Looking ahead to 2012 : Naugatuck

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Renaissance place at a crossroads

This arial of downtown Naugatuck shows the future site of Renaissance Place. -CONTRIBUTED

The long-planned downtown development project will hit a shovel-to-ground deadline in May. A 2007 agreement between the Naugatuck Economic Development Corp. and developer Alexius Conroy stipulates that the public-private partnership will end if construction doesn’t begin by the five-year anniversary of the contract.

“Important decisions will have to be made over the course of the year as to what needs to be done to keep alive the progress towards a smart growth redevelopment in our downtown,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

NEDC officials have indicated that they are willing to work to extend the contract if Conroy signs a contract with St. Mary’s Hospital to build a 30,000-square-foot medical facility, which would be the cornerstone of the project.

Mezzo said he was hopeful that that would happen, but said the town needs to prepare a contingency plan.

No matter what happens, Mezzo said his personal mission is to ensure Naugatuck sees a comprehensive development plan to draw people downtown rather than allowing any big box store to take over.

“It’s our job to make sure that to whatever degree possible, the government is creating the climate to attract the kinds of businesses that will compliment those who are already in our central business district,” Mezzo said.

The borough has upheld its part of the bargain so far, cleaning up Parcel C where the medical facility would go, and doing environmental studies on the Train Station and General DataComm sites. The borough, with help from state grants, is working on designing a 500-space parking garage that would adjoin the medical facility and serve the train station and downtown retailers.

The coming year will tell how closely the $710 million mixed-use development project along the Naugatuck River will resemble the artistic sketches presented five years ago.

Referendum on charter changes

The new year could bring longer mayoral terms in Naugatuck, among other changes considered by the Charter Revision Commission.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses was expected to meet Wednesday night after press time to consider the commission’s final report.

Among the proposed charter changes is lengthening mayoral terms from two to four years, changing local elections from May to November, tweaking the process to force a budget referendum, and making the town clerk position a hired one rather than an elected one.

Any changes to the town charter would go to a referendum. Officials are eyeing the presidential elections in November for a possible referendum date, but no decision had been made as of press time.

Revaluation underway

Most homeowners in Naugatuck can expect their property assessments to drop next year once revaluation is complete.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what the revaluation bears,” Mezzo said. “Regardless of the assessment, there’s still a need to pay for the services that are provided.”

Tyler Technologies, Inc. will inspect every property on every street in the borough.

The state requires towns to perform a full, physical revaluation every 10 years to assess properties’ current market values for tax purposes, and a smaller revaluation every five years.

Naugatuck property owners should expect to receive surveys with the town’s data on their property in the spring, which they will need return with any changes. The town will send out assessment notices at the end of October or early November and finalize its grand list by the end of January.

Union negotiations

The municipal government will have three collective bargaining agreements to negotiate next year, starting with the firefighter’s union in June.

The firefighter’s union is the last of the borough’s seven bargaining units to remain on the traditional pension system. The other borough unions have approved a switch to a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k) for all new hires.

While Mezzo said he would not discuss contract strategy in the media, the switch from pensions to defined contribution plans has been a priority for his administration.

“While there will be initial costs associated with retirement and accelerated pension payouts, the change will yield long-term fiscal stability for Borough taxpayers and a more sustainable government in terms of benefits paid to future employees,” Mezzo wrote on his blog after the police union approved the switch earlier this year.

Recent contract negotiations in the borough have also focused on reining in health care costs while allowing for small increases in paychecks.

The police and public works contracts will also be up for negotiations next year.

Mezzo said the borough has established a respectful tone in negotiations across all bargaining units. While the borough and bargaining units may not agree on everything, they are all part of the same team, Mezzo said.

He said he will work to get a fair agreement in place and that he appreciates the professionalism of borough employees.

“There’s not a municipal employee or an employee of the Board of Education that has not made sacrifices over the last couple of years during very trying times,” Mezzo said.

Paramedic services likely to change

The borough is reconsidering its options for emergency services after Naugatuck Ambulance President Larry Santoro informed the Board of Mayor and Burgesses that his organization could no longer afford to pay for a round-the-clock paramedic stationed at 246 Rubber Ave.

In response, the borough formed an EMS subcommittee led by Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, which is reviewing the way Naugatuck handles ambulance services and determining the safest, highest level of service, and most efficient way to continue those services in the future.

In July, Santoro said the ambulance service would replace the borough paramedic with an intercept system, but quickly retracted his statement following an outcry from citizens.

Santoro said he would honor the borough contract through June 30, 2012, but still plans to drop 24-hour paramedic service when the contract expires.

The intercept system would call a paramedic stationed in Waterbury. The paramedic would leave from Waterbury at the same time as the ambulance from Naugatuck, meeting the EMTs on the scene or in route to the hospital.

Mezzo said the EMS subcommittee may or may not have a plan in place before the next budget season and the expiration of the contract. He said the borough may seek a temporary arrangement so that citizens continue to receive a high level of paramedic care while the subcommittee hashes out the details of the best way to go moving forward.

“I think the committee is doing a great job,” Mezzo said. “They have the full support of our administration.”

He added that it is more important for it to be done right than to be done quickly.

Peter Paul property still on the market

The old Peter Paul building was leveled earlier this year. The lot now sits vacant. - FILE PHOTO

The lot on New Haven Road that used to house the confectionary giant has been empty since owners tore the building down

Mezzo said the highly traveled commercial corridor will be important for Naugatuck’s future.

“I think the redevelopment of that site will help to define New Haven road for decades to come,” Mezzo said.

However, the borough has very little to do with who buys the property or when. Hershey is asking for $9.5 million for the parcel.

Mezzo said the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporations has been in constant communication with representatives from Hershey and is prepared to respond when they find a potential buyer.

Industrial park open for business

New zoning regulations have made room for a few more companies to move in to the Naugatuck Industrial Complex next year. - FILE PHOTO

Officials are hoping that recent changes to zoning regulations in the industrial park will attract more businesses to the park next year.

The park has been pretty much full for the past five years, with the exception of a few lots that were “topographically challenged.”

However, new zoning laws will open up the park to more development by subdividing the lots into smaller parcels.

“One of our problems when we look to attract businesses is having the space and the building capacity to accommodate the needs of businesses,” Mezzo said.

Businesses in the industrial zone, which receive special tax breaks, have done relatively well throughout the recession and are starting to increase purchases of capital equipment, according to Mezzo.

All that will mean more tax revenue for the borough. This year, the park contributed $1.8 million in taxes to borough coffers.

An eye on conservation

Borough officials are looking to start a conservation commission to act as wardens of open space in Naugatuck. Borough attorney Pete Hess is currently investigating the legal implications of forming such a commission, which would possibly be done in conjunction with the Inland Wetlands Commission.

Greenway to wind through Naugatuck

Construction on a long-planned circular greenway will finally get underway next year now that the state has completed a traffic study that delayed the project for a year.

The project should go out to bid next week, with construction starting in the summer. It should take about 180 days to complete, according to Public Works Director James Stewart.

Service Transportation Program enhancement funds, a federal program, will pay 80 percent of the just over $1.2 million cost of the project, leaving Naugatuck to pick up roughly $260,000 of the tab, according to Stewart.

He said Naugatuck first started applying for funding for the project eight years ago, but it took a long time to get funding, then state approval.

Depending on how far the money will stretch, the walking path will go from the pedestrian bridge by the Polish Club, along the Naugatuck River through Linden Park, down the walkway off of Exit 27 on Route 8, across the river over the Whittemore Bridge, head down Water Street to the intersection of Route 68 and Route 63, turn right on Bridge Street, and reconnect with the pedestrian bridge.

“That’s a quality of life issue that will be positive for the borough,” Mezzo said.

Eventually, the path will connect to walkways in Waterbury and Beacon Falls.

The borough plans to submit an application for a grant for the next phase of the project in January. The connection north to Waterbury will cost between $600,000 and $1 million, according to Stewart.

Traffic light on Maple Street

Construction should start on a new traffic signal in the late spring or early summer and will be completed in the fall, according to Stewart.

The intersection of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road has been the site of numerous accidents since a previous signal was removed in 2005.

The borough contracted NY-CONN Corporation of Danbury to complete the project for $172,400.

A state and federal grant will pay for 90 percent of that cost, as well as 90 percent of the $33,500 cost of inspections during construction, leaving Naugatuck to pay about $20,600 out of its pocket.

A few months ago, the borough also applied for a grant to replace the signal at the intersection of Hoadley Street, Melbourne Street, and Rubber Avenue, another dangerous intersection with outdated lights that don’t meet current standards.

Stewart said he hopes to hear about that grant soon.

Mezzo’s other goals

  • Move all the borough’s Public Works facilities to one location. Mezzo said it would be easier to revitalize businesses along Rubber Avenue if the borough buildings were relocated.
  • Continue searching for more active recreational space for borough residents while officially opening Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve, which has been open for nature enthusiasts and Parks programs since last January.
  • Next year, the borough plans to hire an outside consulting firm to conduct a study to come up with a strategic plan to improve the efficiency of town government.
  • Reconstruction on the Whittemore Bridge on Maple Street will start next spring or summer.

Look for full stories on strategic planning and repairs to the Whittemore Bridge in this week’s edition.