By Lisa Capobianco
Town officials addressed a variety of issues during the fifth Annual State-of-the-Town Supper last week, focusing on economic development and the budget.
Co-sponsored by Baron Realty and the Chamber’s Legislative Committee, members of the Southington Town Council spoke before members of the community, highlighting their current goals while discussing their concerns at the Manor Inn Restaurant.
“We are actively pursuing expansion initiatives for existing and potential businesses within our industrial parks, potential industrial parks and the tourism industry,” said Town Council Chairman Mike Riccio, who serves on the Economic Development Strike Committee.
During the event, Riccio mentioned various projects in Southington that will enhance economic growth in town. This week he (along with Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo) will meet with the executives of Lincoln College of New England to discuss a plan for a sewer expansion and pump station that would benefit the school in Southington.
“That sewer expansion and pump station would give the school the ability to add to their campus without the burden of septic systems,” said Riccio, adding that this item will be subject to referendum this fall. “We’re doing this to spur business activity on 300 acres of undeveloped commercial land.
Riccio also mentioned the possibility of Turning Earth (an integrated organics recycling company) choosing Southington as its home for a new state-of-the-art recycling facility.
“This organic recycling facility…will help reduce harmful greenhouse gases that are causing climate change and also help to convert food wastes into valuable resources like renewable energy, rich fertile soils for planting and locally, healthy-grown food,” Riccio said. “If Turning Earth chooses Southington in their search, they’ll project to employ 30 workers—the 21st century jobs that we want to grow up here in town.”
Other council members included economic development on their list of goals for the town, including Councilor Paul Champagne, who expressed his concern for vacant buildings.
“We need businesses—businesses keep our town alive,” Champagne said.
“There’s a bigger picture to how to bring businesses in, and everything is connected,” added Town Councilor Tom Lombardi. “In our town, we focus on great schools, a great police department for public safety, infrastructure—all these things contribute to economic development.”
Besides supporting economic development, Town Councilor Stephanie Urillo, shared current initiatives of the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District. Urillo said the district has looked into developing regulations for health practices in tattoo parlors.
“There is no regulation on health care standards and that’s really important,” said Urillo, adding that the Regional District has also focused on food safety for restaurant owners and workers.
Both Urillo and Town Councilor Dawn Miceli reaffirmed their commitment to the preservation of open space, as they both serve on the Open Space and Land Acquisition Committee. Miceli also shared with the community other goals for the year, including a comprehensive energy strategy and a renewed commitment to maintaining both the downtown Southington and Plantsville Renaissance.
“I find both of them to be our bookends and gateways for our community, and I’d also like to embark on a new initiative, called ‘Way Finding,’ that would truly tie those two gateways together in terms of signage, pathways, landmarks and other visual cues that guide visitors and aid with destination,” Miceli said.
During the event, Town Councilor John Barry expressed concern over the proposed town budget for 2014-2015, citing the level of projected debt and spending for the future as major issues.
Town Manager Garry Brumback proposed a budget of $51.5 million for the coming fiscal year. This is a 14.3 percent increase over the adopted budget for 2013-2014. His budget proposal includes a one-time capital expenditure of $4.3 million, recommended to be funded through excess reserves. The proposed budget has requested for a variety of capital projects including enhancing infrastructure and replacing old equipment.
“The amount of taxation, the amount of spending is not sustainable,” said Barry, adding that he also feels concerned about fewer citizens engaged in local government. “The level of debt is a serious issue.”
Riccio said the excess reserves will support a number of capital improvement projects such as road restorations and sidewalk repairs, which were pushed aside for too many years.
“Things were just let go for far too long and now we’re playing catch up,” said Riccio.
During the event, guests wrote down questions anonymously for the Council, covering a variety of topics including benefits for businesses renovating vacant buildings, the Rails to Trails project, and the town budget. Another question addressed the future of the Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Bradley Campus (HOCC).
“We are talking with the folks at Hartford Healthcare…the conversation continues,” said Town Councilor Vicky Triano, adding that she has kept close contact with Hartford Healthcare. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but the function may change a little bit.”
Miceli added that HOCC has reached out to different organizations in Southington, including the Southington Education Foundation (SEF).
“The Hospital of Central Connecticut has just reached out to talk about being partners with SEF, and implementing new programs with our school system,” Miceli said. “We’re also going to be establishing new STEM partnership in the high school with regard to internships and mentorships and other things with their robotics surgeries.”