By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON – By the time the Board of Finance meeting was over on Wednesday night, Feb. 19th, the members had all of the working pieces of next year’s fiscal plan in piles in front of them. The Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen had presented their own puzzle pieces officially, and for the next 12 weeks, the finance board will sort the hundreds of requests and turn them into a set of numbers representing their best hopes for the town.
The Milltown Monitor will be following the finance board’s deliberations for the duration.
Meanwhile, this is the state of the 2020-2021 budget today.
Actually, it’s bottom lines. The budget will most likely be presented to the town’s voters in palatable parts – a school operating budget, a town operating budget, an amount to cover the town’s debts from borrowing to pay for new emergency services buildings and new schools, and a large-item or capital budget.
The education board has requested $14,450,357 to run the schools, an increase over the current year of $674,894 or 4.9 percent.
The selectmen have asked the finance board to consider funding $5,283,929 to run the town, an increase of $275,830 or 5.5 percent.
The debt service is up to $1,204,204, an increase of $139,020 or 13.1 percent.
Capital requests total $466,175, an increase of $38,349 or 9.0 percent.
Putting it all together, the finance board is looking at $21,404,665 in requests, an increase of $1,128,093 or 5.6 percent.
On the revenue side
As if requests for 5.6 percent greater spending was not enough for the finance board to work on, projected income, or revenues, are expected to fall short of budget requests by $1,260,899, a shortfall of 5.9 percent. In fact, revenue for next year is projected to be $135,527 less than the current year.
And while the town will be receiving funds from the state, the amounts and timelines are somewhat up in the air due in part to the impasse between Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut legislature – they have not been able to agree to levy the new highway tolls the governor has requested.
The education piece
The education board’s spending requests makeup 67.5 percent of town’s total. Contributing to the 4.9 percent increase in school requests are a 4.6 percent increase in medical insurance, an 11.4 percent increase in the cost of school transportation, a 26.5 percent jump in the cost of electricity, a 54.6 percent increase in the request for building and grounds maintenance.
But those are just isolated numbers. The context is what matters.
In her presentation to the finance board, Christine Wagner, education board chair, recounted some of the many successes of the past year.
The 6th grade has been fully integrated back into the elementary school.
The state has designated the elementary school a School of Distinction, ranked 28th out of 522 elementary schools in Connecticut.
The middle school was ranked 29th out of the 259 middle schools.
The high school is now a School of Choice and was ranked 19th out of the121 high schools.
Wheeler High School made successful presentations to the towns of Preston and Voluntown this past month and is getting positive feedback from parents and students in those towns. Wheeler is hoping to attract as many as 40 tuition-paying students in the coming years.
Wagner said the district has done much to earn respect from the town.
“It’s been a nice first year (at the new high school),” Wagner said. “The students are so proud that the town invested in them.” She also noted that “all of the students that were out-of-district came back” because of the new school.
“The Board of Education feels the budget we are putting forth is the very best we could do,” Wagner said. She pointed out that the community’s support of programs “has not been keeping up” as budgets are cut year after year.
“We don’t want to run a shell,” she said. “At some point, we have to put investment back into our investment. We can’t continue to Band-aid it.”
The board is requesting funding for 60 to 80 new computers. School computers are nearly obsolete, five to nine years old. “Last year, we were unable to fund any technology,” Wagner said. “We’re setting ourselves up for disaster.” In fact, required state testing must be done on computers “and that’s becoming problematic,” she said.
“We’re only replacing the on-Death’s-door equipment,” she added.
To try to bring down the cost of transportation, the education board is putting together a parent group to study the issue and make recommendations.
The 54.6 percent jump in the buildings and grounds request is mostly because the elementary school has been closed for a year and maintenance must start up again.
Likewise, custodial supplies is seeing a bigger ask because the elementary school will require all new dispensers, like for paper towels, as well as the supplies for them.
The finance board meets again on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
The live feed is scheduled to begin at 7 PM.
by Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - The town is in the process of buying a new phone system. The Board of Selectmen authorized information technology manager James Russell to contract with Teleworks Communications to install a new voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) system at a cost of $4,900.
The move will reduce monthly billing for phone service to $331 and save the town about $90 a month, or about $1,080 in the first year.
That’s a 22% return on the investment of $4,900.
The move replaces all the dedicated Comcast phone lines and all the desk phones in the town hall and its outposts. All calls will be internet-based now.
At its Feb. 14th special meeting, the selectmen chose Teleworks Communications in Glastonbury, CT, from the 20 quotes the town received from its request-for-proposals.
2/19/2020 0 Comments
NORTH STONINGTON – Mike Urgo, First Selectman, will be joined by Oz Griebel, former gubernatorial candidate and now Chair of the SAM-CT task force, on February 24th at the Wheeler Library in North Stonington for a 6 pm presentation and conversation about SAM-CT’s efforts to reform Connecticut’s election system.
SAM stands for Serve America Movement, a political organization founded in New York in 2017, where it is now also a political party.
SAM-CT formed in 2019. It is an election reform group with a growing coalition of voters focused on restructuring Connecticut’s election system by supporting term limits, ranked-choice voting and a statewide referendum on open primaries.
Their efforts are designed to provide voters with more competition and more choice at the ballot box and more action on the issues that matter to voters.
In the Connecticut November 2019 municipal elections, SAM endorsed Mike Urgo’s successful campaign for re-election as the town’s first selectman.
Who: Oz Griebel, SAM-CT and Mike Urgo, First Selectman of North Stonington
What: A discussion of election reform in Connecticut
When: February 24, 2020 at 6:00 p.m.
Where: Wheeler Library, 101 Main Street – North Stonington, Connecticut
By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - It’s been going since December, an annual ritual that takes half of the year to complete. It involves scores of people and thousands of hours. And, because of our Town Meeting form of government, it falls on all voters, The People, to complete it.
Welcome to The Budget.
The Board of Finance started on Dec. 4th last year to come up with a schedule of 25 meetings and deadlines for the creation of the 2020-2021 town budget. Those don’t include the hundreds of meetings the town’s departments and agencies have completed to come up with their annual requests.
Already, the finance board and Board of Selectmen have met nearly every week this year as they request and collect the department requests. Those requests were all due by January 3rd.
Then the face-to-face process began. As departments and agencies present their requests to the joint boards, the finance board members and selectmen ask their preliminary questions and make their suggestions to the departments.
So far, the joint boards have heard from nearly everyone:
Department of Public Works
Economic Development Commission
Land use departments
The North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company
North Stonington Ambulance Association
and the Recreation Commission
All that’s left for preliminary presentations is the final piece, the big one. The Board of Education is scheduled to present its $14.45 million operating requests on Wednesday, Feb. 19th.
At its Feb. 12 meeting, the Board of Education voted to officially move their budget work to the Board of Finance.
Once the finance board has all the pieces, it only gives itself a little more than a month to look at the collection of pipe dreams from hopeful departments and agencies and build a single budget ready for presentation. On March 25, the finance board is scheduled to vote to pass their work along to The People for comment.
The public financial hearing is scheduled for April 6th (clear your calendar). Based on the comments (putting it lightly) from The People, the finance board will dig back into the numbers to come up with a budget they think will pass The People’s muster.
May 4th, The People will gather for the Annual Town Budget Meeting. The goal that night will be to get consensus on the numbers and approval for a full-day referendum on May 18 - The People’s time to say Yes, the finance board has done its job; or No, the finance board has more work to do.
With luck, the Yes votes will carry and the finance board can set the mill rate on May 20.
To understand what the mill rate is, click here.
The members of the Board of Finance are:
Daniel Spring, Republican, Chairman
Paul Simonds, Republican, Vice-Chairman
Anne Akin, Republican, Secretary/Alternate
Carolyn Howell, Unaffiliated, Member
Dan Smith, Republican, Member
Mustapha Ratib, Democrat, Member
Michael Anderson, Democrat, Member
Chris Hundt, Republican, Alternate
Updated February 13, 2020 9:27 PM to reflect comments from Priscilla Lewis.
By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - After six years as an alternate on the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC), Priscilla Lewis changed seats to become a full voting member at the commission’s last meeting.
On Thursday, Feb. 6., at it’s regular meeting, the board also accepted Jennifer Pensa as an alternate to the commission.
Lewis, who is called Pat, has previously served on the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, she said, and she’s proud to be on the PZC.
“I like to do it because I know so much about the town,” she said. “I know every road.”
She is a member of the Republican Party.
Pensa is a member of the North Stonington Democratic Town Committee and the Director of Operations and Technology at Chelsea Groton Bank. She is responsible for overseeing many departments, including Business Intelligence, Deposit Operations, Direct Banking/E-Commerce, Facilities, Purchasing, Security and Technology Services.
Also at the meeting, the board worked to clean up zoning regulations at the meeting. In addition, Zoning Enforcement Officer Juliet Hodge reported back on her investigation of the historic abandoned section of Fowler Road, pursuant to conditions that had been placed on the special permit granted to Michael and Wanda Breidinger, 125 Fowler Road, for their approved event barn.
It turns out that the section of Fowler Road that functions as their driveway is not a recognized Scenic Road, scenic as it may be. Therefore, the PZC can create no obligations for them to maintain it as a Scenic Road.
Hodge also discovered in her research that the Board of Selectmen voted in 1988 to have some of the town’s historic-but-forgotten town roads, such as the wooded memory that once connected Grindstone Hill and Wyassup roads, officially abandoned. That would have turned the property over to owner’s whose land the roads cross over and gotten rid of many miles to town road frontage.
However, the Selectmen never followed through, never brought the road abandonment to Town Meeting, she said. Thus, the status of the driveway and wooded section of the old Fowler Road is in limbo - abandoned but not approved, the other shoe held in midair by hands who can’t drop it.
By Robert D. Utter
NORTH STONINGTON - Go ahead, hold your breath. We’re almost there.
After almost 12 years, the blessèd Boombridge Road bridge is coming back.
After 12 years of going down Route 2 and over the Pawcatuck River, usually through White Rock, to get into Westerly to buy a couple of bolts at McQuade’s Hardware, finally the drivers who favored the age-old bridge, the bridge that once allowed the flow of flint corn from Westerly and Charlestown to Clark’s Falls for milling, will see the bridge open again.
But, my God, it’s been a struggle to get there.
(First of all, let’s call it by its rightful name. It’s the Boom Bridge. It doesn’t need to be called the Boombridge Road bridge. The road is superfluous, and you already said bridge. Boom Bridge.)
On December 17, Christmas came early to those of us who miss the Boom Bridge every day. A contract was awarded to Brunalli Construction of Southington, Conn.
The contracted cost of the project is $1,974,629, and can start as soon as April 1. That will pay Brunalli to remove everything there and replace it with a composite cast-in-place reinforced concrete deck on a steel plate girder superstructure. That will rest on reinforced concrete integral abutments founded on rock-bearing steel piles. The length is 122 feet. Curb to curb, the width will be 24 feet. That’s what the engineers are saying, anyway.
To finish up, they will reconstruct the bridge approaches on both the Connecticut and Rhode Island sides.
Brunalli has until November 20 this year to complete their work or start paying daily $1,500 fines.
It was the heavy hand of First Selectman Mike Urgo, pressing Send, that kept the project alive and moving. He emailed the state and others “daily” to the fight the inertia that has bedeviled the bridge. Without his perseverance, the federal funding was in jeopardy of disappearing.
Kevin J. Nursick, DOT communications officer, explained that Connecticut had taken the lead in the project.
From DOT’s point of view, at “about $2 million,” Boom Bridge is a tiny project. He called it “ a rinky-dink bridge that carries virtually no traffic.” The new bridge has been engineered so it will span state to state without the six pillars in the middle of the river the current bridge sits on, meaning much less wear on the bridge structure from river scouring.
“Finally,” Nusick said, “we’ll be able to put this behind us for another 50 years.”
It’s those two states and that nasty conceptual line in the middle of the river that have made this project such a nuisance. It’s not the first time the Pawcatuck River caused jurisdictional mayhem. The last time the White Rock bridge was rebuilt, between Westerly and upper Pawcatuck, it took about the same amount of time.
The current iteration of the Boom Bridge was built 52 years ago, in 1968. It has been getting inspected every year, but by 1995, it’s ratings started to slide and it only got a “fair” grade.
On May 9, 2001, the Conn. Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operations, sent North Stonington a letter notifying the town the bridge was in “poor” condition and was “in need of structural engineering to strengthen its steel stringers.”
By March two years later, construction was slated to start in 2006. But the project struggled from the complexities of the facts - the bridge, across a river that is a state border, is “privately owned” by the towns of Westerly and North Stonington. So no state has any jurisdiction or, technically, any responsibility. Getting the two towns, the two states, and the federal government (Uncle Sam having the deepest pockets) on the same page or even in the same room was a huge challenge.
For years, North Stonington’s then-First Selectman, Nick Mullane, sent reams of letters to get the job coordinated, but by November of 2006, yet another bridge inspection found pieces of the steel girders were missing.
Also in 2006, housing prices collapsed and by March of 2008, the world was in recession. Business as usual halted. State and federal funding for a small private bridge repair became unlikely.
An inspection in July 2008 found the bridge no longer safe for travel and on July 15th, Mullane announced the bridge would close on July 18th.
Cement Jersey barriers were put up at both ends. But, since the bridge had always been used to get cattle across to pastures on both sides of the river, the barriers were constantly being moved aside. Drivers would usually find the bridge open, thanks to the Beriah Lewis farm’s tractors. (Or maybe their prize-winning oxen did the deed.)
North Stonington’s resident state troopers, however, started ticketing drivers coming across into Connecticut. Finally, the double Jersey rubble-filled barrier that stands there now was put in place in July 2012, leaving enough room for bovine and human pedestrians to get through.
The total cost of the bridge project is $2,665,750. Beside the contract amount, there is a 10% contingency of $197,463 and a 25% item called “incidentals” for $493,658.
Who pays for it?
All along, the formula was supposed to be 40% Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), 40% Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), 10% Town of North Stonington, and 10% Town of Westerly. The funds from the states are actually federal dollars administered by the states.
But the final allocations are this: $1,066,300 CTDOT (40%), $600,000 RIDOT (22.5%), $266,575 North Stonington (10%), and $732,875 Westerly (27.5%).
Between 2009 and 2016, the town spent $298,576 on the project, mostly on engineering. The state and/or federal government covered $238,660 of that, meaning the town has spent $59,916 before this contract.
The engineering was done by TranSystems of Connecticut.
So, after thousands of hours of work, thousands of documents, scores of meetings, the historic Boom Bridge will finally make its comeback.
2/4/2020 0 Comments
The Connecticut Department of Transportation is announcing the start of construction on the Boombridge Road Bridge (Bridge 04744), spanning the Pawcatuck River, located in North Stonington, Connecticut and Westerly, Rhode Island. The bridge is owned and maintained by the respective towns.
The project consists of removing and replacing the existing bridge structure, including the reconstruction of the bridge approaches in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The new bridge will consist of a composite cast-in-place reinforced concrete deck and steel plate girder superstructure, with reinforced concrete integral abutments founded on rock-bearing steel piles with a curb to curb width of 24-feet and a length of 122-feet.
DOT Project No. 0101-0112 was awarded to Brunalli Construction Company at a cost of $1,974,629.00 on December 17, 2019, and is scheduled to be completed November 20, 2020.
The bridge will remain closed during construction, and motorists should continue to use alternate routes.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
TELEPHONE: (860) 594-3062
FAX: (860) 594-3065
WEB SITE: www.ct.gov/dot
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