Town leaders in Naugatuck, Prospect, and Beacon Falls all echoed the same manta – We’ll do the best we can with what little we have. With the economy seemingly at a standstill, the coming year promises to be a slim one for town budgets. Even so, local town leaders have a lot of projects on their plates for 2011.
Bridge dedication on horizon
The Depot Street Bridge will finally open for the New Year.
The town recently completed the semi-final inspection of the bridge and determined it just needs a few minor touch-ups in the spring.
“I’m very excited the project is done,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Susan Cable said.
She hopes to set a date for the bridge’s dedication soon.
Pleasant walkway to revitalize downtown Beacon Falls
The big project for Beacon Falls in the coming year is the Streetscape Greenway, a planned walkway running from the Depot Street Bridge down along Route 42.
The walkway will continue “as long as the money will last us,” Cable said.
Beacon Falls received two federal highway grants totaling $662,000 for the project, which will cost just under $1 million. The town must come up with a 20 percent matching grant to secure the federal dollars. Cable said she hopes to find a way to raise that money with the least amount of impact for the taxpayer.
Cable said she was anxious to get started on the project, which she hopes will bring more traffic and an economic benefit to downtown businesses.
Although he thinks the greenways could be beneficial to the town, Selectman Michael Krenesky said he is reluctant to support moving forward on the greenway until the town looks at traffic flow.
Several companies submitted bids to the town for construction of the greenway.
“We’re in the ball park in regards to the funding,” Krenesky said.
However, with no parking or crosswalks in the plans, Krenesky was worried the new walkway will cause traffic congestion. The streetscape will shift Main Street from two lanes to one lane going south.
“We’re building an island with no boat to get there,” Kenesky said.
If the town doesn’t realign Main Street, the greenway would take parking away from local businesses, Krenesky said.
“With the economy the way it is, we cannot afford to put any further pressure on our local businesses,” he said.
Krenesky said the town needs projects that enhance Main Street and help local businesses as well.
“If we don’t have a long-term plan to do the full realignments, I think we’re making a mistake,” Krenesky said.
Plans to move forward with Tracey Lewis house
Cable said she hopes to start more intense plans for the Wolfe Avenue property the town purchased two years ago. The Board of Selectmen recently voted to demolish the house currently on the property, which was a summer home for Tracey Lewis, a turn of the century entrepreneur in Beacon Falls. In its place, Cable hopes to build a new community center and library to connect downtown to the hill area where town hall is located.
The future of the Wolfe Avenue property is a contentious issue for some residents, most notably Selectman Krenesky.
While Cable wants to move forward with plans for a new building, Krenesky wants to take a step back to review other options. He said the town needs to create building committee and ask them to solicit and review costs associated with renovating the current house and demolition costs in addition to creating a building plan and requesting bids for a new town municipal building.
“Until all the costs are known, any decisions on the property should be placed on hold. I support bringing all aspects related to moving forward; renovation, demolition, and a building plan, to referendum for voters, taxpayers to decide the future direction on this project,” said Krenesky in an e-mail.
Local parks in need of maintenance
Matthies is a passive park, but the town is not currently spending any money maintaining it, Krenesky said.
He said the park needs about $1 million worth of maintenance, including the island in Carrington Pond. The walls around the island are deteriorating and the house in its center has not been properly maintained for the past 30 years, Krenesky said.
Once the summer home of Bernard Matthies, the house serves no current purpose, he said.
Krenesky said he’d like to see Matthies remain a passive park, with more hiking trails running through it.
Krenesy said he was concerned that the town will never be able to afford to properly maintain Toby’s Park, which surrounds a mile-long pond and sits along the Naugatuck railroad.
“Right now [Toby’s Park] is just a hole in the ground with some pretty signs and we have no true plans of what we want to do with it,” Krenesky said.
He suggested turning over the property to a third party to develop as a recreation area.
“I’m concerned that [Toby’s Park] may be a bigger liability for the town than it may be worth at the end of the day,” Krenesky said.
Bond referendum needed to pay for road, sewer repair
Residents and taxpayers of Beacon Falls will vote on a bond package in early February. The package would include $5 million for road repairs, $125,000 for mandated fuel tank removal, $1 million for a sewer plant upgrade, and $230,000 for air breathing apparatus equipment for the fire department.
The fire department also asked for a ladder truck, pumper truck, and ambulance, but the Board of Finance decided that this is not the right time to spend on these items, given the current economic conditions. Krenesky hopes to have a town meeting or separate referendum to do a lease-purchase on the ambulance and a bond package for the ladder truck.
“A long range maintenance and replacement schedule and plan must be created for all vehicles as there is a need for replacing a pumper truck within three years and the other equipment in later years. We need to have this very clearly planned out for the next ten-plus years,” said Krenesky in an e-mail.
Beyond the roads in the current bond package, a long range maintenance and replacement schedule must be created, according to Krenesky.
“The current report being circulated was created several years ago and I do not believe that it accurately reflects the details needed to make a decision on which roads to address next. The schedule should rate the roads as to needing minor to major repairs and the underlying infrastructure should also be reviewed,” he said.
The town also needs to plan for the proposed fire training school, the Martin development of a shopping mall off of route eight, and the new elementary school building project, Krenesky said.
“2011 should be a year of preparation and planning for all these events,” he said.
Cable hopes to attract new business to Beacon Falls
Cable hinted that several new businesses are interested in locating in Beacon Falls, although she couldn’t provide further details.
“I am very hopeful that we’re going to have at least two, if not three new businesses,” Cable said.
New business would increase Beacon Falls’ economic base, Cable said, bringing more tax revenue for the town to pay for projects. Despite the poor economy, Beacon Falls is growing.
“We’re holding our own for a little community, which makes me very proud,” Cable said.
Tough times ahead for growing town, shrinking budget
Although she hopes to hold taxes down with a fiscally responsible budget, Cable said the process will very difficult.
As the community grows, its needs grow too, but the funds aren’t following, Cable said.
Although there is always room for improvement, the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance are very fiscally responsible, Cable said.
She said she’d like to make more improvements to the town, but her hands are tied because of her obligation to taxpayers.
One of Cable’s goals for the New Year is improved communication between the town government and the residents. She hopes to get message out about what the government does and what it takes to run the town. She wants to see more community involvement in town projects.
“I wish people would come out through the whole process and not just when it’s time to vote,” she said.
Cable said her challenge is educating the public as to what makes the community really tick. Although she’s tried having “Bagels with Cable” and an open-door policy to encourage residents to voice their input in a more casual setting than town meetings, Cable said many people still don’t join the conversation until decisions are already made.
Of special concern is communications with the Board of Education.
Cable said she has to let them know the town can’t afford to spend as much money on education as it has in the past. Although important, education is three-fourths of the town budget, and the town can’t afford it any more, Cable said.
Krenesky agreed with Cable that the town’s biggest challenge is balancing the town’s budget, especially in light of anticipated reduced federal and state funding.
“We’re not going to have any funding to do any of these things and that means placing the burden on property tax as a means to fund the day-to-day operation of the town,” Krenesky said.
He said the town must look towards the future and put together a comprehensive long range plan for the town.
“I think we’re late in beginning those conversations,” Krenesky said.
Such a plan might include shifting some of the burden for town services to individual taxpayers. In the future, the town may not be able to afford to plow streets and pick up trash, forcing residents to contract for their own services. For example, the town may institute a sewage usage tax to raise funds to continue to maintain the sewer treatment plant.