NAUGATUCK — As the borough begins a long-term strategic planning process, the public voiced their opinions about Naugatuck.
“Each municipality and district is unique. I can already tell by the interviews we’ve had with folks within Naugatuck that you’re unique. You’re not a cookie cutter of any other community,” said Jeffrey Ziplow, a partner with the Westport-based consulting firm Blum, Shapiro & Co. during a public forum last Thursday night.
The firm was hired to analyze all the aspects of the borough to help put a strategic plan in place. The forum was one step in the process, which will include meeting with town officials and employees.
Ziplow, who led the forum, told the residents that had gathered at the Naugatuck Historical Society last week that the borough is one of a kind. Ziplow pointed out that Naugatuck faces its own unique problems and has its own unique strengths. This means that simply saying the borough should mimic a different community would not be a viable option.
The evening focused on what residents thought Naugatuck does well, what it does not do well, what its strengths are and were it needs improvement.
The concern that received the most response was how high taxes are in Naugatuck.
Ziplow asked those in attendance if they felt they are getting the services they need for their tax dollars.
Resident Dorothy Hoff said residents can’t know if they are getting their dollar’s worth for some of the services, such as the fire or police departments, since many have never had to use them.
“The only one we see week to week is our trash pick-up,” Hoff said.
Resident Cindy Jando was concerned with the amount of trash that was visible along some of the town’s streets, such as Rubber Avenue.
“We really should clean up the town. Make it presentable,” Jando said.
The school system was also brought up as an area the borough can improve on in the future.
“We’re in the bottom 20 percent. We’re an Alliance District,” Finance Board member Dan Sheridan said. “I look at it as an embarrassment. I would like to see us in the top 40 percent.”
While those at the forum expressed concerns about the borough, they were also very quick to voice praise about what a tightly knit community Naugatuck is, saying residents rally around each other in time of crisis. Residents pointed out that whether it was civic responsibilities, such as coaching youth sports teams, or lending a hand after a natural disaster, Naugatuck always manages to come together.
Ziplow said that was a common theme that ran through his interviews with everyone he has talked to in Naugatuck.
“I’ve been asking a very similar set of questions to others and there has been a tremendous amount of consistency on this,” Ziplow said.
Other praise for Naugatuck included how beautiful the Town Green is, the borough’s natural resources and how active the churches are in the community.
Another common concern expressed among the audience was there are not enough residents that participate in town meetings.
Mayor Robert Mezzo said although the borough has a lot of diversity, town meetings often aren’t populated by a diverse audience.
Residents also noted that the younger generations do not engage in the government as readily as the older generations.
Ziplow said low participation in municipal government affairs is not a problem that was unique to the borough. He said that the borough needs to try a variety of methods to get people involved, and not to become discouraged if not all the methods work.
“We can’t stop trying to get people engaged because the minute we do that, nothing good happens,” Ziplow said.
After the meeting Ziplow said it went really well.
“There was a very good dialogue and discussion,” Ziplow said. “People were honest.”