State of the City: 2020 was difficult but had 'a lot of positives'

Published on Wednesday, 13 January 2021 18:47
Written by SUSAN CORICA

@coricaBP

BRISTOL – “It’s been a difficult year for the city,” Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said. “But I think through all of that there has been a lot of positives and we thought that tonight would be a really good time to remind us of all that we learned - the resiliency issues, and the fact that 2021 has arrived and we all believe that there is a brighter outlook for everything that we that we do here in the City of Bristol.”

She spoke at the January City Council meeting Tuesday, where she and the council members gave a State of the City year in review address.

Councilwoman Mary Fortier praised “our dedicated and highly competent city employees [who] have helped in very essential and meaningful ways during this unprecedented past year.”

Fortier said the city responded to the covid-19 pandemic by coordinating efforts to address the immediate needs of isolation and food insecurity, setting up the All Heart hotline to match volunteers to residents who needed assistance, helping school lunch workers hand out thousands of meals when the schools closed, assisting with the Farmers to Families food box distribution, and more.

City Hall workers quickly transitioned to moving services online and worked staggered shifts for social distancing, while police and firefighters conducted numerous drive-by birthday parades for city children during April and May, she said.

Councilman Dave Preleski said the city’s infrastructure remains solid and tax collections were strong despite deferrals that the governor allowed.

The pandemic delayed some development plans for Centre Square downtown, however projects are moving ahead, including the expansion of the DoubleTree Hotel and contracts signed for new businesses moving into the Southeast Industrial Park, he said.

Councilman Peter Kelley called small businesses “the shining star of this past year and the majority of them are soldiering on despite all of the challenges they face.”

“Sixteen new businesses opened during the pandemic thus far and there are more in the hopper, from Harbor Freight and Five Below, to Pure Foods and Roasted Bean. The economic development team led by Justin Malley has been very busy, and they visited over 50 businesses during the pandemic,” Kelley said.

He praised the efforts of Kristen Peck, who heads the Board of Education’s School Readiness program, for gaining accreditation from the National Association of Education of Young Children, which requested to use Bristol’s digital portfolio as part of their training model. “That’s quite an honor to request that from Bristol,” he said.

Kelley also said the Board of Education’s administration should be acknowledged for their efforts to keep students in school “against great odds.”

Councilwoman Brittany Barney said the pandemic didn’t put a stop to the creation of outdoor classrooms and gardens at several schools. The project earned Bristol a spotlight in a CPTV special and helped the city achieve Silver Certification from Sustainable CT.

“This gives Bristol the edge in applying for state grants and positions us to save money on a variety of energy areas, including the city sponsored Solar One initiative to help homeowners afford solar on their home,” she said.

Bristol also led the 2020 Census with a statistical 100% completion rate, the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force won a Telly Award for its series of public service announcements, the city’s Diversity Council hosted its second annual Pride Flag raising, and the police department came out for “an inspiring community conversation on diversity in Rockwell Park,” Barney said.

“During the pandemic our city parks became essential services,” said Councilman Scott Rosado. “They stayed open so people could get outside and kids could enjoy the playgrounds. The mountain bike trail was a great addition to Rockwell Park, and we started planning for the next phase of the pump park there. Our park staff did a great job creating an updated pickleball course for all to enjoy.”

Rosado also said that we can’t forget the George Floyd tragedy and the protests that happened last spring and summer.

“Thanks to the community policing and involvement Bristol didn’t see the issues that other cities did, but it did make it very clear that the conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion need to continue,” said Rosado.

Councilman Greg Hahn brought up that Bristol’s work force made adjustments in 2020, but continued on with construction, water and sewer work, paving, bridge repair and sanitary services to collect trash and recycling, all of which increased with everyone staying home.

Other highlights for Bristol in 2020 included an $850,000 open space grant for Shrub Road, the Arts and Culture Commission produced a new mural downtown, and the city’s third round of CDBG covid-19 funds went to some of the city’s nonprofits like the Carousel Museum.

Zoppo-Sassu highlighted the Bristol Burlington Health District working closely with Bristol Hospital and now working to get vaccines out in the community, City Hall staff who have continued to interface with the public despite the covid-19 risk, and the IT Department who helped the Board of Education and others pivot to using virtual platforms.

The mayor also had praise for such “strong partners” as Bristol Hospital, Community Health Center, the United Way of West Central Connecticut, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, the Community Emergency Response Team, and many others. Downtown remained a center of activity, with covid-19 testing, the Farmers to Families food distribution, peaceful protests.

Zoppo-Sassu now looks ahead to 2021.

“This year the focus is going to be on rebuilding the infrastructure of downtown,” she said, as Parcel 10 on Main Street breaks ground for residential and commercial use, Webster Bank changes hands, the newly renovated 10 Main St. begins to attract tenants, and renovation progress continues at the Memorial Boulevard Intradistrict Arts Magnet School and the Sessions Building on Riverside Avenue.

“And I look forward to hopefully 2021 being a very rewarding year for all of us,” she concluded.

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Wednesday, 13 January 2021 18:47. Updated: Wednesday, 13 January 2021 18:50.