NAUGATUCK — Although Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess didn’t officially take office until Nov. 17, the first-term Democrat says he’s been hard at work since the votes were tallied on Election Day.
“I spend most of my mornings, in the early mornings, working on complex issues where I need some quiet time,” said Hess as he sat in the Mayor’s Office on his second official day on the job.
The borough’s wastewater treatment plan is among those complex issues taking up Hess’ mornings. The plant, which is run by Veolia Water North America, is facing a multi-million dollar mandated upgrade.
The borough’s contract with Veolia runs out in 2022 and officials have been exploring their options. The agreement with Veolia has not produced the kind of revenue that was initially anticipated when the contract was drafted.
“I’ve been focusing on the sewer treatment plant issues and trying to figure out the various alternate approaches and options the borough will have. I’ve been consulting with our environmental consultants. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on potential solutions for the sewer treatment plant. It’s very complicated. I enjoy it,” Hess said.
Hess campaigned on a long-term smart growth plan to grow the borough and stabilize taxes. While he is confident in his plan, Hess said it won’t be easy to get there and his first year in office will be especially difficult.
“Coming online in the upcoming year is going to be the high school renovation project figures that will be included in this year’s figures. So right off the bat we are going to have a significant increase in the budget due to the high school renovate-to-new project,” Hess said.
In addition, the borough is going to have to make improvements to the incinerator at the treatment plant, Hess said. These improvements are expected to cost approximately $12 million.
Hess said the borough will have to bond the money, which will cost $900,000 a year.
“So without even considering any increases from health insurance, contracts, normal increases, we have two major additional cost items that are going to come into play in my first year. When I say the first year is going to be difficult, that’s why,” Hess said.
Hess said the borough is trying to offset the costs with projects that will increase tax revenue and draw people to Naugatuck, such as a proposed drive-in theater, and implementing ideas that will save money, such as switching the streetlight bulbs to LED.
“It’s hard to find something that is as big as the two major cost items that we have. We are going to do the best we can to increase revenue and we will try to be innovative and creative to find some cost savings,” Hess said.
One way Hess wants to increase revenue is by hiring the best assessor the borough can find.
“That’s critical. I need a strong assessor as a partner,” Hess said. “I’m going to work with our new assessor every day to increase the grand list.”
Hess has proposed increasing the salary for the assessor position to a range between $65,000 and $90,000. Borough officials were scheduled to meet Monday night, after press time, to discuss and possibly vote on the proposal.
While Hess has is hands full with long-term projects and issues, he also has his share of plans he wants to implement immediately.
Hess plans to present changes to the borough’s tax incentive ordinance and an ordinance to create a new tax district to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses on Dec. 1.
The tax district would offer incentives for new light industrial and commercial businesses to move into Naugatuck.
Hess also wants to connect the Naugatuck State Forest to the Larkin Bridal Trail. He envisions the trail starting at the Naugatuck River in the state forest near the Beacon Falls town line and traveling along existing trails. Hess said he would extend the trail further into the forest to connect with open space the borough owns along Andrew Mountain Road and eventually into the borough-owned Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve.
Hess said that the trail can connect from Gunntown to the bridal path and then to Hop Brook Lake.
Hess doesn’t plan to stop at the Naugatuck border. He said he has been working with Middlebury First Selectman Ed St. John to connect the trail with trails in Middlebury.
“It will be a worthwhile connection for both municipalities. We are also pursuing a trail to Waterbury, to the north, and the trail through downtown through the river, and also heading south towards Seymour and Shelton,” Hess said. “In the long term there is going to be an extensive trail network that will be beneficial to everyone.”
As Hess continues to settle into his role of mayor, he wants residents to know that he is working toward making the borough a better place, but it will not happen overnight.
“In order to obtain significant tax relief, the kind that people want, it is going to take some time. So I am working on the big picture and trying to set the pathway so we will make progress every year,” Hess said.