May 31, 2008

Legrand talks real estate

Here's Ron Legrand talking real estate...

Here's a link to some kind of fake news story about Legrand, in which you can see him at home.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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A mystery developer at center of Depot Square plan

The developer that submitted the sole proposal for Bristol's downtown revitalization remains a mystery.
The only developer that sought the opportunity to remake the mall property was the Florida-based Heritage Financial Group, which may be run by a self-proclaimed millionaire who calls himself “the nation’s leading expert on making fast cash with quick turn real estate.”
It’s possible, too, that the company bills itself as “the one-stop provider of mobile and manufactured homes” in its hometown of Jacksonsville.
What little we know for sure is that the Los Angeles-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group submitted a comprehensive conceptual plan for the 17-acre former mall site on behalf of Heritage Financial Group of Jacksonville.
Jaime Parker, of Cielo, said Saturday that Heritage has “done a multitude of projects” over the years and doesn’t sell mobile homes.
Beyond that, he wouldn’t talk about the company that would, he said, “become the eventual purchasers and developers of this project.”
Florida's secretary of state lists on its website dozens of "Heritage Financial" firms in the Sunshine State, but the ones in Jacksonville all appear to list Ronald Legrand as their president.
Legrand runs a program that aims to teach those who sign up how to make moneyh in real estate.
“Before we go any further, let's clear one thing up,” he says on his chief website, “you may have heard it said that I’m a ‘Millionaire Maker.’ This is absolutely true. I’m personally responsible for helping many people rise into the world of the wealthy.”
On another site, Legrand promises, “I’ll Teach You TOTALLY Legal, Rarely Shared Secrets And Systems That Will Bring The Cash To YOU, So You Don’t Have To Jeopardize Anything To Get Started In The Real Estate Business. And No – You Don’t Use Your Own Money – You Use Someone Else’s… For FREE!”
Legrand calls himself “just a simple auto mechanic with a redneck background who barely got out of high school” but discovered how to make money buying and selling houses. He claims to have sold more than 1,600 homes over the past 25 years.
It’s unclear, though, whether he has anything to do with the proposal made in Bristol.
However, the only other Heritage Financial Group listed in Jacksonville appears to be a mobile home dealer.
“At Heritage Financial Group we are reliable and committed to serving all of your mobile and manufactured home dealer needs,” a mobile home dealers’ website says.“We strive to offer a high level of service and quality in everything we do,” the advertisement-type website proclaims.
“That’s not them,” Parker said of the mobile home seller. He could not be reached again later about the possible Legrand connection.Paradise Village Mobile Homes is listed at the same address in Jacksonville.
Calls to Heritage Financial, Paradise Village and Legrand were not returned Saturday.

What’s in a name?
The paperwork submitted to Bristol lists the developer as Heritage Financial Group, Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.
The Florida secretary of state has one firm that matches that name, listing its address as 9799 Old St. Augustine Rd. in Jacksonville.
Its president is listed as Ronald F. Legrand of 5490 Greenland Road, Jacksonville. Legrand is a real estate investment guru who writes books, gives speeches, provides seminars and the like to global Publishing, Inc. lists its address as 9799 Old St. Augustine Road in Jacksonville.
In addition to the records at the Florida secretary of state’s website, there is a listing on a mobile home dealers’ website for Heritage Financial Group at 10201 W. Beaver St. in Jacksonville, the same address that also houses Paradise Valley Mobile Homes on the city of Jacksonville’s website.
There is no clear connection between the mobile home dealer and Legrand’s company except there appear to be no corporate records filed in Florida for any other Heritage Financial in Jacksonville.

Bristol officials say they’ll do their homework
The chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. said the plan that Heritage Financial backed appears to be a good one.
“It’s a wonderful proposal,” Johnson said Saturday. “Now we just have to see if it’s a viable proposal.”
Johnson said that the downtown corporation, a nonprofit created last year by the city, will look into Cielo and Heritage Financial as part of its normal background investigation to see if they have the fiscal strength to carry out the project.
“There are a whole lot of things” that will need to be checked out, Johnson said.
Johnson said the downtown company won’t pick a preferred developer until its members are convinced there’s a solid plan with solid prospects for panning out.
“The logical step now is for us to do the due diligence,” Johnson said.
If it turns out that the firms involved in the only proposal the corporation received aren’t up to it, Johnson said, “then we’re back to square one.”
If that happens, officials will see if they need to revise the ideas they asked for in the bidding documents to try to get more companies to seek the job.
Johnson said he was disappointed that only one proposal came in.
He said he thought the scale of the project was likely too big for local developers such as Carpenter or D’Amato construction companies, but he said he figured that some major New England developers or others elsewhere in the country might be interested.
Johnson said that after shelling out $20,000 for national advertising, it’s a shame the only bidder is a company that was already eyeing Bristol.

Bidder explains his role
The man who submitted the only proposal for the former downtown mall site said Saturday he was surprised to learn he had no competition.
Jaime Parker of the Los Angeles-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group said he’s been keeping an eye on the Bristol property for several years, waiting for the moment when something could be done with it.
At first, he said, the 17-acre site “was pretty much tied up in some political stuff,” but when Art Ward took office he saw that a new alignment existed that would allow progress.
Parker said he began by talking in-depth to Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, and then moved on to discuss the project with many others.
The end result was the ability create a “life-work-play” concept for the site that met many of the suggestions the community has made for the property over the years, he said.
Parker said his own role is not to serve as a developer.
Instead, he said, “what we do is find opportunities” and then try to line up “the best developer, the best architect, the best builder” to make projects become a reality.
Parker said the plan is merely conceptual and none of the retailers, restaurants or other details are set in stone. They are mentioned merely to illustrate the ideas that would drive the final planning, he said.
“This is the kind of direction we see,” Parker said, using broad strokes rather than details that might be tossed aside.
“It’s the overall concept that’s important here,” he said.
The final plan would be worked out in concert with the city, the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., the state and the developer, Parker said.
“A lot of echoing back and forth” is needed before that can be done, he said.
The mix of retail, housing and offices is yet to be determined, Parker said, and so are the civic improvements contained in the plan.
Frank Johnson, the chairman of the BDDC, said that much depends on who’s expected to pay for what in any plan.
In any case, Parker said his role is largely over as soon as preferred developer is chosen.
He is, in essence, earning a living serving as a scout for developers, to find project possibilities and figure out what’s needed to make them happen.
Whether the Depot Square concept he proposed in Bristol will come to pass will become much more clear in the coming weeks.

Click here for 14-page PDF of the mall site plan submitted Friday by the L.A.-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group, working for Heritage Financial Group of Florida, the developer

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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The mystery of Heritage Financial

The developer that submitted the sole proposal for Bristol's downtown revitalization remains a mystery.
Florida's secretary of state lists dozens of "Heritage Financial" firms in the Sunshine State, but the only ones I could find for Jacksonville all seemed to be related to Ronald Legrand, listed as president. His address is listed as 5490 Greenland Rd., Jacksonville.
Here, for example, is a listing for Heritage Financial Group, Inc. of Jacksonville, with Legrand listed as the president.
Well, it appears that Legrand is this guy. Here's his MySpace page. Here's another website that says it's copyrighted by Heritage Financial, Ltd.
Legrand claims he's the "the nation's leading expert on making fast cash with quick turn real estate."
Is Legrand connected to the Heritage Financial Group that is seeking Bristol's business? I don't know.
The Los Angeles-based scout that pulled the plan together, Jaime Parker, wouldn't talk about Heritage Financial Group except to say that it's not selling mobile homes.

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Talked to Jaime Parker

More to come, but he says the mobile home dealer is not the same Heritage Financial that he's dealing with. So I guess we have more to try to sort out in the days and weeks ahead.
Parker said he was surprised that nobody else sought the opportunity in Bristol.

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A mobile home dealer in Florida?

Note: please see note at the end.

It appears the Florida developer angling for the right to lead the revitalization of the former downtown mall site may have billed itself as “the one-stop provider of mobile and manufactured homes” in its hometown of Jacksonsville.
“At Heritage Financial Group we are reliable and committed to serving all of your mobile and manufactured home dealer needs,” a mobile home dealers’ website says.
“We strive to offer a high level of service and quality in everything we do,” the advertisement-type website proclaims.
It is not clear if the developer and the mobile home dealer have anything to do with one another. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Heritage Financial Group, which hopes to win the right to develop the 17-acre former mall site, was the only developer to submit a plan Friday to the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., which aims to choose a firm to lead the revitalization effort by the end of July.
Its conceptual plan includes about 600,000-square-feet of new office, retail space and housing. It also calls for construction of a train station, a dog park, a skating rink, a movie theater and much more.

PS: Nobody's answering the phone there again today.
And for those who are keenly interested, here's the website for the architect that drew up the design
Update at 10:15 a.m. Saturday -
Take a look at this listing on the city of Jacksonville's list of mobile home parks:
Paradise Village Mobile Home (904) 786-6766 10201 W Beaver St Jacksonville, FL
Yes, it's the same address as a company with the same name as Bristol's developer hopeful.
They have an answering machine anyway. Hopefully, someone will call me back.

Another update: The Paradise Valley Mobile Home Community in Jacksonville, Fla. is owned by an Indiana company that has nothing to do with Heritage Financial Group, according to the assessor's records in Duval County, Fla. online here

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May 30, 2008

It all comes down to a single, thin plan

Instead of the pile of downtown revitalization proposals they’d hoped for, development officials Friday found themselves looking at a single plan.
But they what they saw impressed them.
“Our battle cry all along is: it only takes one,” said Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Heritage Financial Group, which hopes to win the right to develop the 17-acre former mall site, submitted a concept that included about 600,000-square-feet of new office, retail space and housing.
It included a new train station, a “cascading stream with waterfalls” and a spray park, a grocery store, a movie theater, a rooftop pool, a fountain, an amphitheater and bandstand and other amenities aimed at creating “a live, work, play community.”
As he scanned a diagram of the concept, John Lodovico, a downtown commissioner, said, “It’s pretty impressive. They put a lot of thought into this.”
“It does look nice,” said city Purchasing Agent Roger Rousseau.
The plan was submitted by the Los Angeles-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group on behalf of the developer. A Florida architect, Mark Basham, designed the conceptual scheme.
Calls to the various firms involved in the plan were not returned late Friday.
But Jaimee Parker, with Cielo, said several months ago that he’s been keeping an eye on the city’s project for four years. He said his firm was eager to get involved with it and promised to come up with something the community could back.
Parker said he’d talked with area construction firms, business leaders, government officials and others to work out what might be done with the site.
The conceptual plan is chock full of items that people have said they’d like to see, from a trolley system to old-time sidewalk vendors.
It mentions stores as varied as Ann Taylor and the Sports Authority. Restaurants cited range from an ESPN Zone to an Olive Garden, though McDonald’s would gain the key corner at Riverside Avenue and Main Street.
However, there’s no indication any of the retailers or restaurants are on board with the plan yet – the developer said only that they’ve been contacted – and ESPN at least has said several times that it’s not interested in putting one of its restaurants in Bristol.
Mayor Art Ward, who’s not a member of the non-profit BDDC created to oversee revitalization of the former mall property, said he's anxious to review the plan and "looking forward to future development."
Lodovico said the details wowed him.
“They’ve covered from A to Z here. They’ve covered everything,” he said.
Calling the project Depot Square, the name picked through a library contest this spring, the developer said it aims to make “an enchanting atmosphere" of ‘Old Bristol’ that would “create an atmosphere and ambiance, beckoning people throughout Hartford County and beyond to not only visit, but stay for hours walking the cityscape avenues, meandering through the adjacent trails” along a new Railroad Park and “cooling off around the surrounding fountains, streams and waterfalls in the summer” or ice skating in the winter.
The key, the developer said, is to make a centralized dining section that would include a plaza for sitting, shopping and walking around.
The plan claims that the Depot Square it envisions “will redefine Bristol, positioning Bristol to transform itself into a true destination location while supplying the building blocks for a growing and strengthening Bristol economy.”
The city made most of the plan public after media protests Friday but kept secret an appendix titled "Acquisition Terms & Conditions - Letters of Intent." The Press has a Freedom of Information request pending to review the entire document, including the appendix.
Officials have long said they are counting on regaining at least the money they paid for the site, which is actually owed to the $17 million rainy day fund kept by the comptroller’s office.
The city purchased the decrepit mall for $5.3 million in 2005. It was torn down this winter after a prolonged legal fight to oust Ocean State Job Lot finally succeeded.

What happens now?
The Bristol Downtown Development Corp. will review the plan soon.
Frank Johnson, chairman of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp., said the nonprofit’s June 16 meeting will no doubt focus almost entirely on the proposal.
Assuming that officials choose to pursue the idea further, they would likely meet with the developer later in June and could perhaps name it the preferred developer ahead of the July 31 target for making a decision.
After choosing a preferred developer – at this point, it can only be the Fla.-based Heritage Financial Group or nobody – the BDDC and the developer would meet with state economic development leaders to hash out details of possible funding.
A final plan is likely to look quite different from the initial concept, officials have long said, because of the need to make choices about what to fund and who should pay.
When the city first embarked on a downtown revitalization effort, former Gov. John Rowland promised $45 million in state aid, but that means little now.

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Downtown festival postponed until June 7th

According to the Bristol Auto Club's website, the car show and festival scheduled for Saturday afternoon and evening on North Main Street has been put off until the following Saturday. Those folks with the cool old cars don't like rain.
Neither do I.

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Only one developer interested in failed mall site

Only one development group, the Jacksonville, FL-based Heritage Financial Group, submitted plans to the city Friday for the revitalization of the 17-acre downtown mall site.
The plan it submitted is skimpy but impressive, including a train station, a movie theater, an ESPN Zone and more. But all of it is merely conceptual and there is no indication whether it's possible or not.
As soon as I can, I will post a copy of the submission here so you all can read it.
I have so far been unable to reach the developer or its Los Angeles-based liason to the project, a nice young fellow named Jaime Parker whom I met briefly a few months ago.
Keep watching. There's much more to come.

Update at 4:40 - Click here for 14-page PDF of the mall site plan submitted Friday by the L.A.-based Cielo Real Estate Investment Group, working for Heritage Financial Group of Florida, the developer

Update at 4:50 pm. - The plan I just uploaded for your reading pleasure (?) doesn't show the site very well, but if you look at the last page, I'll try to tell you what's important:
1. The site includes 68.400-square-feet of retail and office space, plus
2. It includes 66,000-square-feet of professional office space, plus
3. Multi-family units total 320, plus
4. There are 1,460 parking spaces, including a parking garage where the grocery store is now, pus
5. A new train station just west of the existing bridge over Main Street, plus
6. An ampitheater across the street from Brackett Park, plus
7. A "cascading stream" and water features, including someplace for kids to play, between the train station and the ampitheater, plus
8. A bell tower with chimes, plus
9. An ice rink (yes, Rick Krizcenski, it hasn't been forgotten!), plus
10. A rooftop pool with a putting green, plus
11. A grocery store, a movie theater, and a host of restaurants (including ESPN Zone, Olive Garden, Quiznos, McDonalds, Dunkin' Donuts, Maggianos Little Italy and more), retailers that include GAP, Ann Taylor, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
There's more, but it's all just conceptual. There's nothing to indicate any of the stores have promised to come and plenty of reason for skepticism about many of them. ESPN, for example, has already said it doesn't have any intention of putting an ESPN Zone restaurant in Bristol.

Update at 5 - Mayor Art Ward said he's anxious to review the plan and "looking forward to future development."
I should add that the plan I uploaded is the entire thing minus one or two pages at the end that city officials said contained confidential financial information. I've already registered my protest over that decision given that any privileged financial information was specifically supposed to be put in a separate, sealed envelope. I don't think it should be held back.
The secret pages contain Appendix D, "Acquisition Terms & Conditions - Letters of Intent"
I know from eyeballing the thing that it was no more than a couple of pages, but what they said, I have no idea. Hopefully, someone who has a copy will let me know soon. In any case, I'll be trying to get one somehow as quickly as possible.

Update at 5:10 - There's not even an answering machine at the offices of Heritage Financial Services. The phone just rings and rings and rings.
Plus, if you Google the name, you'll find almost nothing. Heck, I can Google my brother's dog and find more information than that.
I'm still hoping to talk to Jaime Parker. We'll see.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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May 29, 2008

Burns plays victim

Press release from state Rep. Ron Burns:

State Representative Ron Burns, R-77th District, will participate in a Bristol Police Department emergency rescue drill on Saturday, May 31, 2008 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hoppers.
Representative Burns will play the part of a victim. Emergency rescue personnel will have to find him, treat his wounds, and carry him out on a litter.

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May 28, 2008

No bridge for the Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve

The city is giving up on the idea of installing a pedestrian bridge across the spillway for Birge Pond as part of this year’s $300,000 project to improve the park.
After engineers determined the century-old dam at the Hoppers-Birge Pond Nature Preserve couldn’t support the planned walkway, they hoped to create a pedestrian span below the dam.
But Park Director Ed Swicklas said that creating the bridge would cost $100,000 or more because of the need to erect concrete supports in the low, swampy area.
That’s too great a share of the limited budget available, park officials said.
There will likely be enough cash to pay for the $18,000 design for a new span, however, leaving the door open to constructing it later.
“I don’t think we should abandon the idea,” Swicklas said.
The overall project consists of remaking the existing parking lot, adding handicapped accessible paths along the south end of the pond, putting in picnic tables and installing some parking along Ambler Road. Improvements to the old gatehouse slab that juts into the pond slightly are also planned.
With a bridge, it would be possible to walk around the pond without traipsing down to Ambler Road and then back up to the water.
“I would like to have that be a loop because it’s a pain to go around” to the road, said Cindy Donovan, a park commissioner.
Swicklas said the pedestrian bridge can be put on the five-year project list next spring so that it can receive funding in the future.
The city hopes to complete the Hoppers-Birge Pond project this year.

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A "people person" seeks 77th for Republicans

For Jill Fitzgerald, serving in the state House “just seems like it falls in line with the type of things that I’ve done in my life.”
The 48-year-old owner of a bookkeeping company – who has co-produced two musicals for Bristol Theatre Arts – said that seeking political office is “the next level” for the sorts of things she’s been doing for years.
Fitzgerald, who served as Democratic city Councilor Kevin McCauley’s first campaign treasurer, was tapped by Republicans this week to run for the 77th District seat that freshman GOP state Rep. Ron Burns is giving up.
Fitzgerald will take on Christopher Wright, the son of a former state representative who held the seat for a decade, for the opportunity to represent northeastern Bristol in the legislature.
Wright said Wednesday that while he doesn’t know Fitzgerald, “I would like to welcome her to the race and look forward to an open exchange of ideas of the issues facing our city and state.”
Wright also thanked Burns for his service and wished him well in the future.
“While I may not agree with his political opinions, I believe that Ron is an honorable man who does good work for the children of Bristol in his job at the Boys and Girls Club,” Wright said.
Fitzgerald, a new member of the Republican Town Committee, is a moderate who can appeal to most voters in the Democratic-leaning district, party leaders said.
She said she considers herself a Republican because the party is friendly to “freedom, independence and small business” – issues that matter to her.
Fitzgerald said she is also a fiscal conservative, which aligns her more with the GOP “though you wouldn’t know it from this last president.”
Calling herself “a people person,” Fitzgerald said she’s done “a lot of volunteering” in the community for years.
“I have a lot of passion for our youth and our community and families,” she said.
The idea of seeking the state House seat arose, Fitzgerald said, arose while she was volunteering during the Day of Caring at Shepherd Meadows with some Republican officials. They talked about the race, she said, “and it started to just ring in me.”
Fitzgerald owns Bookkeeping Basics, a business she started so she could work at home when her children were young. She’s a QuickBooks Pro advisor.
Born in Southington, Fitzgerald has lived in Bristol her entire adult life. She has two children attending Bristol Eastern High School, a son who’s a senior and a daughter who’s a sophomore.
She and her husband of 23 years, Shawn Fitzgerald, co-produced two musicals for the community theater, including last fall’s production of “High School Musical.”
Fitzgerald is treasurer of the performing arts booster club at Eastern and has served on the school’s governance council in the past. She’s also active with her church, Baptist Community Valley Church in Avon.
Since graduating from Southington High School in 1978, Fitzgerald said she’s taken some courses in accounting and English, as well as some classes for certification she needs for her job, but does not have a college degree.
State lawmakers serve two-year terms and earn $28,000 for their part-time positions. The general election is November 4.

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May 27, 2008

Republicans turn to Fitzgerald to succeed Burns

Faced with a deadline Tuesday for making a choice about whether to run again, incumbent state Rep. Ron Burns opted to pull out of the race.
The freshman Republican’s decision to sit out the 77th District contest cleared the way for a political newcomer, Jill Fitzgerald, to claim the GOP’s nomination in what is likely to prove a tough battle against Democrat Chris Wright.
“I have no doubt that Jill will be able to fill Ron's shoes and pick up where Ron left off,” said Gary Klemyk, the Republican district chairman.
Burns, who quit the City Council in 2005 after a single term, said he has been “anguishing” about whether to seek reelection for weeks, but ultimately recognized that he could not give his all to both the legislature and his full-time job as the second-in-command at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club.
“Something has to give and one or the other is not going to get my full attention,” Burns said.
Beyond that, he said, he has “irons in the fire” that could potentially lead to a new position.
Burns said he’ll lend a hand to Fitzgerald in her quest to keep the district out of Democratic hands and may well leap back into the political fray in years to come.
Burns was the only Republican legislator in New England to defeat an incumbent Democrat in 2006, when he upended longtime state Rep. Roger Michele, taking the district for the GOP for the first time since James White won the seat in 1992.
State Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes northwestern Bristol, said Burns is “the exact type of person we want serving in public office. He’s diligent. He cares about people and the issues. He works hard. It’s certainly going to be a loss to Bristol, but what are you going to do?”
Hamzy said, though, that Fitzgerald made “a very positive impression” on him.
“She is someone in the same mold as Ron,” Hamzy said, and will put up a solid and potentially winning campaign against a little-known Democrat.
“She’s a really intriguing candidate” with a lot of passion, said Tom Barnes, Jr, chairman of the city’s GOP.
Mayor Art Ward, a Democrat, said he has “the utmost respect for Ron Burns as both a legislator and as a person. Ron has always been able and willing to work in a bipartisan manner for the best interests of the community, as both a member of the Bristol City Council and a state representative.”
“I am positive that Ron's decision not to seek reelection was a painstaking process which ultimately was determined by his dedication to the youth of our community,” Ward said, adding that he wishes Burns “continued success in all of his future endeavors.”
Art Mocabee, a former city Republican leader, called Burns’ departure “a loss for Bristol as a community, as we all know the quality of the values Ron Burns lives his life around. His second term would have led him to many new leadership positions and to a better understanding of state government.
“It is truly disappointing that it had to come down to an employment issue,” Mocabee said. “Ron has done much for the Bristol Boys and Girls club over the many years he has served there. I think they should have worked with him more.”
Burns said, though, that the resources at the club that made it possible for him to run two years ago no longer exist.
“It makes it tough for me,” Burns said.
Klemyk said that Burns “will be a very missed asset that has served Bristol and the state with the utmost dignity, and is always looking out for the tax payer and asking questions making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely.”
Hamzy, a former state Republican Party chairman, said that looking at the big picture, Burns’ decision is typical of a growing problem.
“It really is getting very difficult to find good people to run for office when they have professional obligations,” Hamzy said.
“It’s almost become a societal issue because businesses and employers don’t want employees to run for public office,” he said, which drastically limits the pool of possible contenders.
State lawmakers serve two-year terms and earn $28,000 for their part-time positions. The general election is November 4.

Update at 10 p.m. - I talked with Jill Fitzgerald this evening, but it was too to make the story for Wednesday's paper. And since I'm tired and a little under the weather, I'll wait until morning to write it up. So check back in 12 hours!

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Larson, Visconti re Iraq

U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol, issued this statement recently about a trip he made to Iraq:

Washington, DC – Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a trip to Iraq this past weekend. The delegation met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Larson confronted al-Maliki with the reality of America’s waning patience with the War in Iraq and the government’s performance there.
Congressman Larson said, “Having spoken with Prime Minister Maliki, I am even more convinced of the need to establish a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The American people have supported the Iraqi government with life, limb and treasure. Now, it is time for Iraqis to stand up and take responsibility for their own future. It is time for Iraq’s neighbors and the Arab League to help create a stable and secure Iraq. It’s incumbent for Iraq’s neighbors and the international community to step up. It seems obvious to me they are content to see this administration go it alone.
“Americans at home are wondering why our troops are paying the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, caught in the midst of a sectarian war. The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt to rebuild Iraq while the Iraqi government is running a surplus.
“Iraq’s government must demonstrate to the United States and the world that it is capable of building a strong coalition to lead their country to stability and security. We have yet to see that sort of leadership from them.
“This continues to be one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our country’s history, the scope of which is eclipsing the Vietnam War.”

Republican challenger Joe Visconti just issued this in response:

WEST HARTFORD, CT -- West Hartford Councilman and Republican First Congressional District Candidate Joseph Visconti today blasted comments made by his opponent who demanded that Iraq increase the pace of its takeover of combat operations from US forces, calling the remarks "political opportunism at its worst."

Last week incumbent Democrat Congressman John Larson flew to Iraq and demanded that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which has won two major battles against Iran-backed terrorists in recent weeks, step up the pace of its combat operations.

"Larson stonewalled our military objectives with rhetoric for years and now he wants to get aggressive?" Visconti said. "John Larson should stop trying to act like a leader in the conflict in Iraq. He doesn’t have experience at it and could do more harm to our military than good.”

Visconti noted that Larson voted against liberating Iraq and preventing that country from becoming a new base for terrorists to launch attacks on the US, then worked against our military objectives as he called for a premature retreat of our troops.

"To put it in perspective," Visconti said, "John Larson lands in a free Iraq, meets with the democratically-elected leader in a newborn democracy, a democracy that American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians died for, which he opposed from the beginning, and now, to cover his own duplicity, arrogantly attacks our new ally."

Visconti also noted that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker reported Saturday, "You are not going to hear me say that Al Qaeda is defeated, but they've never been closer to defeat than they are now." Crocker said while touring cities in southern Iraq, "The government, (and) the prime minister, are showing a clear determination to take on extremist armed elements that challenge the authority of the government.”

Visconti said Crocker's assessment of progress throughout Iraq shows that "Larson has been out of touch with the realities of what is happening in Iraq as he is in his own district, as evidenced by the lost Pratt & Whitney air tanker contract. He used his position as Congressman to take a taxpayer-funded trip to Iraq to talk directly to a leader of a free country, thanks to Republican leadership, foresight and courage."

"He should applaud the history that has been made: the United States and the Coalition forces' successful liberation of Iraq, and its newly formed democracy where he played the part of naysayer, procrastinator, troop morale under-miner and armchair quarterback.”

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COO proposal not dead

According to city Councilor Craig Minor:
Mayor Art Ward has scheduled a special City Council special meeting on Tuesday, June 3 at 5:30 to "confer" with the Charter Revision Commission over the changes to the Draft Report that the City Council requested on May 5. The Charter Revision Commission must submit its Final Report within thirty days of that meeting.

Minor also has set up a Facebook group called New 62 COO to help rally support for the proposed creation of a chief operating officer at City Hall. Check it out.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Burns won't seek reelection

Just in from state Rep. Ron Burns, the first-term Republican who represents the 77th District:

It is with deep regret that I will not seek re-election as your state representative for the 77th Assembly District of Connecticut. I would like to thank the Bristol Boys & Girls Club for affording me the time to campaign and serve the constituents of the 77th assembly district. I would also like to thank the Republican Town Committee, the House Republicans and my family and my constituents for their support over the past one and one-half years. It is my privilege to serve you.
It has been a very difficult decision not to seek a second term. As much as I want to seek re-election, my current situation will not allow it. Over the past two months I have given much thought about how to best serve my constituents of the 77th district and my constituents at the Boys & Girls Club. Through that process, based on my current situation, I have concluded that I would not be able to perform an effective job as a State Representative and as a leader of the Boys & Girls Club.
Once again, I would like to thank all those who have supported me. The opportunity to serve you was a rewarding experience. In the future, if my situation changes and my party is interested, I will be more than willing to serve again.
Ron Burns
State Representative
77th Assembly District

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May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

This is a day for remembering those who have fallen in service to our country, men and women who died in uniform while seeking to gain, secure and preserve the freedom that has made America a beacon of hope for well over two centuries.
That we owe them much is obvious, that we can do nothing for them anymore is simply the truth. But we can at least pay them our respects.
Not every war is just and not every death in service to our nation has been worth the terrible cost. But that in no way dimishes the valor of those who followed orders to the end or detracts from our responsibility to honor their sacrifices.
As a country, we have told our troops to fight for causes large and small and we have seen them die all over the globe, from the sands of Tarawa to snowy forests of the Ardennes, from the trenches of Seichepry to the blasted remains of Fallujah.
There is only one constant: that men and women fighting for our flag willingly put their lives on the line for us, going wherever they are sent, trying to protect each other and do their duty.
Some come home to us mostly intact, others are broken in body or spirit, or both. Some perish.
On Memorial Day, we try to remember them, to tell their stories and to tend their graves.
We should also pray that against all odds war can be driven from the earth forever. For there is no greater good we can do for our honored dead than to allow them, truly, to rest in peace.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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May 23, 2008

Security cameras aim to curb park vandalism

By mid-summer, the first park cameras should be snapping pictures at downtown’s Brackett Park.
Its aim is to deter vandals from damaging city property or at least catch them in the act so that police officers have a better shot at tracking down the culprits.
The $26,000 security cameras, which are slated for installation at other city parks later, are one way that officials are trying to stem a growing wave of vandalism that is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.
In recent days alone, vandals have painted on the pump house and broken lights at Rockwell Park and kicked out spokes on the footbridge on Memorial Boulevard, officials said.
“We’re trying to keep up with all that,” said Park Director Ed Swicklas. “It’s an endless battle.”
The cameras are a new high-tech way to boost the odds for officials trying to win the fight.
Swicklas said they’ll be mounted on a tall pole with a direct line of sight back to City Hall so that a web-based system can capture the images regularly.
“This is, I guess, one of the state-of-the-art ones,” Swicklas said.
Officials are planning more cameras to combat vandalism at Rockwell Park and on the boulevard, with other parks likely to follow in years to come if the method proves helpful.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski said that vandalism is “a growing problem” across town and that steps have to be taken.
He said that he would like to explore ways to make it possible to pay out rewards for tipsters who turn in vandals without exposing the snitches to exposure through Freedom of Information requests.
Rimcoski said that when the new $500,000 skatepark opens this fall, the city might want to consider closing it for “a week or 10 days” every time someone vandalizes it.
That would give the skateboarders a strong incentive to protect the city’s investment, the councilor said.
Swicklas has said he believes that skateboarders will do a good job keeping an eye on the course because they already have more to lose than anyone if something is damaged there.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Drive for chief operating officer gains GOP backing

If city councilors refuse again next month to back a referendum on whether to create a chief operating officer at City Hall, Republicans have formally thrown their weight behind the growing effort to give voters the choice anyway.
“People want to be heard,” said Mickey Goldwasser.
“This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is a Bristol issue,” he said.
The GOP’s town committee unanimously agreed recently to help the bipartisan effort that city Councilors Craig Minor and Ken Cockayne are putting together to make sure the referendum takes place in November.
To pull it off, supporters need to gather more than 3,000 signatures from registered voters in the 45-day period after the City Council formally rejects the proposal from the Charter Revision Commission. That will likely happen by the end of June.
The council has already taken a preliminary stand on the issue, in which four councilors and Mayor Art Ward indicated their opposition to the plan. Only Minor, a Democrat, and Cockayne, a Republican, favor the suggested change in the city government’s blueprint.
Supporters say a chief operating officer would bring greater supervision to municipal departments and find ways to make the city run more efficiently. Detractors say the job would be a waste of money.
Tom Barnes, Jr, the city GOP chairman, said the Republicans aren’t going to take a stand on the proposal itself.
But, he said, it is “an insult to the people of Bristol” for the Democrat-controlled council to refuse to let the public have the final say on the chief operating officer at the voting booth.
“We should be allowed to say yea or nay,” Barnes said.
Cockayne said that planning is already underway to make sure that the signatures are properly gathered on forms that pass legal muster. A new website will be used to help rally support, he said.
“We’re in the process of putting together a small army,” Cockayne said.
At Minor’s suggestion, backers are planning a kickoff rally when their petition drive begins, Cockayne said, to help ensure the drive “hits the ground rolling.”
Cockayne said that Ward and the council members who voted against the plan were “endorsed by the unions” during last year’s campaign and are beholden to them now. He said that union opposition is the reason politicians are afraid to let the public vote.
“I work for all the people of Bristol,” Cockayne said.
Former Republican council hopeful Bob Merrick, a teacher who lost to Minor last year, said he received the union’s endorsement despite telling its leaders that he believed people should be able to vote on the issue.
Cockayne said that once the signatures are gathered this summer, an all-out effort to educate the public on the chief operating officer issue will begin. Businessman Craig Yarde is among those pushing hard to have the city create the post and has indicated he will help promote it.
Republican Registrar Ellie Klapatch said that with the presidential election still attracting record numbers of new voters, it’s a good year to have the issue on the ballot.
There will likely be twice as many voters in November this year as the city saw go to the polls last fall for the municipal election, party leaders said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 22, 2008

GOP congressional hopeful to star in music video

From Republican congressional candidate Joe Visconti's blog comes the news that the freewheelin' politician is angling to win ... a Grammy:

Here's a little news on my next Video Production. In the planning for almost a year now is a Music Video to compliment my song "America". Taking my production team to levels where we hope to win a Grammy as a tribute to all those who have defended Freedom since the birth of our Country. With hundreds of bikers, Jet fighter, Submarine, Battleship footage and all the scenes of Glory & Honor one could hope for. My Emmy Award winning Artisitic Brain is very excited about this project especially after the passing of my dad a couple of months ago, this is my way of thanking him for serving our country. The America Music Video will remind us all of what it is to be American and why so many gave their lives to defend her. Watch for more on this Production coming soon....

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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$500K skatepark to be done by October

Though it’s been seven years in the making, the city’s new skatepark may prove worth the wait.
“By the fall, it should be done,” said Tom Ragaini, a park commissioner.
The $500,000 project slated for completion at Rockwell Park by mid-October will offer skateboarders one of the best municipal projects in New England.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said it will be “top notch” and should prove a hit with skateboarders who have long congregated downtown to practice their moves illegally on the steps of the Barnes Group, City Hall and other buildings.
City officials are prepared next month to hire California Skateparks, an industry leader, to construct the 16,000-square-foot concrete skatepark on the site of the former basketball court at the historic park.
Director Ed Swicklas said the company was the only qualified bidder on the job.
The Park Board approved the deal this week, but the City Council needs to give its blessing before Mayor Art Ward can sign the contract.
The skatepark is part of a $6.5 million renovation of the West End park aimed at pumping life back into the park after years of growing neglect. The first phase of the project, which includes new parking lots, is underway.
Bids for the second phase are due next month, Swicklas said, which will include creating a new playground, fixing walkways and more.
A final phase will be aimed at fixing up the lagoon, which has languished since it was closed for swimming a decade ago.
Plans call for a mostly street level plaza with a single bowl, along with rails, steps, benches, ramps and other features that skateboarders will enjoy, officials said.
Swicklas said the original plan was changed with the help of the company to pare expenses without reducing the park much. Natural berms will be used where retaining walls were once contemplated, he said, and what may have been an excessive number of benches has been cut.
The original bid was almost $800,000 -- a budget buster -- but the revisions pared expense without losing much, Swicklas said.
The biggest dollar change made to lower the tab was shifting from the red concrete initially eyed to a more commonplace color, officials said.
Ragaini said that California Skateparks will do a bang-up job because they want more East Coast business.
“To them, this is a chance to show people what they can do,” Ragaini said.
California Skateparks has more than a decade of experience building more than 130 skateparks across the country, according to its website. The closest parks it has done are in Maine and New Jersey.
Building a skatepark has been on the city’s agenda since 2001 when city leaders promised to put one somewhere after ESPN’s X Trials at Lake Compounce drew attention to the sport.
But the plan ran into a major hurdle when officials could not find a place to build it that didn’t meet with opposition. A plan to put it at Page Park fell through when neighbors rallied to block it. There has been relatively little opposition to putting it at Rockwell Park.

California Skateparks

Skaters for Public Skateparks (discussion about Bristol skatepark)

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May 21, 2008

Still no decision by Burns

First-term Republican state Rep. Ron Burns still has his campaign on hold.
Despite Wednesday’s scheduled 77th District convention to choose a candidate, Burns, who represents northeastern Bristol, asked for more time before deciding whether to seek a second term.
The Republicans obliged by giving him until Tuesday to make a choice – but that might be the final deadline for Burns.
The city GOP chairman, Tom Barnes, Jr, said the party will have a candidate that night, whether it’s Burns or someone else.
He said he hopes to learn by Friday whether Burns, a former city councilor, will run or not.
The Democrats are counting on Chris Wright, the son of a former state senator, to recapture the district from the Republicans in the November general election.
There’s been talk at the state Capitol that Burns – who was the only Republican to unseat a Democratic state legislator anywhere in New England two years ago – is not going to try again to beat the odds.
Burns said recently that he planned to make a decision soon. He’s apparently waiting on word about a possible new job, a number of insiders said.
Burns defeated longtime state Rep. Roger Michele with the backing of many Democrats who were unhappy with Michele’s complaints about alleged police racism.
Burns, who is second in command at the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, won a City Council seat in 2003 that he voluntarily gave up in 2005.
He ran against Michele in 2006.
The rescheduled Republican 77th District convention is slated for 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 27 at Nuchies restaurant in Forestville.

Update on Thursday, 10:40 p.m.
The rescheduled 77th District convention has been rescheduled again. It will now be held at 7 p.m., Tuesday in the GOP headquarters in Carpenter's office building at 225 N. Main St., which I think is somewhere near the Social Security office.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

City's new budget already $350K in the hole

Two days after narrowly approving a $170.9 million that officials said left them with little extra to deal with emergencies, they got some bad news.
The bids for diesel fuel were opened Wednesday and came in almost 40 percent higher than the city had anticipated, which means an additional $350,000 more than the budget anticipated will likely be needed to keep Bristol’s trucks on the move.
Several of the Board of Finance members who favored a larger property tax hike had urged colleagues to pump up the contingency fund so that City Hall could more easily handle unexpected costs.
But their efforts fell short in the face of the majority’s preference for holding down the property tax increase.
Now it appears that the pinch may be more than anyone could have guessed, with more than a third of the money set aside to deal with a year’s worth of emergencies possibly required to pay fuel bills that came in higher than anticipated.
The city’s purchasing office reported that Buckley Energy offered the cheapest price for diesel at $4.02 a gallon – lower than people will find at the pump, but much higher than the $2.90 cost the budget counted on.
That means every gallon of diesel the city uses during the fiscal year that starts July 1 will burn through $1.12 more than the budget has in it.
Mayor Art Ward took immediate steps to try to lessen the crunch.
He told department heads in an email Wednesday to submit “suggested/real means of immediately initiating/implementing conservation methods in order to lessen the tremendous energy and monetary burdens on all of us.”
He asked them to submit their ideas as soon as possible.
It isn’t clear why the budget used a $2.90-per-gallon figure for diesel costs since the price of diesel fuel has been over $4 a gallon at the pump for more than two months.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency says that while diesel fuel was cheaper than regular gasoline for many years, it’s been higher than gasoline since September 2004.
The reason, it says, is “high worldwide demand for diesel fuel and other distillate fuel oils, especially in Europe, China, India and the United States, and a tight global refining capacity available to meet demand.”
In addition, the agency reports, “The transition to lower-sulfur diesel fuels in the United States is affecting diesel fuel production and distribution costs.”

Earlier version of this post:

The soaring cost of diesel fuel has already set up a situation where the city will need $350,000 more next fiscal year than the budget passed Monday provides for.
The pinch on the already depleted contingency fund just got a lot worse.

Here's what the mayor wrote to department heads this afternoon:


Please read the below email from the City's Purchasing Department. I am requesting that all departments submit suggested/real means of immediately initiating/implementing conservation methods in order to lessen the tremendous energy and monetary burdens on all of us. Please have these submissions in writing to my office as soon as possible.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the Mayor's office.

Thank you.

Mayor Ward, I opened the bid results today for diesel and we are awarding to Buckley Energy at a cost of $4.0158 per gallon. The economic forecast estimate was $2.90 per gallon, a difference of $1.1158 per gallon. I spoke with the Assistant Comptroller and she determined that $350,000.00 additional dollars will be needed for diesel fuel costs for FY 2009. Let me know if you need any additional information.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

City urges governor to sign healthcare bill

Press release from Mayor Art Ward:

Mayor Ward, Employers, Workers, Urge Governor to Sign the
Healthcare Partnership Bill Berlin, CT

Bristol, CT, May 21, 2008 —— On Thursday, May 22 at 12 noon, local leaders, including Bristol Mayor Art Ward, will urge Governor Jodi Rell to sign HB 5536, Connecticut Health Care Partnership Bill. “This bill makes good economic sense and needs to be signed into law,” Ward said.

The Healthcare Partnership Bill would open up the state employee health insurance pool to municipalities, non-profits and small businesses. Connecticut would be the first to open up to the private sector.

Because health care costs would be cheaper, small businesses and non-profits would be able to retain and hire more employees. For municipalities, the bill has the potential to save tax dollars on expensive health plans and alleviate pressure to cut back on community services.

Who: Local Leaders

What: Press Conference to Urge Governor’s Signature on Health Care Partnership Bill

When: Thursday, May 22nd at 12 Noon

Where:111 North Main Street, City Council Chambers

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Denski challenging Hamzy

Democrat Jacqui Denski of Plymouth is taking on the tough task of challenging state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican, in the 78th District. Hamzy's held the seat since 1994, when he defeated Democrat Ellen Zoppo, and typically hasn't even had a challenger.
Here's what Denski told Democrats last night:

When I was first asked to be the Democratic Candidate for the 78th District I admit, I was a little skeptical. I scheduled meetings with many of my colleagues, some that are in this room today, to get their opinions and feedback. What I was told, in a variety of different and colorful ways was that winning this election would be a Major Challenge. I am standing here today willing to accept that challenge.
Let me give you my brief history:
I am originally from
New Jersey ,
I have been employed by the United States Army at Joyce Kilmer,
In the fast food Industry,
As a dental assistant,
In the child care industry,
Banking Industry
And, the Insurance Industry
I’m a Former Girl Scout Le ader
Past Vice President of
Pymouth Center School PTA
Past President of the
Plymouth PTA Council
Former Wamogo FFA Alumni Secretary and Vice President
Iworked extremely hard on the new Terryville high school referendum committee
I was co-anchor to our local cable channel 16 television show, “It’s All Good” which highlighted all the positive places, history and events of Pequabuck, Terryville and Plymouth
I am a happy and proud wife and Mother
Husband: Brian for over 15 years
Daughter: Jennifer 17, will be a senior in High School next year
Son: Jon 14, will be a freshman in High School next year
Daughter: Brianna 4, will be entering Kindergarten next year
We are very active Members of Asbury United Methodist Church.
We have lived in Terryville for over 18 years.
I am a licensed Realtor in the State of Connecticut ,
Apprentice Black Belt in Tang Soo Do Karate at Excel Martial Arts
And, District 1 Councilwoman in the town of
Being the liaison to the Park and Recreation Commission, Board of Education and the Library Board
I work very hard in every aspect of my life! This will carry through this campaign and continue into Hartford when I represent the 78 th District in the House of Representatives.
It Is Time…
It has been too long since the Democratic Party has had a candidate in the 78 th District.
It Is Time…
It has been too many years that my opponent has gone unopposed!
It Is Time…
Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to receive the best health care regardless of race, religion, sex or income level!
It Is Time…
The Real Estate market is flooding with homes going into Foreclosure. Utility Costs are rising, Fuel prices are sky rocketing on a daily basis and the minimum wage stays the same.
It Is Time…
There are assistance programs for low income households, but what about the Middle Class?
It Is Time…
Our Nursing Homes are under financed and under staffed. This is the possible future for all of us. How do we want to live when it is our turn?
It Is Time…
The Board of Education is more than half of the town’s budget. Tax payers can’t afford more taxes, the town’s are struggling to operate on the limited budget and the Board of Education still must cut teachers and programs. Who is suffering? Our Children – Our Future!
To Quote Hillary Clinton in her August 27, 1996 speech, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”:
“One Thing we know for sure is that change is certain. Progress is not. Progress depends on the choices we make today”.
Thank you for making me your choice

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 20, 2008

How much is my tax bill?

With the new mill rate set at 25.99, taxpayers will pay $25.99 on every $1,000 of assessed value.
The assessed value is 70 percent of a property’s market value as determined by the revaluation from Oct. 1, 2007.
That means, for example, that if a house is assessed for $150,000, the tax bill would amount to $3,898.
For a house assessed for $200,000, the tax bill would be $5,198.
Revaluation makes it difficult to say what the general impact is because values shifted unevenly. Basically, those with property that rose in value more than the city average will see their tax bills go up more than the 4 percent called for in the budget – sometimes much more – while those with property that didn’t rise in value as much as the average could even see a lower tax bill this year than they got last year.
Last year’s mill rate was 34.71, but the impact of revaluation means that it was the equivalent of 24.95 this time around, according to Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski.
Remember, too, that a lower mill rate will mean that vehicle taxes won't be as high this year, which may cushion rising tax bills on homes for many people.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Public works "keeping Bristol clean"

Note from public works this morning:

Members of the press:

Recent articles in the news have highlighted residents/business owners who have taken initiative to collect litter in parts of town.

Public Works has crews assigned to litter control and clean up in two areas - downtown Bristol and the Forestville business district. Typically, we have a crew assigned for debris collection on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They address the downtown area first, then move to Forestville center.

While we believe that everyone should take responsibility for keeping Bristol clean, we don't want your readers to believe that Public Works does not participate in this important activity.

Please feel free to photograph the crew doing clean up work during their scheduled times - catch them doing something good! Readers would hopefully appreciate the effort that Public Works is putting into keeping Bristol clean.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Sheree Gorneault
City of Bristol
Public Works Analyst

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Finance board no longer tight-fisted

Here's something to mull over about the budget vote.
The whole point of creating the Board of Finance -- and having a joint vote on the budget between fiscal commissioners and City Council members -- was to ensure that spending-crazy politicians didn't put the city into a fiscal meltdown.
The fear has always been that elected officials would spend too much -- and perhaps levy taxes that are too burdensome.
So for most of its history, the finance board has been the tight-fisted panel that says "no" when the politicians want to say "yes." It's worked out most of the time.
At the Joint Board, the finance panel has more votes than the council because it was deliberately created to be larger so that it could, if its members held together, have the final say on budgets and bonding. It could overrule what the politicians want every time.
What's changed, though, is that the finance board isn't pinching pennies anymore.
Look at last night's vote, for example.
On the final budget, five people voted no - Mayor Art Ward, Finance Vice Chairman Roald Erling and city Councilors Ken Cockayne, Frank Nicastro and Mike Rimcoski.
Every one of the opponents wanted a lower tax rate and a lower budget.
That means that of the eight finance commissioners who voted, only two -- Ward and Erling - voted against the budget.
So the final vote among councilors was 4-3 against the extra spending, but 6-2 in favor of the extra spending among finance board members.
That's no fluke either.
Consider the 7-7 vote on the finance board-approved budget that would have hiked property taxes more than 6 percent. On that vote, the finance board members split 4-4 while the council voted 4-3 against that high a budget.
But take Ward out of the picture and financ commissioners actually approved the higher budget amount by a 4-3 margin.
What's happened is genuinely curious: the finance board is now less thrifty than the council.
I'm sure that's never happened before in Bristol politics.

More detail...

Back in the Great Depression, when the city’s coffers were empty and its taxpayers tapped out, the business community in town cut a deal to provide City Hall with much-needed cash in return for creating a Board of Finance that would control Bristol’s budgets and bonding.
It worked out pretty well in those dire days.
And almost ever since, the finance board has served as a check on city spending, gunning down projects that politicians pushed and generally trying to hold down taxes and squirrel away money for the future.
It’s given Bristol well-rated finances – which lead to lower borrowing costs when projects are approved – and generally provided the city with the ability to cope with economic downturns.
What’s different now, probably for the first time, is that finance commissioners are keener to hike taxes and spending than politicians. The finance board isn't pinching pennies anymore.
Look Monday's budget votes, for example.
On the final $170.9 million budget, five people voted no - Mayor Art Ward, Finance Vice Chairman Roald Erling and city Councilors Ken Cockayne, Frank Nicastro and Mike Rimcoski.
Every one of the opponents wanted a lower tax rate and a lower budget.
That means that of the eight finance commissioners who voted, only two, Ward and Erling, voted against the budget that eventually prevailed Monday.
So the final vote among councilors was 4-3 against the extra spending, but 6-2 by finance board members in favor of the higher spending.
That's no fluke either.
Consider the 7-7 vote on the $172.7 million finance board-approved budget that would have hiked property taxes more than 6 percent. On that vote, the finance board members split 4-4 while the council refused 4-3 to back that high a budget.
But take Ward out of the picture and finance commissioners present actually approved the higher budget amount by a 4-3 margin. It’s only because the mayor and council wanted lower taxes that the higher budget didn’t pass.
Part of the equation is that three city councilors – Democrat Frank Nicastro and Republicans Ken Cockayne and Mike Rimcoski – favored a property tax freeze. They voted against every option.
Mayor Art Ward and Finance Vice Chairman Roald Erling were each willing to vote for a budget that contained as much as a one mill tax hike – a 4 percent increase – but nothing higher.
Three city councilors - Cliff Block, Kevin McCauley and Craig Minor – voted for a budget that would have hiked taxes by 1.5 mills, or 6 percent. They had support from four finance commissioners: Janet Moylan, Ron Messier, Don Soucy and John Smith.
Several of them said the mayor’s proposal made “too big a cut” and left the contingency fund with too little to cover likely needs. Moylan said that “to maintain what we have,” a 6 percent mill rate hike was needed.
Two members of the finance board, Chairman Rich Miecznikowski and Mark Peterson, were willing to see a mill rate hike as high as 1.1, but not as much as the 1.5 mills the panel initially approved.
Miecznikowski said that people “would be very upset” if the panel backed the 6 percent increase. He said that given the hard times people face, that high an increase “doesn’t cut it.”
“We really need to tighten our belts,” Miecznikowski said, echoing what finance officials have said for decades.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Burns not running again?

The word swirling around the statehouse is that state Rep. Ron Burns, a first-term Republican from Bristol, won't seek reelection this year.

Burns, who represents the 77th District, said last week he hasn't made up his mind. Since he promised to call me as soon as he does - and is pretty reliable for a politician - I don't think he's made a firm decision yet.

But it may well come today.

Wednesday morning update: Or maybe today?

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Contact Steve Collins at

May 19, 2008

City budget passed after two-hour standoff

The city has a budget, but it wasn’t easy.
On six different budget votes Monday during a joint session of the Board of Finance and City Council, officials split right down the middle, racking up one 7-7 tally after another.
“We’re spinning our wheels, people,” said Janet Moylan, a finance commissioner who tried unsuccessfully to find middle ground.
“It’s a farce,” said Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski.
In the end, though, a first-term city councilor, Democrat Cliff Block, found the key to resolving the increasingly frustrating two-hour long standoff, proposing some minor additions to a spending plan that Mayor Art Ward created in a bid to pare the proposed tax cut.
The $170.9 million dollar budget approved on a 9-5 vote will hike property taxes by 1.04 mills, or $1.40 per thousand dollars of assessed value.
The fight was mostly about that 40 cents tacked on to the mill rate hike, which Block pushed in order to pump another $100,000 into education, $30,000 into code enforcement efforts, $30,000 into community promotions such as the Mum Festival and a couple other small increases.
“It’s amazing, the elder statesman, even though he’s a freshman, has come through with the tiebreaking vote,” Block joked afterward.
There was, however, an element of a power play involved, with Block and two more senior councilors, Democrats Craig Minor and Kevin McCauley, opposing the mayor’s preferred budget until they were able to add in a handful of items they had championed.
Ward was among those who voted against the budget, opposing it even though it almost mirrored his own, with a relatively paltry $190,000 added back in.
The finance board had backed a $172.7 million spending plan three weeks ago that would have hiked property taxes by 6 percent, or 1.5 mills.
Ward said that after hearing an outcry from residents struggling to pay their bills now, he revisited the spending plan with department heads and the school superintendent, winding up with a new proposed budget that would have hiked taxes less than 4 percent, or .98 mills.
But Ward’s budget drew only a few votes because most members wanted either less spending or more.
Following that, a series of votes that basically offered the finance board budget and a one mill increase budget split down the middle.
“It’s obvious everyone has dug in their feet,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, a former mayor who wanted a lower tax hike. He said he’d never seen anything like this in two decades in city government.
“We’ve got to come to reality here,” Ward proclaimed. “I’m getting a little frustrated.”
At one point, Republican city Councilor Mike Rimcoski told the city clerk to “make a mistake on the count” and bring an end to the divisiveness.
When one official left the room briefly, the mayor joked, “Quick, he’s gone. We can take a vote. 7-6.”
But Block’s compromise drew the necessary majority at last.
Had finance commissioner Cheryl Thibeault been there the two-hour long stalemate would have been virtually impossible because she would have provided one side or the other the winning vote. She told colleagues she couldn’t make it because of her mother-in-law’s death.
In an email, Thibeault said she thought a property tax hike of about a mill was appropriate.
The new budget takes effect on July 1. It preserves existing programs and isn’t expected to result in any layoffs.
This will give you a flavor of the 7-7 votes:

Vote on the Final Budget
YES: John Smith, Don Soucy, Rich Miecznikowski, Ron Messier, Kevin McCauley, Mark Peterson, Janet Moylan, Craig Minor, Cliff Block
NO: Ken Cockayne, Frank Nicastro, Art Ward, Mike Rimcoski, Roald Erling

First Vote on Board of Finance Budget (with 1.5-mill property tax hike)
YES: Cliff Block, Kevin McCauley, Craig Minor, Janet Moylan, Ron Messier, Don Soucy, John Smith
NO: Ken Cockayne, Art Ward, Frank Nicastro, Roald Erling, Rich Miecznikowski, Mike Rimcoski, Mark Peterson

First Vote on slightly revised Ward Budget (with one mill property tax hike)
YES: Art Ward, Rich Miecznikowski, Roald Erling, Mark Peterson, John Smith, Ron Messier, Janety Moylan
NO: Don Soucy, Ken Cockayne, Kevin McCauley, Frank Nicastro, Mike Rimcoski, Craig Minor, Cliff Block

Vote on proposal for budget with 1.1-mills increase
YES: Cliff Block, Janet Moylan, Mark Peterson, Rich Miecznikowski, Ron Messier, Don Soucy, John Smith
NO: Art Ward, Roald Erling, Frank Nicastro, Ken Cockayne, Mike Rimcoski, Craig Minor, Kevin McCauley

More details to come.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Scalia site out of the running?

Though I haven't got anyone willing to say it on the record yet, two insiders who seem to know what's up have told me in recent days that the Scalia sand pit off Barlow Street is unlikely to be used for one of the two new schools eyed by the city.
Apparently, the owners want a whole lot more money than the city's appraiser says the property is worth. And nobody's itching for a condemnation proceeding to take the land.
If this proves to be true, the West Bristol School Building Committee will have to find another possible location for the $60 million kindergarten to eighth grade school sought by educators.
It could mean another look at the Divinity and Park street site across from Rockwell Park, but it may also mean that officials will take a look at Chippens Hill again, where there are a number of large tracts that might be available.
I don't know how negotiations are going for the former Crowley dealership on Pine Street, where officials hope to build another new school.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Let's play "name that politician"

I've been thinking for awhile that Bristol's politicians need more interesting names. Nothing against Art, Frank, Ken, Cliff, Kevin, Ron, Bill, Tom, Mike, Craig and Co., but let's face it, these are not the sort of names that scream out EXCITING!
If we're going to have some fun with them, they need nicknames that capture their spirit, the essence of what they're all about, something that lifts them above the humdrum of the day.
For example, I've already decided that freshman city Councilor Ken Cockayne really ought to be called "Mad Dog," even though he is neither a dog nor particularly mad. It just seems like the right appellation for him.
Anyway, let's take a break from bashing unions, pleading for lower taxes and cursing incumbents and see if anyone can come up with a good tabloid sort of name for any of the politicos in town. The rules are simple: you can only suggest something that could be printed in a family newspaper.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 18, 2008

Jerome to announce officially on Monday

I just got this from Republican state House hopeful Derek Jerome, who's running against Democratic state Rep. Frank Nicastro in the 79th District:
You Are Cordially Invited To Attend

The Announcement of Candidacy


Derek R. Jerome, Sr.

For State Representative 79th District

Republican 2008

Forestville Rail Road Station
Located Across from Nuchies Resteraunt
164 Central Street

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 17, 2008

City's 2009 tax hike could dwarf this year's total

By scraping every spare penny to make ends meet, city leaders are prepared Monday to approve a $170 million spending plan that will hike property taxes a bit less than 4 percent.
But the one mill property tax hike – which will hit even harder because revaluation tilted the tax burden slightly toward homeowners – may look paltry when next year’s budget comes up for approval
Though some officials are ready to postpone purchases of police cruisers, put off buying new public works equipment, skimp on contingency money and a host of other money-saving gimmicks this time around, many of the tricks won’t be available a second time.
That means that when city councilors and Board of Finance members get ready to pass a budget next year, they almost certainly can’t ask police officers to drive aging cars into the ground or delay once again buying other costly equipment that needed replacing this year.
Then, too, the $100 million school budget will, if recent history means anything, rise to about $106 million next year – or an extra mill and a half in property taxes. New growth in town won’t cover anywhere near that much.
City Councilor Frank Nicastro said that additional looming expenses are the two new kindergarten to eighth grade schools that will likely cost at least $115 million – or more, given the soaring price of steel and other products.
To pay for them, said city Comptroller Glenn Klocko, “we would likely double our debt service,” effectively raising the tax rate as much as another half a mill.
Klocko said, however, that given the slow pace of purchasing the necessary property, he figures that the debt for the new schools won’t even hit taxpayers until 2010 or later.
When they are finished, the extra operating costs might add another quarter of a mill to the tax rate annually, Klocko said.
“Education is expensive,” said city Councilor Cliff Block.
Nicastro, who is also a state representative from the 79th District, said that the state isn’t likely to be much help in closing the gap in 2009.
"The governor has made it clear that next year will be worse," Nicastro said.
The prospect of a hefty tax hike next time around isn’t making politicians feel any better, since the mayor and the entire council is up for reelection in 2009. None of them is keen to explain to struggling taxpayers why the city is asking for more.
For now, however, the city has pared the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 about as far as most officials are willing to go.
Still, at least two councilors – Republicans Mike Rimcoski and Ken Cockayne – are pushing to hold the line on any mill rate hike this year. But they haven’t got the votes to do it.
A joint session of the finance board and the council will give final approval to the spending plan at 5 p.m. Monday. The meeting will be held at City Hall.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 16, 2008

Congressman Larson updates website

U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose district includes Bristol, has just launched an updated official website (Click here to see it.)
In a press release, Larson said, “This new website will give my friends and neighbors in Connecticut new access and insight into what I am doing in Washington, It will also be an online community for us all to share – share photos of the places we love, share comments about the issues of our time, and share an appreciation of our area.”
According to the press release, the new site will include updated interactive features such as:
· A community photos section hosted by that will allow residents of Connecticut’s first district to share their favorite photos of the area;
· A map that displays locations throughout the district;
· Video clips of the Congressman’s statements on the floor of the House of Representatives;
· A slideshow of the Congressman’s recent events and appearances;
· User polls to help constituents tell the Congressman what they are thinking about important issues; and
· RSS feeds to keep readers aware of changes and updates to the site as soon as they happen.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Mayor Ward has vanished

There's a mystery at City Hall.
Along the back wall of the City Council chambers are a couple rows of framed photographs of Bristol's mayors reaching back nearly a century. Last month, the last picture in the line was a spanking new one: Art Ward.
But this month, the picture is gone.
"Too many dart holes," joked Ward. "They had to putty them in."
While that's a possible explanation, I have to note that the pictures are under glass, which is tough to throw a dart through.
So where did the photo go? Was it stolen? Did somebody take a dislike to it?
Is it getting moved to wall behind the mayor's chair, where Nicastro's photo hung during his final years in office?
What do y'all think?

PS: Former Mayor Stretch Norton came up with the idea to put the mayors on the wall there. It's turned out nice.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Public Works Week coming up soon

Press release from the city's public works department:

Mayor Arthur J. Ward has officially proclaimed May 18, 2008 through May 24, 2008 Public Works Week in Bristol.

The proclamation is available on the Public Works web site at

This is the week that we celebrate all the great things our Public Works men and women do to make the community a healthy, safe place to live, work and play.

The City of Bristol Public Works Department is holding several activities during the week to celebrate, among them an employee recognition event, a Touch-a-Truck event for a 1st grade class at Mountain View School, and a Career Day for local high school seniors to learn more about what Public Works does for Bristol.

The Touch-A-Truck event will be help Tuesday, May 20 (rain date Friday May 23) at 10:30 AM at Mountain View School. Career Day will be held on Thursday, May 22nd at 8:30 AM at the City Yard on Vincent P. Kelly Road.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Homeless shelter on chopping block as well

These are from reporter Jackie Majerus:

The city's plan to cut $5,000 in funding from the Bristol Emergency Shelter will put an even bigger squeeze on the cash-strapped operation, according to its director.
"Wow," said Phillip Lysiak, executive director of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, when he heard the news. "It means we have to spend more of our reserve funds."
Lysiak said his budget year ends in September, and the city's cut will primarily impact his agency in their next fiscal year.
The money from the city, sliced to help Bristol's own budget crisis, goes toward operating expenses for the homeless shelter, Lysiak said.
"It covers general costs," said Lysiak.
The agency is far from flush.
"We're really tight," said Lysiak. "We have to find ways to cut or raise the revenue."
Lysiak's agency operates three shelters in Bristol – a 25-bed Bristol Emergency Shelter, the 13-bed Elms long-term transitional living center for single men and a similar program for 10 women and their children.
All the programs together add up to a budget of $997,000, said Lysiak, with the emergency shelter accounting for almost half of it.
The agency has $125,000 in reserves, which are supposed to be for emergency repairs and the like, but are being used for operating expenses, according to Lysiak.
This fiscal year, which ends September 30, will see $40,000 of the reserves used to operate, said Lysiak, if they stay on budget.
"We're going into the next year really, really on a thin line," said Lysiak, who said the agency's energy costs are dependent on the weather. "We're down to bare bones staff."
The emergency homeless shelter takes in single people and families, said Lysiak. He said the operating costs are about $416,000 for a year.
It's the most expensive of the three programs, said Lysiak, because it requires more staff to operate.
Over the course of a year, about 270 unduplicated people stay in the shelter, said Lysiak. He said most don't return during that year, though many do come back after that.
Most of those who come to stay at the shelter are single men, said Lysiak, but the homeless include about 50 children during a year.
A lot of the children are infants, said Lysiak, and most come with their mothers. Few of the families that stay in the shelter have two parents, he said. "Occasionally it happens."
Almost none of the families that stay in the shelter return, Lysiak said.
The great majority of the shelter residents have incomes of $10,000 a year or less, said Lysiak.
Overall, 26 percent of the adults in the shelter are employed, said Lysiak, but of the mothers, the figure jumps to 41 percent.
Almost half of those in the shelter are between the ages of 35 and 59, said Lysiak, and another 35 percent are ages 18 to 34.
Children under the age of five make up 12 percent of the shelter's occupants, Lysiak said, and kids ages six to 12 are 3 percent of Bristol's homeless.
Only 1 percent is age 60 or older, said Lysiak.
Drug use or addiction afflicts 40 percent of the residents, said Lysiak. There aren't as many of the chronically mentally ill as in the past, he said, because many of them are now in supportive housing programs.
There are rarely open beds in the shelter, according to Lysiak, who cites a 99 percent occupancy rate year round.
"It's always full," he said.
Slightly more than half of those who come to the shelter are from Bristol, said Lysiak. New Britain residents make up 10-15 percent of those who stay in the Bristol shelter, said Lysiak, who said the New Britain shelter is one that works with the Bristol shelter to find needed beds.
The rest of the residents come from many towns, including Plainville, Torrington, Southington and a few from Hartford, Waterbury, Manchester and Meriden. There are even some from out of state, but Lysiak said those people have come to this area because they've got friends or family here.
Personnel costs make up about 70 percent of the budget, said Lysiak, and energy costs take almost all the rest.
The shelter employs six full-time people and five part-timers, said Lysiak. There is a program director, a case manager and a lot of monitors, he said.
In addition, he and an assistant spend about a third of their time on shelter work, he said.

Fundraiser coming up that might help

Facing a cut in the city's contribution to operate the homeless shelter, the St. Vincent DePaul Society is looking for more help with an upcoming fundraiser.
With a Father's Day walk along Memorial Boulevard, the agency hopes to raise $15,000 this year, said Phillip Lysiak, director of St. Vincent DePaul.
The June 14 walk is open to anyone, and Lysiak said they'll be grateful to anyone who takes part.
Registrations are just starting to come in for the event, which will be held June 14.
Last year, the event brought in about $9,500, said Lysiak, falling short of the $15,000 goal.
About 100 people took part last year, said Lysiak, and each brought in donations from others who sponsored them.
"The people pool their money," said Lysiak.
This year, organizers are hoping more individuals will take part on their own, outside of the churches that have brought in many of the participants, according to Lysiak.
The Shamrock Run, a March road race and walk, brought in $12,600, said Lysiak.
The money from the March fundraiser, said Lysiak, was "totally needed," and an increase over the previous year.
To get involved with the Father's Day walk, pick up a registration form at local churches or contact St. Vincent DePaul at (860)589-9098.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

May 15, 2008

Many groups face "very significant" cuts in new budget plan

City Councilor Craig Minor sent this along a few minutes ago:

It's not realistic to whack the TEAM budget by over 40% and not expect repercussions. The Mum Festival committee, the Veterans Council, and the Forestville Village Association should be prepared for a very significant reduction in their funding next year due to the Mayor's latest budget cuts. We met with the Mayor yesterday and offered a budget that would have reduced funding for the Mum Parade, the Memorial Day Parade, and the North Main Street festival by "only" 20%, but it was rejected. The Mayor said that these are difficult financial times, and established organizations like the Mum Festival and the Veterans Council are going to have to step up their fundraising efforts.

Mayor Art Ward sent this along to someone who was worried about the Mum Festival getting its funding cut:

Anyone who has even hinted that the Mum Festival or any other TEAM sponsored activity has been predetermined to being completely cut in funding is doing you a disservice.
My statement was that everything, regardless of the activity, is subject to budgetary scrutiny as a result of the economic hardships that are being dealt with on both the governmental and personal taxpayer level and that funding will be prioritized after that review effort.
It is going to be impossible to present a responsible budget if everyone is going to advocate that only their funding is exempt from the process.
I ask that the Mum Festival, and all other venues which are requesting city dollars, allow us to use the opportunity to function in accordance with the responsibility which has been entrusted to us through the election process.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Budget cuts likely to prove painful

Slicing more than $2 million from the city’s Board of Finance-backed budget plan isn’t easy.
To haul the slated 1.5 mills property tax hike down to a less painful 1 mill increase, “there’s going to be sacrifices that have to be made,” said Mayor Art Ward.
Nothing’s off the table as officials scour the $170 million budget they’re eyeing now in a bid to hold property taxes down – not even the Mum Festival.
“You have to reassess everything in the budget,” the mayor said.
Whether some or all of the Mum Festival’s $16,000 allocation get sliced won’t even be clear when the final budget passes Monday.
Ward said he’s looking to lop $30,000 from the tourism and arts line item, which could mean a reduction to the Mum Festival, but that’s a decision for later by the special committee that assesses how best to fork over municipal money for cultural needs.
It would “totally out of whack,” though, to say the Mum Festival will suffer unduly in the fiscal shakedown, the mayor said.
Even so, Ward said, “nobody is exempt from the process.”
Among those facing reductions is the St. Vincent DePaul Society’s homeless shelter, which may have to get by with $5,000 less from the city, enough to create hardship for the always financially strapped organization.
The Bristol Visiting Nurse Association is targeted for a $60,000 reduction, said Ward. Both Ward and city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the cut is on the table because the group has a large rainy day fund of its own.
Ward said that when the finance board approved the first draft of the budget, the state was still looking at a surplus. Now state leaders figure they might have an $80 million deficit instead, which could grow larger still.
“It’s not a good time,” the mayor said. “But it’s a time of realization. I have to be looking at the taxpayers’ ability to pay.”
Ward said that with people facing higher bills, the city can’t ask them to pay more in taxes than the bare minimum.
“I have to look at it as responsibly as possible,” the mayor said.
He said he’s trying to preserve services and avoid layoffs by postponing purchases and projects, including some he’s long supported, such as renovating the firehouses.
“We’re doing what we have to do to exist as a community,” Ward said.
The mayor said he’s surprised at how things have turned around since he took office.
“What’s transpired in the last six months has been a 180 from what I anticipated,” Ward said.
The final budget is slated for passage at a joint session of the finance board and City Council at 5 p.m. Monday.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at