NAUGATUCK — Rail service and the state budget dominated the discussion Tuesday morning when local legislators joined members of the borough’s business community to talk politics over eggs and sausage.
The Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant brought together state senators Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, and George Logan, R-Ansonia, and state representatives Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, David Labriola, R-Oxford, and Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, to talk shop.
Improving the Waterbury branch line of the Metro North Railroad, which runs through Naugatuck and Beacon Falls, was a hot topic.
There are currently two Senate bills, 301 and 384, proposed that would expand commuter service on the Waterbury branch line and add stops in Seymour, Shelton and Derby.
Rebimbas called the upgrades to the line “very important,” but said there needs to be secure funding in place before it moves forward.
“We are all in favor of this, but it is just a matter of how we get there,” Rebimbas said. “It is just a matter of us all coming together, working together, and making sure we do prioritize that. The importance is not only for recreational use, but we are talking about jobs. We are talking about even students getting to and from school.”
Rebimbas said additional service would benefit the business community in Naugatuck.
“If we want people to come down to Naugatuck to shop, to live, we have to make sure they have the proper transportation to get everywhere,” Rebimbas said.
The ridership on the Waterbury line has dropped the past few years. Signal and siding improvements are planned for the line to allow more frequent trains in both directions on the single-track line.
Logan said more people would use the rail line if the service is expanded.
“Folks want to use the rail line, but it needs to work for folks,” Logan said. “The biggest complaint I heard had to do with schedules. Folks wanted to use it but couldn’t make it work out with their schedules.”
Hartley said the issue stretches back more than a decade and is pleased the siding improvements are back on the state’s agenda.
“This is the first time in a decade the sidings are in the budget,” Hartley said. “I think it is going to be within the next six years. It seems like a long time but I will tell you, in this conversation that has been going on for so long, it is not that long.”
The legislators spoke critically of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed state budget, which would shift more state funding to 31 financially struggling towns and cities at the expense of the remaining municipalities.
“I wish that our governor was more concerned with putting forth a serious budget proposal. Something that made sense and was founded in logic,” Labriola said. “I wish he was less interested in hurting public safety by proposing we have no bail for anyone who is accused of a misdemeanor. I wish that he didn’t go after gun owners by trying to raise the permit fees dramatically.”
Labriola said there’s hope for the state in the near future.
“The good news is that next year we, as a state, have the chance to elect a new governor. And that would be a wish come true,” Labriola said.
Klarides-Ditria expressed concern about how the governor’s proposed budget would impact municipal budgets.
“Our big concern is our governor and his lack of judgement with this budget,” Klarides-Ditria said. “He keeps saying, ‘No new taxes this year.’ But if that budget goes through you know each and every municipality will have to raise our taxes.”
Klarides-Ditria said municipalities are often far better at crafting their individual budgets than the state.
“In the towns and cities we do a much better job. We get our budgets in place, we set our mill rate, and then we have to wait for the state,” Klarides-Ditria said.
Labriola encouraged those in attendance to remain involved in politics.
“By virtue of you guys being here you are showing an interest in the process. Every year I bring up how important it is to get involved,” Labriola said.