BRISTOL - Area town and city leaders gathered at Chippanee Country Club Wednesday morning to share their efforts to grow and improve their communities at the annual State of the City & Towns Breakfast.
Panelists included Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu of Bristol, Plainville Town Council Chair Kathy Pugliese, Plymouth Mayor David Merchant, Wolcott Mayor Thomas Dunn, First Selectman Theodore Shafer of Burlington and Economic Development Director Rose Ponte of Farmington.
Susan Sadecki, chair of the Board of the Central CT Chambers of Commerce, who organized the event, welcomed the guests.
“I think this is my favorite event of the year,” she said. “It is always interesting to listen to the incredible visionaries that we’ve elected in our local communities.”
When Zoppo-Sassu spoke, she said that the most important thing for the future of Bristol is to “maintain a stable mill rate, grow the grand list and attract businesses.”
“The city has had an aggressive economic development program,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “We solicit businesses to move to Bristol and give out grants and tax abatements. Growing the grand list is the recipe for success. Since the last State of the City & Towns Breakfast we have added 14 new businesses, which account for 150 new jobs.”
Zoppo-Sassu also said that the city has partnered with local manufacturers to help train students entering the workforce to be prepared for high-tech manufacturing jobs. She said that this would help raise Bristol’s household median income, which is lower than the average for the Hartford region.
“That is a challenge which we will have to face,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “If we’re trying to attract businesses like restaurants we need people to have disposable income.”
The development of Bristol’s downtown, which began with the Bristol Hospital Ambulatory Care Center under construction, has encouraged other people to call with interest in development.
“We’ll never go back to the downtown of the 1950s, but we can work together to create a new downtown,” she said. Having a strong downtown identity is very important.”
When Pugliese came to the podium she highlighted Plainville’s economic development efforts as well as its infrastructure projects and its town festivals, which draw thousands of visitors to town. She also said that Robertson Airport, which was purchased by the town 12 years ago, is heavily used.
“Plainville’s economic development is robust and moving forward,” she said. “But, this year was a challenge due to the reductions in education cost sharing funding which came half-way through the fiscal year. We had to issue a .75 mill increase via a supplemental tax bill. I can’t tell you how unhappy the council was about that, but people seemed to understand that this wasn’t our fault. We had to do it because of the state’s fiscal problems.”
Pugliese praised economic development director Mark Devoe and mentioned how parcels like the Chung and White Oak properties were being rehabilitated, the Plainville Funeral Home had taken over an empty parking lot, Ferguson Electric and Walker crane were expanding and U-Haul has rehabilitated the former GE Building.
Infrastructure projects in Plainville mentioned by Pugliese included the water pollution control facility upgrade expected to begin this summer, the study to come up with a plan for closing the Plainville Gap in the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, and the planned renovation of Wheeler Elementary School, which is the only school in town that hasn’t been upgraded recently.
“The school was built in the ‘60s and there is currently no air conditioning,” noted Pugliese.
When Merchant came up, he noted that after a former Plymouth Finance Director stole $800,000, the town experienced a “financial disaster.” However, he said that Plymouth has been working through it and is “on the road to recovery.”
“When the governor took $1.6 million away it was devastating,” he said. “However, we were determined not to send out an additional tax bill. Though it seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, taxes are not going to increase this year.”
Merchant noted how Plymouth is working to remediate the old gas station in the center of town, taking down the old O.Z. Gedney Electric building and cleaning up the site.
“We did a lot of environmental damage back in the day that we are paying the price for now,” he said.
Merchant said that two old school buildings, Prospect Street School and Main Street School, are being repurposed for residential and commercial use respectively. Plymouth also plans to upgrade its street lights and widen Route 6.
“We are on the road to recovery and we’re doing well with no tax increase,” said Merchant.
As the event wrapped up, Bombard thanked all of those who attended.
“We have learned so much about each other today,” she said. “We don’t live in silos; there are no borders around our communities.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.