Budget may be bleak, but development isn't in Plymouth

Published on Monday, 8 January 2018 21:53
Written by SUSAN CORICA

This is the final part in a series of stories on the year ahead. Previous installments are available at BristolPress.com.

@coricaBP

The biggest problem facing the Plymouth in 2018 is a budget shortfall resulting from the state’s fiscal problems that are affecting virtually every issue on the local level, according to Mayor David Merchant.

“We are going to try to keep the town moving forward on the funds available to us but right now we don’t know what those funds are,” he said.

The overall loss of state aid to the town is $1.5 million, mostly in Education Cost Sharing funds, he said. “The Board of Education is looking to save $1.1 million, and I told them we would try to cut $400,000 out of this year’s budget.”

Merchant said his goal is to get through this budget year without having to send out any supplemental tax bills, which some other towns have resorted to.

“Right now we’re starting to work on next year’s budget. How do you plan for next year’s budget when you don’t even know what you’re getting this year? The state legislature is back in session and it won’t surprise me if they take more money from us between now and June,” he said.

One of Merchant’s top priorities for the year is cleaning up the old Mayfair Garage site on Main Street, to which the state has already committed $750,000. The town foreclosed on the half-acre property at 142 Main St. in 2016 and demolished the former gas station and auto repair facility last year to prepare it for redevelopment.

Merchant plans to have Tighe & Bond engineering and environmental consulting services assess the extent of fuel contamination at the site and put the cleanup work out to bid by February or March. He hopes to have the site cleaned up by late summer.

He would like to see a franchise restaurant there but notes the lot is small which limits the possibilities. He also hopes 150 Main St. on the other side of the Pequabuck River, where the town demolished an abandoned apartment building, can be added to the Mayfair site, possibly with the river covered over.

“It’s all going to depend on who buys it and what they’re going to do with it. If they don’t want to do that then 150 Main St. could be a municipal parking lot,” he said.

Elsewhere on Main Street, the old Terryville Bank and Trust site has drawn the interest of The Boys & Girls Club of Bristol Family Center, Merchant said.

The 88-year-old bank building at 228 Main St. was torn down in 2016 after sitting empty for some 20 years. He noted that Terryville Chevrolet, which owns the property, has been in talks with the club but there’s nothing concrete yet.

If the nonprofit club built a satellite clubhouse there it would not contribute to the grand list but it would be nice to have the club programs here in town, he said. “So I’ve tried to hook them up together but it’s up to them.”

The old Prospect Street School, which has been empty for 10 years, will see progress in being converted to apartments this year. Craig Bothroyd, principal for Prospect Ridge LLC, plans a total of about 50 rental units there, 24 in the school itself and 26 townhouse-style units on the athletic field.

The old Main Street School across from Town Hall has been empty since the Board of Education moved its offices to Terryville High School last summer. Merchant said the police building committee is now seriously considering a plan to move the police department there because the department needs more room.

The building has some serious problems with heating and a leaking roof, so it might be easier just to tear it down and start over, but to abate hazardous materials and tear it down would cost $1.4 million, he said.

The long awaited expansion and renovation of Fire Station No. 2, at 691 Main St., should be finished by the summer.

“The garage is up, the roof is on, the doors are in, the floor is poured. They are in there now working on the heating system. July 4 was our goal to finish and we may be ahead of schedule,” Merchant said.

A new Charter Revision Commission will be looking into revising the Town Charter to accommodate having a town manager, after voters last November approved a measure asking them to do so.

However, Merchant said he is not sure the town will change to a town manager, who would likely have to be paid at least twice what the mayor gets and need a bigger support staff.

The important thing is to have a mayor with leadership ability and business qualifications to know how to run things, he said. “Forty years ago you could put anybody in here to be the mayor, it wouldn’t be a difficult job. Today it is a difficult job.”

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



Posted in The Bristol Press, Plymouth on Monday, 8 January 2018 21:53. Updated: Monday, 8 January 2018 21:55.