NAUGATUCK — Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess started his first term with a focus on long-range projects. He is heading into his second term much the same way.
Hess, 68, the Democratic incumbent, was first elected in 2015 and is running unopposed for re-election in the municipal election on Tuesday.
Hess, who worked as an attorney in Naugatuck for 40 years, said one of his main focuses over the next two years will be a plan to create an intermodal transportation hub on a mostly-vacant 86.5 acre parcel of land along Elm Street that is currently owned by Chemtura.
Hess is working with Pan Am Railways, the Connecticut Port Authority, the state Department of Transportation and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to turn the property into a major rail-to-truck transportation hub. Private companies would build warehouses on the site to store the goods.
The other major component of the plan is to build an inland port on the site, an area where goods coming from abroad could go through customs.
“That project is the best chance that Naugatuck has to return our tax base along the (Naugatuck) River that was lost when industry left. In my view it is a game-changer that is the best bet for Naugatuck to reduce its mill rate and get the town in a much better fiscal situation,” Hess said.
Hess said he is also continuing to work on a downtown transit-oriented development project, which includes the relocation of the train platform from Water Street to the currently vacant lot off of Old Firehouse Road known as Parcel B.
Hess said the project will include cooperation with the state Department of Transportation to increase the number of commuter trains on the rail line. When it is finished, the project will be a mix of residential and commercial spaces, Hess said.
When campaigning in 2015, Hess said that it wouldn’t be possible to alleviate the borough’s financial concerns in one term — Naugatuck’s mill rate sits at 48.55 and is among the highest in the state. Hess believes, though, he is on the way to easing the tax burden on residents, pointing to the redevelopment of the former Prospect Street School and the transformation of the former train station into a restaurant.
“I think we have made significant progress and we have stopped the downward spiral and have eliminated many of our largest problems. But we need to have an upward spiral in real estate values and increases to the grand list so we can reduce the mill rate. So I would say we did make significant progress but, as far as the future is concerned, I am not even warmed up yet,” Hess said.
Hess added, “We are also trying to improve the roads and have more things to do that will increase property values so that, during our revaluation process in 2018, we will hopefully see an increase in property values which will increase the grand list and decrease the mill rate.”
Hess also instituted a series of downtown festivals put on by the borough. Hess plans on continuing the festivals and increasing the number of events at the Naugatuck Event Center on Rubber Avenue.
“I am happy about the success of the festivals. I think we have created a family community vibe,” Hess said. “We are trying to create an atmosphere where there are things to do in the downtown area on a regular basis.”
With financial uncertainty at the state level, Hess said it’s important for Naugatuck to be able to move forward on its own accord.
“It is clear to me that we have to reinvent ourselves and make things happen. I am not going to sit back and rely on the state of Connecticut. I am going to move forward with all of our projects and proceed to improve our town and hope for the best with the state,” Hess said.