NAUGATUCK — Mayor Robert Mezzo addressed citizens and business owners during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mayoral Luncheon last Friday at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant.
Mezzo began his speech by thanking the businesses for the employees they employ, the civic contributions that they make and the taxes they pay.
“We have a very strong business community for a reason here in the borough, and that’s because of the hard work, ingenuity, and the talents of folks like you,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo’s talk focused on different projects the borough is undertaking.
The first project he discussed was the borough moving forward with the acquisition of the General DataComm property downtown.
Mezzo said the acquisition of this property, roughly 10 acres on Rubber Avenue, would give the borough ownership of over 15 acres of land downtown which could be developed. He said buying the land gives the borough something it has never had before, site control.
Mezzo said the borough wants the property to be developed using smart growth and transit-oriented principles.
“We want it to be more than an unconnected group of businesses or establishments that really don’t compliment the downtown,” Mezzo said. “If it was as simple as let’s just get the highest cost and sell it to somebody who is going to put a big box store in our downtown we would have done that back in the early part of the century.”
Mezzo said he has heard a number of questions about what it will take to clean up the property.
“What I’ve been asked most is what is it going to cost to clean up that property, and the answer is, very vaguely unfortunately, it depends,” Mezzo said. “What you’re going to do on the property will determine how you’re going to clean it.”
The cleanup cost will vary depending on what is built on the land, with residential property having a higher intensity of cleanup than retail property, he explained.
Mezzo said once the sale is finalized, the borough will begin to seek requests for proposals and see what plans are out there for the downtown.
Mezzo also touched on the Naugatuck High School renovation project and the strategic analysis the borough is undertaking.
“One of the most exciting things that’s going to happen in the next few months is we’re renovating our flagship school in our school district, Naugatuck High School,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said the school has not been properly updated in many years and is showing signs of wear. He said the project is important because it is a building that not only a lot of residents go to, but a building that a lot of people who come from outside the borough see.
The West Hartford-based accounting firm Blum, Shapiro & Co. is currently conducting a strategic planning process to analyze every aspect of the borough’s government and make recommendations for the way that the borough can improve itself and streamline its government processes.
“Each and every one of you has a plan for your business or your institution. Planning where you want to be, looking at what you do good, looking at areas you could improve has long been a common occurrence in the private sector,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said while the borough has made improvements to certain parts of the government, such as defined pension plans for employees, the analysis will help give it an overall picture of what needs to be done.
Mezzo also spoke about the state of the borough since the grand list was released. Overall the grand list went down by approximately 23 percent. However, there was a 9.6 percent increase in personal property assessment.
Mezzo said this increase happened in part because manufacturing companies in the borough have begun purchasing equipment.
Mezzo said the precision manufacturing companies, who employ approximately 25 to 50 people, have been able to maintain throughout the recession.
“Throughout the recession, one thing that’s sustained itself is the core of the industrial base here in Naugatuck. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s done so without pain. Certainly some jobs were lost, companies had to become leaner,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said that companies such as Chemtura Corporation and Flabeg Technical Glass have begun investing in the community. Chemtura recently opened a $10 million branch along Elm Street. Flabeg moved an entire division to the borough because it likes the employees’ ethics and the way the borough treats businesses, Mezzo said.
“That doesn’t just happen. It happens because people put their minds to it, people put their ingenuity to it, and they believe in Naugatuck still. And our industrial base is starting to show that people are reinvesting in this community, and those are the best kind of jobs we can have,” Mezzo said.