Crystal ball; Looking into the new year

Hanging over the entire discussion is the question of whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will approve the town’s current remediation plan for the PCBs. Officials are hoping that the agency will allow the town to avoid dealing with the contaminated “wall vapor barriers” deep inside the walls of the buildings. Officials expect to hear the agency’s decision before the March referendum, which could have major consequences for the project.

“I hope the public will realize we have been thorough,” Dobbins said. “But if the EPA tells us that we need to take down those barriers, we’ll have to back to square one. Hopefully, there will be a solution that allows us to work around that.”

Board of Finance Chairman John Leary said that town infrastructure had been neglected in the past and focusing on it now was a major priority. However, Southington’s ongoing troubles with contaminated buildings and properties make this very difficult.

“We have to maintain our infrastructure,” Leary said. “Renovating roads and schools is part of that. We’re committed to those things but then we get hit with unknown costs like the PCBs at the middle schools and the water pollution issues. This is where the Board of Finance will have a tough time.”

For more on the water pollution issues, see story on page 3.

The Board of Finance will also examine the town budget closely and determine how best to move Southington forward while avoiding a huge financial burden to residents. Leary said the BOF had the advantage of looking at the town’s needs as a whole, although this can make its job daunting.

“The main issue is competing initiatives,” he said. “We know about additional building costs at the middle schools and the Board of Education also wants to expand kindergarten. We have some improvements to the parks that we want to do. The list is long and most of these things are good. But how can we prioritize and balance in an economy like this? That will be a real challenge.”

Economic development is also a key part of Southington’s overall financial health. Planning & Zoning Chairman Michael DelSanto has been pleased with the gains made in certain areas of town, particularly the growing Shop-Rite plaza. He said the commission would continue to update its bylaws, primarily through the Continuous Improvement subcommittee chaired by Commissioner Steve Kalkowski.

“It’s meant to look at our regulations and determine which are outdated and need some tweaking,” DelSanto said. “There’s always something that comes up at those meetings and we all say ‘that’s still a law?” The committee’s done a ton of work over the past year and we will continue to refer more to [Kalkowski].”

West Street also got a touch of good news when it was revealed that the Connecticut Online Computer Center (COCC) plans to occupy the large building that once housed The Hartford. This street has been a major priority for the zoning board over the years, although difficult economic conditions stymied its growth. Still, a subcommittee dedicated to West Street continues to plan for its future.

“It’s good for us to put pen to paper, but putting shovel to dirt is a different story,” DelSanto said.

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