was to promote Essex’s  commercial and light industrial base, and to keep residential taxation manageable, not by offering tax breaks or other gimmicks, but by keeping our tax rate low and investing in infrastructure. This would enable us to move goods and people safely and efficiently, and to avoid costlier deferred maintenance later in our facilities.


Question: Did you inherit a lot of deferred maintenance in the town, when you first took office?

Miller: Yes, we did have a lot of deferred maintenance, because in the nineties our population grew rapidly, and we added so many more children in our schools that in order to keep taxes from rising dramatically, maintenance had been sacrificed here and there.


Question: How did you address this problem?

Miller: We have a small municipal workforce, so I recruited talented, citizen volunteers to help research grants and to write them, and when grants were approved, these volunteers helped us to prepare bid packages, choose subcontractors, and review plans with our professionals. Also, we have used our Public Works Director, David Caroline, as our General Contractor, and we subcontracted out labor and materials.


Question: Did you encounter any problems with the approach?

Miller: With a few of a dozen projects we faced some delays, as with our first Small Cities grant at Essex Court, and with an Essex Elementary School project. Also, on a few occasions, when our applications were stalled, we received some helpful advocacy from our legislators like Senator Eileen Daily.


Question: What are some specific grants that you were successful in getting?

Miller: Well, the $190,000 Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) funded three projects; (1) reconstructed the boat launch at the end of Main Street last winter; (2) the recently completed Novelty Lane public access project, which received some financial help from a neighbor to resolve a drainage issue; and (3) construction of a new paddle launch also at the foot of Main Street. Yet another grant also allowed for the construction of a new paddle park at the foot of Teal Lane off of Bushnell, where the Harbor Commission and our Public Works people built an observation deck, kayak racks and added landscape improvements to accommodate our ever increasing paddling public, who enjoy North and South Coves.


Question: What do people think about these projects?

Miller: All of these projects to improve public access to the river have been well received, and we also have benefited by having terrific neighbors who keep an eye on these areas, which is helpful to our Commissions in charge.


Question: Were there any other similar grants before these?

Miller: Yes, this was the fourth STEAP grant that Essex solicited and received, and there were three earlier grants of $486,000, $491,000, and $90,000. These earlier grants funded new street lights, new curbs and sidewalks, and rebuilt drainage systems in both downtown Essex and in downtown Ivoryton. A $90,000 STEAP grant also enabled us to build a sidewalk connector from Main Street in Ivoryton to Pond Meadow.


Question: Any other grants that you wish to mention?

Miller: Yes, we received a $450,000 Federal Safe Routes to School grant, which will be used next spring to rebuild the existing sidewalk which runs from downtown Ivoryton through Centerbrook. Also, we received a $135,000 state transportation planning grant, and a federal Weatherization grant of $44,000, which has been used to replace thermostats and windows at Town Hall.


Question: Any others?

Miller: In addition to these, our Emergency Management Director, Bill Buckridge, has researched and written other successful grants, which has funded our   generator at Town Hall, and enabled us to modernize and advance our communications capabilities. Buckridge teams with his Assistant Stewart Schenk, and the officers of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.


Question: Who deserves the credit for the town’s successful grant program?

Miller: The people who have been instrumental in our success have been our Public Works people; our Treasurer Bob Dixon; our Selectmans’ Assistant and Grants Administrator Maria Lucarelli; Deputy Treasurer Kelly Sterner; our Planner John Guszkowski; our Town Clerk Fran Nolin; our Economic Development Commissioners Lee Thompson and John Beveridge; our Harbor Commissioners Jeff Going and Joe Zaraschi; and our Harbormaster Paul Riggio. We have also had some very good partners at some State agencies, like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Department of Transportation.


Question: Anyone else you want to thank?

Miller: Yes, I want to say that our Park and Recreation Commission continue to make substantive improvements to our parks. They seem to get a lot done on a modest budget, and they are currently raising funds for the Basketball Center and supporting an effort to upgrade Grove Street Park, which is a necessity as it gets a lot of use. Also, it is such a nice place for a park. Also, I want to thank Frank Hall, Keith Christman and the Essex Citizens for Clean Energy, who helped us, get a Town Hall grant and photo-voltaic arrays for both the Town transfer station and John Winthrop Middle School.


Question: What’s ahead for the Town’s future, now that you are stepping down as First Selectman of Essex?

Miller: I believe that the Town must continue to upgrade emergency response capabilities, and we shall need to execute more capital projects in the next few years. I know that the new Board of Selectmen of Norman Needleman, Stasia Rice-Libby and Joel Marzi will do an excellent job of recruitment, preparation, evaluation and execution of these Town improvements. Coupled with some new potential open space acquisitions, this will strengthen the Town for many years to come.


Question: I have heard that in your service as First Selectman, you brought $5 million in federal and state grants to the Town of Essex. Is this true?

Miller: Yes, it is.


(Phil Miller served as First Selectman of Essex from 2003 to 2011).