April 16, 2014

Links to see state taxes, grants and more

Here's a link that will let you see how much the state took in from income taxes, by municipality: 

https://data.ct.gov/Government/2012-Personal-Income-Tax-By-Town/rkg9-smhd

Here's a link that will let you see how much state money was sent to any town (and other recipients): 

http://transparency.ct.gov/html/searchGrants.asp

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 2, 2014

Renaissance, the BDDC and Depot Square

2012 rendering of possible Depot Square look
Depot Square plan needs financial assistance

Here is the March 20 letter from Martin Kenny of Lexington Partners to Ryan Porter, the project manager for Depot Square:

Dear Mr. Porter: 
As you know, my firm Lexington Partners, LLC with 30 years of real estate development experience with 
a focus on ground-up multi-family residential development primarily in Connecticut has joined forces 
with the principals of D' Amato Construction, Inc. an experienced and reputable General Contractor with 
deep roots in the Bristol community to work with Renaissance Downtowns to explore a financially viable 
way to jump-start the first phase of development at Depot Square. 
We have been working with our team of architects, structural & civil engineers & construction 
professionals to come up with a development plan that includes residential apartment units housed in 
an attractive four story structure of institutional grade quality, with amenity space and a retail 
component fronting Main Street. We are currently finalizing design review and preparing a bid package 
so that we have a comprehensive estimate of both hard and soft costs. We do not expect to have this 
work finalized until the second week of April. 
Provided the estimate works out, we along with Renaissance will then be prepared to sit down with the 
Bristol Downtown Development Corporation ("BDDC") to discuss the plans and a financial proposal that 
we feel would be successful. Our team is only interested in developing a quality property that the City of 
Bristol and we can all be proud of. That being said, we recognize the development plan for this critical 
first phase will require some subsidy, and cannot be all things to all people and still actually get built. 
We hope to have a meeting to review our plan and the accompanying economics in mid-April. Thank 
you for your consideration.
Sincerely yours,
Martin Kenny

Here is the email that Bristol Downtown Development Corp. Chairwoman Jennifer Arasimowicz sent on April 1 to Ryan Porter, the project manager for Renaissance Downtowns:

Subject:                          Renaissance Downtowns Submittal
 
Ryan,
The BDDC is in receipt of the letter you forwarded from Lexington Partners dated March 20, 2014. As time is getting very short for the Board to make any recommendation to the Council and arrange for a Closing by May 25, 2014 if Renaissance's financing plan is accepted, I wanted to be clear on the expected deliverables in order for the Board to conduct a complete review and make meaningful recommendations. Our next meeting is currently scheduled for Monday, April 14. In order to proceed with that meeting and a review of Renaissance's financing, development and leasing plan, please submit the following materials no later than close of business on Monday, April 7. If these materials will not be available by April 7, please let me know the date on which you intend to submit them and I will poll the Board concerning the cancellation of the regular meeting and scheduling of a special meeting.
1.  Renaissance's proposed financing, development and lease plan for the Phases on which Renaissance intends to close, including a detailed explanation of the "subsidy" noted in the letter from Lexington Partners, and the status of any pre-leasing or secured retail tenants. Please also include the amount, source and terms of all financing including equity, with documentation of the status of commitments for all sources;
2. Whether and to what extent there will be any set-aside for low-income or workforce housing;
3.  An updated site plan of the Phases on which Renaissance intends to close;
4.  Any requested modifications to the Final Concept Plan previously approved by the Board;
5.  The plans for the piazza;
6.  A copy of the subdivision plan approved by the planning and zoning commission and an explanation of why it was subdivided into 3 parcels;
7.  A complete description of the proposed program mix for any Phases on which Renaissance intends to close along with a demonstration of how the program mix meets the requirements of the PDA for an initial closing;
8. A detailed explanation of the ownership structure/partnership that intends to close on the land, whether such structure is for only the particular Phases on which Renaissance intends to close or for the entire Project, and a demonstration that such a structure meets the ownership requirements of the PDA (i.e., Renaissance/Don Monti retaining 50% ownership);
9.  An artist rendering of the proposed construction;
10.  A detailed schedule for the proposed construction;
11.  The plan for subsequent Phases of development; and
12. An explanation of the construction being "of institutional grade quality," as set forth in the letter from Lexington Partners.
 
Thanks and we look forward to receiving your submission.
 
Jenn Arasimowicz
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol officials cringe at New Britain comparison

Most every time a Bristol official seeks to point to a place that's failing to do what government should, they target nearby New Britain.
Case in point: At Monday's budget hearing, Finance Vice Chairman John Smith said the city has to be willing to pay for a quality educational system and other quality of life necessities.
"If we don't do that, there's a community not too far to our east which has never done that," he said, adding that it's the kind of place where they snatch $10 million out of the water department's surplus and borrow money to buy textbooks.
"I don't ever want to be like that community," Smith said.
City Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said that New Britain has become a city with a group that is "extremely well off" and a much larger "strata of people living barely at the line of poverty."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 31, 2014

Can't we think big about Connecticut's hospitals?

Instead of turning to for-profit hospital companies to pump money into a handful of Connecticut's nonprofit hospitals, the state ought to be thinking bigger.
What really needs to happen is for the state's nonprofit hospitals to stop competing with each other as if they were all little businesses and instead work together to do the job they were created for: to provide medical care for Connecticut's people.
The right models already exist elsewhere in America. Look no further than the Cleveland Clinics or the Mayo Clinic to find regional nonprofits that have created systems that offer top quality care for residents that are so good that people travel to them from across the world to get treatment.
Connecticut could follow suit.
There's nothing but leadership blocking the way for the state from creating a similar integrated health care network that would pull together community hospitals with sterling medical centers in Hartford and New Haven.
I can well understand that little hospitals like the one in Bristol are eyeing a possible buyout by a for-profit provider as one way to survive.
But it's not the only option.
Can't anybody with some vision at least try to push Connecticut to adopt the most successful health care models in the world before we turn the whole system into just another business? Even the most ardent capitalists understand that health care is different than selling hamburgers.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 28, 2014

City budget likely to ice out education

Though final figures won't be available until Monday, adding up what's already been released paints a pretty dire picture for the Board of Education's quest for a big increase this year.
The overall budget would rise to about $190 million if all the spending requests were approved, about $11 million more than expected revenue. To get the necessary funds, the city would have to impose almost a 3-mill hike.
Most of that, of course, is needed to pay for the school increase sought by educators.
On the city side, it appears spending would go up less than the 1.5 percent limit sought by Mayor Ken Cockayne. That probably adds up to about half a mill on top of the 33.50 rate already in place.
But the school requests, if granted, would probably push the overall mill rate to more than 36.
Adding full day kindergarten alone would at least a third of a mill.
So it's not clear what city finance commissioners and council members will do as they begin to pare the figures down in the days ahead.
But Cockayne's vow to hold the line on school spending may get support as officials try to provide enough funding without clobbering taxpayers.
There's a joint workshop session slated for 6 p.m. Monday in the council chambers to go over the numbers and begin discussions about possible reductions to the initial spending plan.
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 21, 2014

'Positive outcome' possible on school budget, Fitzgerald says

Board of Education member Jill Fitzgerald, who heads its finance committee, sent this statement along after last night's budget hearing on the school spending plan:

"We had not asked for deep cuts prior to this presentation. We felt it was important for Dr. Solek and staff to make their presentation to the BOF based on what they believe they need to run the Bristol school system.  We have witnessed monumental improvements with the level of detail in the financial reporting and communication since we were first elected to serve on this Board.  This is a huge step in developing trust and confidence between the city and the BOE.  There were great questions asked and we saw a high level of engagement and understanding on the part of the BOF.  We feel confident that the process will produce a positive outcome."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Full-day kindergarten has some support at City Hall

Following a budget hearing Thursday, city leaders expressed some support for the Board of Education’s bid to switch to full-day kindergarten next fall.
“It’s absolutely worth the money,” said city Councilor Calvin Brown. “It’s like making a choice between the 21st century and the Dark Ages.”
The school board is seeking an extra $1.9 million as part of its spending requests to fund a changeover from half-day to full-day kindergarten, a move that would triple the current two hours a day of instructional time, according to Superintendent EIlen Solek.
“We have to understand that’s a very, very small portion of the budget,” said city Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, a proponent of the move.
But it’s not clear that the proposal will win over a majority of city councilors and Board of Finance members who have to weigh the idea as part of a proposed $111.4 million education budget that would cost taxpayers $7.1 million more than the schools received this year.
“That’s a lot of money,” said city Councilor Eric Carlson. “The numbers kind of scare me a little bit.”
Derek Czenczelewski, a finance commissioner and former councilor, said he’s sure that a lot of young families would like to see the city adopt full-day kindergarten.
But, he said, officials “have to weigh it carefully” given the high cost and the impact on the minimum budget requirement that makes it nearly impossible for the city to reduce education funding from the previous year’s total.
Solek said the school budget as a whole was developed “thoughtfully, carefully and slowly” to cover rising costs and essential needs.
It includes some money to add middle school sports back into the mix, but at least two city leaders expressed frustration that it couldn’t also find money to restore the music and arts funding that was chopped during the recession.
Both Carlson and Finance Chairwoman Cheryl Thibeault said that children with an artistic bent should also have opportunities.
The main new initiative, though, is the school board’s call to join 77 percent of Connecticut districts by offering full-day kindergarten.
Solek said it would be “the most important thing that we can do for the city itself” because it would spur young families to move to Bristol who might otherwise go elsewhere.
“We need to stay competitive,” she said, and to keep educational achievement on the rise in a district where half the children in first grade or younger are eligible for free or reduced school lunches.
Brown said he also believes the kindergarten change is “one of the most important investments the city can make.”
He said it will help families who are trying to decide “where to plant their roots and build their lives.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 20, 2014

Cockayne's senior tax relief plan stalls

Mayor Ken Cockayne’s call for more help for senior citizens struggling to pay property tax bills has stalled.
The city’s Ordinance Committee said that it needs more information before it can take any action.
“The mayor’s going to have to provide a better framework for that,” said city Councilor Eric Carlson, chairman of the three-person panel.
Carlson said it is “a worthwhile issue,” but there’s nothing his committee can do to implement any plan until it gets details of what the mayor seeks.
City Councilor Calvin Brown said it’s fine with him to leave it in the mayor’s hands for the time being.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City may have to pay "Cadillac tax" on its health care for employees

The health insurance plan the city offers to its employees is so lucrative that it may have “to pay some kind of tax” for providing excessive benefits, according to Board of Finance Vice Chairman John Smith.
The so-called “Cadillac tax” is supposed to help the federal government raise money for the subsidies provided by Obamacare for people who can’t afford to cover the tab for required health insurance.
“We have to be prepared,” Smith said.
Smith said the penalty the city may have to pay could be revised if the legislation is overhauled, but it’s possible the government may be eager to get more money to shore up Obamacare plans given the likelihood that people with major maladies will sign up in greater numbers than healthy adults.
Smith said it would be up the city, as the employer, to pay the tax on its lucrative health care package for employees.
But, he said, officials will try to negotiate with city unions to try to reduce the impact.
At this point, it’s not clear how much the city might be on the hook for.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 19, 2014

Mayor to schools: Don't expect more

Mayor Ken Cockayne said the Board of Education's bid to get millions in extra funding in the coming fiscal year should be canned.
"I'm going to flat fund them," the mayor said Wednesday night.
The schools are seeking a 5 percent budget hike to $109.4 million in the next fiscal year along with a $2.7 million cafeteria budget and support for a $2.7 million bid to switch to full-day kindergarten.
Cockayne said he's having none of it.
He said the schools should get by on the $104.3 million allocation they got last year.
"They just need to manage their money better, just like the city does," Cockayne said.
The mayor's position, which has at least some support on the Board of Finance and City Council, is likely to produce sharp opposition from those who see education as a critical need for the city to attract young families.
School officials are slated to present their budget plan to the finance board at a hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers on th first floor of City Hall.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

March 12, 2014

The best law Bristol ever adopted

Best law passed in Bristol in the past two decades? The one that made it possible to stop reading the entire text of every proposed ordinance change at a City Council meeting.
I can remember waiting for an hour or more while former city Councilor Joe Wilson plowed through some deadly dull language for a statute that nobody much cared about to begin with.
Now the council just waives the reading routinely and, boom, it's done. That revision alone has probably given me days of my life back.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com