September 30, 2008

Roberts site unlikely to be picked for school

The prospects for putting one of the two proposed 900-student schools on the former Roberts property appear dim at best.
Former Republican mayoral hopeful Ken Johnson called it “an extremely bad idea” and claimed that nearby neighborhoods “will be absolutely up in arms” if the city attempts to pursue it.
It also looks doubtful that the city’s legislative delegation will try to push through a measure sought by Mayor Art Ward that would make it less costly to put the school on the 47-acre, city-owned parcel off James P. Casey Road.
“I won’t be leading the charge for any legislative change,” said state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a 78th District Republican whom Ward hoped would take on the job.
Hamzy said that if he’s asked to pursue a bill that would waive the state’s requirement that the city replace the property with a similar parcel, he would look into the idea.
“I don’t jump into any issue until I’ve done my homework,” Hamzy said.
But, he added, he can’t think of a single instance in his 14 years as a lawmaker in which the General Assembly agreed to waive the open space rules.
Ward is meeting with legislators Wednesday morning to ask them to try to get the rule revised and to prod them to push for a deadline extension on the $130 million school plan in order to give the city more time to make a decision.
Both Hamzy and state Rep. Betty Boukus, a Plainville Democrat whose 22nd District includes a sliver of Forestville, said they don’t get involved in local issues such as school siting.
Each said, though, that if the community reaches a consensus, they’ll do what they can to help.
A decision has to be made “very soon” or the plan for two new schools – one at the former Crowley dealership in Forestville and one somewhere in the western part of the city – will fail because there won’t be enough time to finish required work before the June 13, 2010 deadline set by the state for the project to get underway, said Chris Wilson, a Board of Education member.
Wilson said he still prefers building the west Bristol school on the former mall site downtown, but he recognizes it won’t win favor at City Hall.
He said the most likely compromise would be to put the school on the former Roberts property or at the lot on the southeastern corner of Clark Avenue and Matthews Street.
Wilson said that if the school plan dies, it would likely mean the city will lose out on “tens of millions of dollars” in school construction assistance.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Stortz raises questions about chief operating officer

Letter sent today to Mayor Art Ward by former Mayor William Stortz:

September 30, 2008

Dear Mayor Ward,
As you recall, over the years, I have supported the idea of a Town Manager for the City of Bristol. However, the current proposal seems like a diluted version of the concept of a Town Manger and raises some questions in my mind, and probably many others. Since it will be on the ballot this November, I am hoping that you can clear up or otherwise address some of my concerns.
First, I do believe that no wording changes can be made to the issue on the ballot prior to the November election, for logistical reasons as well as because the wording submitted is the wording that the petition was based on. Also, if it does pass and some changes are appropriate for whatever the reason, those changes will require another Charter Revision Commission and subsequent placing on the next ballot for the people to vote on. Therefore the city will have to function with the change as approved, even if it has some defects. While I believe I am correct, could both of those issues be responded to?

Second, I am not aware that a salary has been set for the COO position. I would ask that you send that issue to the salary committee and have them respond prior to the election so that the people can have some idea as to what the position will be costing the taxpayer. Since it will be your administration that probably fills this position, it will be your salary committee that sets the salary. If the proposal passes, the salary range will have to be determined prior to advertising, so determining and publicizing it now is expediting the process just slightly, but also giving the voter a better base on which to judge.

At the same time, the question of the Mayor’s salary should be addressed. Again, if the proposal passes, the Mayor’s duties will be significantly affected. Will that justify a change (reduction) in the Mayor’s salary? I know that the salaries of elected officials cannot be changed during their term of office, so any change would be effective after the next election, but again, the people should know this before they vote on the proposal. Also, that would be a concern as individuals make a decision relative to their running for office.
In the same area, I would like to see a tentative budget prepared for this new office. Again, while it will be an estimate, it is likely that a budget will have to be submitted to the Board of Finance for the normal budget process, and that budget process will probably start way before the new person is on board. An estimate is better than nothing for BOF purposes, and again will provide the voter with a clearer picture of the financial impact.
I have many other areas of concern, but I will submit just one of them at this time. I do want to research the others before I raise additional questions.

The basic question revolves around the reporting/responsible to process. This involves any Department Head that “works” for a Board: I will basically use the Police Chief and Police Board in my example, although the concept would seem to apply to other Department Heads also.
The proposed Charter change says (section 62 (b) (1), in part, the COO shall be responsible to exercise general supervision over, the Chief of Police. It also says (6) provide leadership and direction .. to develop and implement the City budget….

The current Charter, Sec 45 (a) says.. The Police Department shall be under the general supervision of the board of police commissioners. Sec. 45 (f) says in part… Said Board of Police Commissioners, subject to the approval of the City Council, shall make rules and regulations for the government of the Police Department….

Which prevails?

Similar language exists for the Fire Department.

Park Department, a somewhat different issue: Sec 34 (f).. Said Board shall have exclusive power to make rules and bylaws for the ordinary transaction of business….

Library: Sec 38 (b) Said Board shall have exclusive control of all the properties of said Library…. If they want something done, whom does the Library Director listen to?

It also seems like Sec 62 (b) (10) gives the Council additional powers, unless any direction they provide is limited to power given them by Charter. Currently they do not appear to have any operational authority.

Mayor, there may be language somewhere in the current Charter, or in the proposed changes that addresses these seeming inconsistencies. If so, I would appreciate knowing where. But you know, and I know, that if there is some vagueness, sooner or later it will become an issue, between the COO, the Mayor, the various Boards, the Staff. This could lead to bargaining unit problems or management problems. It could put employees in the middle, which wouldn’t be fair, or it could create conflicts between the various parties involved. This could be even more of an issue where boards are involved and the mayor chairs the board.
If I am overly concerned, ore if the problem has been or is addressed, let me know if you will.. If I am anywhere near right, then this should be addressed so as to not put the city in the middle.

Even if my concerns relative to the reporting structure have been or are addressed, I would still like a clearer picture of the salaries involved, and the anticipated budget. I am confident that the voters would like to know that too.

William T. Stortz

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West Bristol School Committee meets Wednesday

The West Bristol School Building Committee, which is looking for a site for a new school, is holding a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the superintendent's office at the Board of Education. It is open to the public.
A Board of Education meeting follows at 7 p.m. in the auditorium in the same building.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Robustelli-Price honored

Press release, just in:

The Bristol Public Schools will be hosting a reception for the 2009 Teacher of the Year on Monday, October 6, 2008, at the Bristol Board of Education Auditorium 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. The formal program will begin at 4:00 p.m.

The Bristol Public School 2009 Teacher of the Year is Amanda Robustelli-Price. Amanda is a World Language teacher at Bristol Central High School.

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Dodd puts national economy ahead of breakfast in Bristol

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who heads the Senate Banking Committee and is a key player in the $700 billion bailout talks in Washington, won't make it to Thursday's "Eggs & Issues" in Bristol.
So those of you who were hoping to tell Dodd to put Main Street -- or North Main Street -- ahead of Wall Street are going to have to wait until it's probably too late.
But, as city Republican Party Chairman T.J. Barnes said last night, those of you who have something to say should let your elected representatives know what you want from this bailout deal.
All of Connecticut's delegation in Washington except for Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney are backing the bailout so far, including Dodd and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, as well as U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol.
"Ultimately, we're paying for it," Barnes pointed out, and this is the time to make your voices heard.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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City Republicans endorse chief operating officer

The Republican Town Committee voted unanimously last night to throw its support behind a proposed charter change to create a chief operating officer at City Hall.
Former GOP mayoral contender Ken Johnson, a strong backer of the plan, called the move "a bold statement."
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, a first-term Republican, said that endorsing the controversial measure sends "a strong signal" to the community that the GOP is leading the way for reform of city government.
"Let's get a professional in there who is watchdogging the spending of your money and mine," Johnson said.
Voters will get the last word when they head to polls on November 4.
Both sides of the debate are gearing up for the campaign with signs, mailings, advertisements, websites and more aimed at convincing the public to back, or thwart, the proposal.
The Charter Revision Commission, a bipartisan panel, unanimously endorsed the chief operating officer last spring as a compromise when it appeared that a full-blown city manager wouldn't pass.
But city councilors voted 5-2 to kill the idea, which would normally have been the end of the matter.
Supporters, however, went out and collected more than 3,600 signatures from voters to force the city to put the plan on the ballot.
There's going to be much, much more on this issue in the days and weeks ahead. Those of you who are involved in the effort, please forward me any fact sheets, mailers, website links and the like. I'll post them all on this blog.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 29, 2008

State GOP moving from Hartford to New Britain

The state Republican Party is giving up on Hartford.
The state GOP is moving its headquarters from the capital city to the Hardware City after this year's election, according to Gary Schaffrick, one of the Republican state committee members.
Schaffrick said today that the party headquarters will be relocated on November 15 to a fifth floor office at 321 Ellis St. in New Britain.
The reason for the move? Money.
Schaffrick, a long-time Bristol political activist, said the party will save about $28,000 during the course of the lease by basing its operations in New Britain instead of Hartford.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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New law would encourage owners to renovate blighted buildings

The city is pondering a new law that aims to help get blighted property renovated by offering owners as assessment freeze so that improvements don’t push up property taxes for five years.
“I’d like to get it on the books as soon as possible and get using it,” said Guy Morin, the city’s building official.
Dale Clift, the city attorney, said the proposed ordinance “would encourage people to purchase” buildings targeted by the city for code and blight problems and to fix them up.
“It gives the developer a break,” Clift said, that should encourage more people to overhaul decrepit housing.
Karen Pio, the president of the Greater Bristol Property Owners Association, said the proposal “can only help Bristol” because the city is not collecting taxes on structures when they are “in a blighted state or abandoned.”
“This is a great ordinance and it will help the city,” said Police Officer Tom Lavigne, a former city councilor who spends most of his time on code enforcement issues.
Lavigne said that that with recent changes in the city’s statutes, code enforcers can find problem properties and take action to crack down on them.
But, he said, the proposal to waive property taxes for five years “makes us come full circle” because it provides a carrot rather than just a stick for officials to use to try to make improvements.
Pio, who owns rental property, said the proposed law would give “more incentive to buy and fix” houses that need a substantial amount of renovation.
Clift said it may serve in many cases to put blighted buildings “back on the tax rolls” instead of sitting empty and racking up unpaid tax bills.
Morin said he hopes that if the City Council adopts the measure, it will help “avoid demolitions” of structures that might be saved if there was something to help owners repair them.
Passing the law, Morin said, would tell people “we want you to invest in our city.”
Officials said that qualifying for an assessment freeze will require property owners to make a substantial investment.
“Not just paint a little polish,” Morin said.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley said that officials have put a lot of work into the proposed statute.
“Obviously, the goal is to raise the bar,” Lavigne said, with the intent of improving the quality of life in town.
City Councilor Craig Minor said that the measure may help “to preserve affordable housing” for residents.
The Ordinance Committee is likely to approve the proposal in October, with city councilors probably enacting it the following month. It may be on the books by December.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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The Courant's redesign

I expected to hate it. And I do.
My one ray of hope looking at yesterday's paper was that Matt Eagan -- a funny, bright and talented fellow who once worked with me at the Press -- might have a new sports column, but it turns out that he simply happened to be the first of a rotating group of sportwriters to spout off.
What's wrong with the new design? It's a thin and sort of sad effort to hide the diminishment of a once great American newspaper. What's left of the Courant is more vapid than I imagined it would be, particularly the anonymous and out-of-context reader comments at the top of some pages. Yuck.
Obviously, I don't have the answer for how to prevent newspapers from going the way of cobblers and blacksmiths, but I am confident that the Courant, despite what I'm sure was an honest effort to make the best of a bad situation, hasn't stumbled on the solution either.
What do you all think? What's good and bad about the new Courant? Does anybody think it's better. If you do, why?

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 27, 2008

School site from space

Courtesy of Google, here's the lot(s) that officials are eyeing for a potential West Bristol K-8 school at the southeastern corner of Clark Avenue and Matthews Street.

View Larger Map

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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RIP, Paul Newman

He was not just a great actor. He was a great American who used his celebrity to make our world a better place.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Now Visconti's big fundraiser is free!

Here's a note that Republican congressional contender Joe Visconti sent out today:

Don’t forget tonight’s the night to Paint the Town Red. Tickets and parking are free for all who support Joe’s campaign.
I f possible please make a contribution at the door.
Chris Healy our Republican State Party Chairman will be amongst several speakers. As an Emmy award winning Producer you won’t want to miss Joe’s latest work: A Music Video tribute to the American Soldier titled “America”.
Please join Joe at the Bushnell at 7:30pm tonight in his quest to retire John Larson and this "Do Nothing Congress" by Painting the Town Red, and don’t forget to wear a touch of Red. Doors open at 7 p.m. Come Rain or Come Shine.

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September 26, 2008

Schools eye busing for every student

A proposal to bus every schoolchild in town is likely to come before the Board of Education this winter.
Superintendent Philip Streifer said he intends to propose that beginning next fall, the district “bus all children” rather than making those who live within a mile or two hoof it.
Streifer said that many students are already bused and those who have to walk often do so in potentially dangerous conditions.
Citywide busing for all students “for safety reasons” would make it more likely that students come to school even in bad weather and arrive there without risking life and limb.
It’s not clear how much it would cost to bus everyone, but school officials have said that it might not cost more than the existing system that has walking and buses.
Dropping the requirement that students who live close to school walk would allow the district to stop clearing miles of sidewalks with tiny Bombardier snowplows and cease hiring scores of crossing guards.
The savings would cover much of the tab that extra buses would require, officials said.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien said months ago that more busing isn’t necessarily more costly than having students walk even now.
He said the cost of paying crossing guards is rising so much that in a few years it will equal the tab for busing even if every student in town took a bus to school.
O’Brien said recently that residents should realize that few walk to school today.
More than 80 percent of the students at some schools are already bused, including those attending Memorial Boulevard Middle School and Bingham and Greene-Hills elementary schools.
Many of those who are supposed to walk are actually dropped off by parents, O’Brien said.
Officials have frequently decried the large number of cars surrounding schools because parents are dropping off or picking up students, adding to the congestion and danger.
“A very small percentage of students walk,” O’Brien said.O’Brien said that at some schools, such as O’Connell Elementary, more children walk from the neighborhood.
But, he said, there are safety and traffic issues there that worry administrators.
Streifer said that he saw last winter how children have to navigate sidewalks that aren’t shoveled or non-existent, traipsing along in the street to get to class or to go home.
Streifer said that it isn’t safe the way things are.
Moreover, he said, some students simply stay home when the weather is bad because of the hazards of walking. That slices into badly needed instructional time, Streifer said.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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The presidential debate

Having successfully done whatever it was he doing in Washington these past two days, Senator John McCain has declared he will attend tonight's debate with Senator Barack Obama.
Here's the place to weigh in on the first formal face-off between two, whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or someone who tries to veer clear of politics most of the time.
Have at it.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 25, 2008

Geladino drops out of state Senate race

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:

The economy's downward spiral has claimed another casualty: Republican Joe Geladino's state senate campaign against veteran Democratic incumbent Tom Colapietro.
"I decided to let it go," said Geladino, who then vowed to "come back and run for council and this time work at it."
Geladino said he's had to focus on his business as a builder, which frequently takes him out of town, instead of the race in the 31st district, which includes Bristol, Plymouth, Plainville and part of Harwinton.
"The economy kind of pulled Joe out of it," said Republican Town Chairman T.J. Barnes.
Barnes said Geladino was often called to New London to work.
"His job got in the way," said Barnes. "He was never in Bristol."
Geladino, who builds homes to sell them and works for a bridge building company as well, said the tough economy and the crisis in the banking and insurance industry has hurt him.
"I have everything on hold. I'm renting houses that were supposed to be sold," said Geladino, who has added the job of landlord to his duties.
Geladino said he wasn't interested in campaigning if he couldn't make it a priority.
"I don't want to do things halfway," Geladino said. "I don't want to cheat the public."
Barnes said they discussed going for state campaign cash and running a campaign as best they could without the candidate around.
"That seemed very disingenuous, so we decided against it," Barnes said.
Barnes said it's possible the party will fill the vacancy on the ticket.
"There might be someone who steps up," said Barnes, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if the slot is filled – or left open – this close to the election.
"At this point, I don't have a definite yes or no," said Barnes.
The news caught Colapietro by surprise, who said the thought of running unopposed is "unbelievable."
"I just don't know what to say," said the Bristol Democrat. "I have never not had an opponent."
If Republicans can't fill the slot, Colapietro will still campaign, he said, but it won't be the same.
"I was looking forward to talking about issues," said Colapietro.
Geladino said he didn't want to comment on Colapietro or the senate race.
"If I was going to run, I would have a lot to say," said Geladino.
Barnes said it is "always an uphill battle" to completely fill the Republican slate, and although he said he's not thinking of city council races yet, Geladino is.
"I'll be back full strength then," Geladino said. "I'm not going to give up on Bristol."
Geladino said he would be "a bigger help to the people of Bristol" as a city councilor than he would be as a state senator.
He opposed the school project at the Scalia sand pit, Geladino said, and was proven right when planning commissioners recommended against it this week.
Geladino said the city can't keep raising taxes. He said local politicians are "spending all kinds of money like a bunch of drunken sailors."

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New school site eyed on Chippens Hill

With a West End sand pit no longer on the table as a potential site for a proposed new school, officials are eyeing at least two Chippens Hill parcels as alternatives.
At the top of the list, and pushed by Mayor Art Ward, is the former Roberts property, which the city already owns.
But it’s not clear it can garner the support of the West Bristol School Building Committee or the City Council.
A new site, however, may stand a better chance.
Several officials, including Superintendent Philip Streifer, said that a lot at the corner of Clark Avenue and Matthews Street may be suitable.
It’s apparently available and may fit the bill for one of the 900-student, kindergarten to eighth grade buildings sought by the Board of Education, officials said.
What’s most clear, though, is that a decision has to be made within weeks or the entire $130 million plan for two new schools – one at the former Crowley dealership in Forestville and one somewhere in the western part of the city – will fail because there won’t be enough time to finish required work before the June 13, 2010 deadline set by the state for the project to get underway.
Ward said that the deadline could be extended, but Streifer and other school officials said it’s not going to happen.
Streifer said he'll ask the West Bristol School Building Committee to get moving as fast as it can to find a new site. A special meeting has been called for the panel on Wednesday to begin the process formally.
Ward said he plans to meet with the city's legislative delegation early next week to talk about pushing through a bill to give the city more time to complete the preliminary work on the school project.He said he also wants legislation to waive the requirement that the city buy an equivalent parcel if it opts to use the former Roberts property for a school.
Ward said he sought during the last legislative session to enact a measure that would free the city of the requirement. He said it had the backing of the entire delegation except for state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat and former mayor.
Nicastro said it’s true that he wouldn’t sign on to the plan.
He said that when he was mayor, he had the city buy the 46-acre parcel from the Roberts family for use as a recreation complex and that’s what he’d still like to see.
But what kept him from agreeing to the bill, he said, was his feeling that the measure “wasn’t the proper way” to proceed because there hadn’t been any public input into it beforehand.
Nicastro, who is also a city councilor, said that he wants to hear what the public has to say and for a consensus to emerge before he will consider supporting the idea that Ward is promoting.
“Something like that, you just don’t jump into,” Nicastro said.
Ward said he asked state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes the former Roberts parcel, to try to secure passage for the bill during the last session.
Hamzy lined up everyone except Nicastro, Ward said.
While the legislative issues may have been more complex than even Ward realized, Ward said he’s going to try again for a special measure as soon as January.
“It would at least give us another option for consideration,” the mayor said.
It may be, however, that it’s not much of an option.
It appears the only city councilor who supports the site for a school, besides Ward, is Republican Mike Rimcoski.
Several insiders said Thursday that the best bet is probably to find a site that hasn’t been on the agenda before, which is why the new lot is being looked at so closely.
Most officials believe that the four council supporters of the Scalia site on Barlow Street – Kevin McCauley, Cliff Block, Ken Cockayne and Craig Minor – are likely back a nearby site that doesn’t have any obvious pitfalls.
It’s possible that Ward might even join them, some said.
Nicastro and Rimcoski are considered less likely to support the new site than the others.
What makes it especially attractive, some said, is that the Planning Commission can be brought in early and might well back it because it has better roads and it’s less isolated than the Scalia pit.
Because planners gunned down the Scalia site on a unanimous vote this week, a two-thirds vote would be needed for the council to support its purchase. That won’t happen, everyone concedes.
But if planners back a new Chippens Hill site, then only the four councilors who backed Scalia would be needed to force its purchase.
What the West Bristol school panel might do is harder to say. It refused once before to change the Scalia site when councilors asked for a new option.
This time, though, there appears to be no way to proceed unless the site committee shifts its support to a new location.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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City Democrats bemoan Wall Street riches

Area Democrats are livid that Wall Street executives who raked in a fortune are asking hard-pressed taxpayers to cough up $700 billion or more to rescue the firms they ran into the ground.
“They get multi-million dollar payoffs,” said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a 79th District Democrat and former mayor. “That’s garbage.”
Mayor Art Ward called the compensation that some Wall Street traders and bankers stand to make “a reason to question government”
Both Ward and state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a 31st District Democrat from Bristol, said the bailout may be needed to salvage a strained economy, but the amounts pocketed by the wealthy in the process are outrageous.
“After the guys with the Cadillacs and the Lexuses and the bonuses and the lush mansions” have raked in billions, Colapietro asked, “now we have to bail them out?”
Then he answered his own question.
“Yeah, we have to do it,” Colapietro said.
Colapietro said that after Wall Street showed such “lousy management” that firms were ransacked, “we have to foot the bill” for the party that executives threw for themselves.
Nicastro said that despite their mistakes, those responsible for the problems on Wall Street are walking away with “exorbitant salaries" that are “outrageous and ridiculous.”
“No one needs that kind of money,” Nicastro said. “No one’s worth that kind of money.”
“They’re the ones who set the policy and it’s obvious they didn’t take the precautionary measures they should have,” Nicastro said.
“Maybe we should get tough with them,” he said.
Nicastro said it’s simply wrong that people can get rich ruining companies and then walk away with their wealth while taxpayers get stuck with the bills.
Ward, also a Democrat, said the issue amounts to a two-edged sword, because people can’t allow the ruin of the economy even though the rich benefit so much from the proposed deal.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Hamzy calls for action on growing state deficit

Press release from state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a 78th District Republican:

State Representative William A. Hamzy and other Republican legislators today called for quick action by the Connecticut General Assembly to resolve a $300 million state deficit that continues to grow and could reach crisis proportions in the near future.
“It comes as no surprise to me that the state is now facing one of the worst deficits it has seen in many years,” said Representative Hamzy, R-78th District. “We did our homework during the recent 2008 legislative session and based on the information we put together at the time, concluded that unless we adjusted the second year of the 2007-2008 budget, the state was probably headed for a serious budget deficit before the year ended. Unfortunately for the people of Bristol, Plymouth, and the rest of the state, the majority Democrats chose to make no changes in the budget and went home.”
House and Senate Republicans offered an alternative budget in April that would have reduced spending by $163 million and helped avert the budget crisis that is now upon us, Representative Hamzy said.
The growing deficit was confirmed by independent budget analysts during a fiscal forum convened Thursday by state House and Senate Republicans. The forum also included both budget experts from the governor’s office and revenue analysts. Several Democrats also took part in the forum, which their leaders declined to attend.
Dwindling revenues and the refusal by the state legislature’s Democrat leaders to make budget adjustments earlier this year are leading to what could become the most serious fiscal problems the state has faced in almost a decade, Representative Hamzy said.
The state legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has noted the deficit could grow to as much as $1.2 billion in 2010.
“With Democrat legislative leaders continuing to reject our call for quick, decisive action to eliminate the deficit, it is clear to me that they intend to continue doing nothing until after the November elections - when they will push through major tax increases rather than make prudent reductions in state spending and implement an early retirement incentive program for state employees that would save us more than $160 million in payroll costs,” Representative Hamzy said. “With the state already in an economic downturn and unemployment on the rise, imposing another round of tax hikes on our overburdened taxpayers and on small businesses would result in a full-blown recession that could take years to end.”
“If we move quickly to schedule a special legislative session to pass the measures we proposed in April, we can begin lowering the projected deficit before it gets out of hand and becomes a major fiscal crisis,” Representative Hamzy said. “Connecticut taxpayers need answers now. They want us to act responsibly and be accountable for the actions we take to lower the deficit.”
The data presented at the forum clearly demonstrates that from real estate sales to income and sales taxes, revenues from virtually every sector of the state’s economy have dropped significantly, said House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-142nd District. He noted the budget numbers do not reflect any portion of the recent Wall Street meltdown that began September 15th and is expected to ripple through Connecticut’s economy as well

The forum revealed that revenues are seriously lagging:
Investment income is off 41 percent.
Real estate conveyance taxes are down more than 40 percent.
Gambling revenue is down 4.3 percent.
Car sales taxes are off 10.8 percent.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Roberts property eyed for school

Mayor Art Ward said today he plans to meet with the city's legislative delegation early next week to talk about pushing through a bill to give the city more time to complete the preliminary work on the school project.
He said he also wants legislation to waive the requirement that the city buy an equivalent parcel if it opts to use the former Roberts property for a school. I'll have more on that later.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Coppermine flooding meeting on October 2nd

Press release from the city's public works department:



Coppermine Brook Drainage Study

The City of Bristol announced in April 2008 that it would be conducting a study of the Coppermine Brook watershed area. The City recently received the completed Coppermine Brook Drainage Evaluation report from its consultant. The purpose of the study was to analyze storm water flow during rain events in order to identify potential solutions that will mitigate flooding along the brook and within the watershed area.

Mayor Arthur J. Ward has requested a public information meeting to be held at the time and date indicated below to discuss the study and findings.

Coppermine Brook Drainage Study - Public Information Meeting

Date Thursday, October 2, 2008

Place: City Hall – Council Chambers

111 North Main Street

Bristol CT

Time: 6:30 PM

Interested parties may view the report at Public Works (111 North Main Street), the Bristol Public Library (5 Main Street), or at the Manross Library (260 Central Street). An executive summary of the report is available on the public works web site at under News and Information.

If you are unable to attend and have any questions please feel free to contact the City of Bristol Engineering Department at 584-6297.

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Bristol Central ranks #2 in achievement gains

Across Connecticut, Bristol Central High School posted the second highest increase during the past year in the average percentage of students within goal range across all subjects on state tests, according to ConnCan.
That makes it the second most improved high school in the state, behind only Cromwell High School. See the rankings here.
In general, though, the group didn't rate Bristol too well, as you can see here.
For elementary schools, it gave Bristol a C- in performance gains, a C in having students within test goal range, a D+ on having its minority students meet goal and a C+ on the gap between the achievement of students as a whole and those in subgroups such as African Americans and Hispanics.

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Trestman heads Obama effort in Bristol

Want to get involved in Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's bid to win Connecticut?
You should contact Jody Trestman, the campaign's enthusiastic volunteer coordinator in Bristol, and tell her you want to help.
For information, contact Trestman at or phone her at (860) 212-8595.
Republican John McCain has a Bristol coordinator, too. The irrepressible Henry Raymond has that job. He's at (860) 582-1353.

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Ward walking for diabetes

If anybody wants to help fight diabetes, feel free to donate through Mayor Art Ward's page for the American Diabetes Association fundraising walk at Lake Compounce on October 4th.

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Visconti fundraiser falling short?

A couple of weeks ago, Republican congressional hopeful Joe Visconti informed supporters that he planned "a pivotal fundraiser event" for Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Bushnell's Belding Theater in Hartford called "Paint the Town Red."
He aimed to sell 900 tickets for $100 each for a night of politics, live music and special guests. With a little luck, perhaps Visconti himself will perform.
He better do a good job, too, because he touts the event as the sole fundraiser for his long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat.
What's interesting is that Visconti has lowered the bar this week, no longer saying that tickets are $100 apiece. Instead, he's urging people to come and "give whatever you can."
"Remember it is not important what you give, it is important that you are there! Don't forget to wear red (even just a touch) to show your Republican spirit!" one recent email says.
Want to go? Here is the link.

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Fitzgerald qualifies for state campaign cash

Press release from GOP state House contender Jill Fitzgerald:

Jill Fitzgerald, the Republican candidate for state representative from the 77th Assembly District, recently qualified for campaign financing available under the new Citizens Election Program.
On September 17, 2008 the State Elections Enforcement Commission approved the $25,000 grant, which is the same amount given to all state house candidates who qualify for the CEP by securing donations of $5,000 from at least 150 residents.
“This program is funded by revenues from unclaimed property in Connecticut, not from our tax dollars,” Fitzgerald said. “Governor Rell supported this initiative, which provides candidates an alternative source of funding for their political campaigns to contributions from special interests. The new program gives average citizens who cannot afford to make large contributions an opportunity to play more active roles in choosing candidates who will best serve the people who elected them.”

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September 24, 2008

What's next?

Assuming the June 13, 2010 deadline can't be extended, the race is on now to find an alternate site that can win the support of four city councilors and the Planning Commission.
The former Roberts property is obviously one alternative, though I'm not sure there are four votes possible for it.
But there are several other empty tracts on Chippens Hill that could be tapped instead that at least have the advantage of not being across the street from an existing middle school. It's certainly possible one of them might suffice.
One thing's for sure -- the school officials who are scurrying to find alternatives will be making certain that City Planner Alan Weiner and City Engineer Paul Strawderman are an integral part of the fast-paced search that has to be done.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said he'll ask the West Bristol School Building Committee to get moving fast on this.
The funny thing is that the council once told the committee to forget Scalia, but its members refused to budge, and managed to secure a fourth council vote instead when Craig Minor changed his mind and voted for it.
What nobody realized is that they needed five votes, not four, and they didn't have 'em.
Coming up with four or five votes on this badly divided council for any site is going to require more councilors to follow Minor's lead and compromise. There's not a lot of evidence to support the notion that they will.
And if you accept the argument of preservationists such as Cheryl Barb, maybe that's just as well.

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Planning nixes Scalia site

The proposed Scalia school site got a unanimous thumbs down Wednesday from city planners.
Within minutes, school and city officials said they will scramble to try to come up with a different location in the western part of Bristol.
Though the Planning Commission endorsed a school on the former Crowley site on Pine Street, its refusal to support the Scalia site off Barlow Street effectively kills that option, city councilors and others said.
Though educational leaders said a vote against either site would make it impossible to go forward with the $130 million plan for two new 900-student schools, they said they plan to try to find an acceptable alternative.
They’re eyeing vacant land in the Chippens Hill area, including perhaps the former Roberts property, as a replacement for the Scalia sand pit that planner rejected.
“I can’t see how there’s going to be enough time,” said city Councilor Cliff Block, one of four councilors who backed both sites.
The planning veto of the Scalia site means that only a two-thirds vote by the council would allow the location to go forward – and none of the opponents is ready to switch sides.
Mayor Art Ward said he will turn up the heat to try to make the Roberts parcel possible, but other open areas on Chippens Hill are also being eyed.
Planners gunned down the Scalia site because they were concerned about its isolation, the cost of infrastructure improvements and their lack of involvement in making the selection to begin with.
City Planner Alan Weiner called it “a difficult decision” with pros and cons. He said it comes at the intersection of land use and educational policy.
Attorney James Ziogas, who represents the Scalias, said the process “has been flawed” in part because the city planner and city engineer were not included in the decision-making process.
They have the expertise “to help in this process” and they should have had input, Ziogas said.
A number of people questioned the placement of a school near such small roads.
“Is it safe for a school?” Ziogas said. “I know it’s not.”
He said he would also like to know the cost of infrastructure improvements off the site.
Ziogas said that Pequabuck Street “cannot handle the traffic.”
“The infrastructure costs are going to be tremendous” and they are not going to be reimbursed,” Ziogas said.
City Engineer Paul Strawderman said Barlow and Pequabuck streets need help.
“I wouldn’t begin to guess what it might cost to upgrade those streets,” the city engineer said.
There is a one-lane railroad overpass on Barlow that won’t be changed “no matter how much money you throw at it.”
Strawderman said there is “little or no storm drainage” in that area. Plus there’s a need for a water line and perhaps sidewalks, he said.
Streifer said that Strawderman is “exactly right” in considering the cost of the property, but “what we’re all facing as a community is that every cost decision we make now” is that given timelines to make deadline of June 13, 2010, the city needs sites, architectural plans and a contractor to build it.
“All that has to happen by June 13, 2010 or the city forfeits” the 73.9 percent state reimbursement rate on the project, Streifer said.
Ward said that the deadline could be extended, but Streifer said he strongly doubts that’s possible. He said he’s never seen it happen.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien, who spearheaded the project, said that the Scalia site was picked because there were four votes for it on the City Council.
“It’s taken us 10 years to get to this point where we can have four votes on the City Council for two sites,” O’Brien said.
He said if this plan doesn’t go forward, it won’t happen in our lifetimes.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer said the planning vote “doesn’t make any sense” because it backed the Crowley site while turning down Scalia even though the issues commissioners raised were the same for both.
City Councilor Kevin McCauley called the decision “a travesty” and insisted it showed “a lack of vision” by the commission.

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Unanimous against Scalia site

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Unanimous for Crowley site

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A vote is coming soon

O’Brien said that the Scalia site was picked because there were four votes for it on the City Council.
“It’s taken us 10 years to get to this point where we can have four votes on the City Council for two sites,” O’Brien said.
He said if this plan doesn’t go forward, it won’t happen in our lifetimes.
“If we don’t go forward today, we are going to be forced” to make major improvements at Bingham and O’Connell quickly, O’Brien said.
“We are now this close,” he said, and he wants planners “to look at the big picture.”
Richard Johnson of Primrose Lane said he doesn’t necessarily agree.
He said that planners need to decide “based on what you think is right.”
“We’re looking at a lot of money that’s coming our way,” Johnson said. “But the question isn’t the money. It’s what is the right thing to do.”
“What’s right is more important,” Johnson said.
He said Bristol officials say they have one of the best urban districts in the state, so why are they following New Haven and Hartford pushing for K-8.
Resident Al Cianchetti of Crown Street said the schools offer an excellent education.
He said the panel should freeze its decision and do more research so it can decide in another month.
Cianchetti said that legislators may be able to get an extension from the firm deadline that Streifer insisted on.
Cheryl Barb, a preservationist, said she is dismayed the issue didn’t come to the planning panel sooner.
Barb said that the best use of our land is important. She said that sprawl issues need to come to the board and are more important that changes in reimbursement rates.
What drives sprawl are school projects because people want to live near schools.
“The schools should be near where people live,” Barb said, not in an isolated spot.
Barb said there would be a spare building to use for renovation – the old Greene-Hills School.
Resident Tim Gamache said he is “incredulous” that Weiner was excluded from the decision-making.
“You’ve never had a project of this scope,” Gamache said, “so why would we not include the city planner in this process right from the get-go?”
Yvonne Hamm of Tulip Street said the questions asked by planners were asked by the committee at meetings, through email and in conversations over time.
Hamm said the site decisions weren’t made lightly.
Weiner said there is “a certain amount of frustration” because the commission and staff were not brought in earlier.
Weiner said he would like to believe there was no slight intended, but there is a sense of resentment because planners were not “plugged into the process.”
“It’s not a clear cut yes or no,” City Engineer Paul Strawderman said. “There’s a lot in play here.”
Dell’Aera said that “coming down back to earth” from the loftier issues, there is a big question that might have been answered earlier in the process, there has been concern about traffic and the isolation of the spot.
He said he would like to know the public safety response time for police and fire to the sites.
O’Brien said there is a firehouse on Mix Street and police “may be on site.”
Soares said he regrets that the process didn’t happen sooner. “It just compounds the difficulty of this vote,” Soares said. “We don’t deal with something of this magnitude every day.”
He said there is “too much at stake” to require a last-minute vote.
Keeton said she’s heard nothing to favor the Scalia site.
Joseph Kelaita, an alternate, said the logistics can be worked out. He said he doesn’t like the Scalia site, but it can be worked out.
“I’m totally for the expansion,” he said.“Sometimes it pays to be alternative,” Charles Cyr said. “I have no vote.”

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Ziogas pleads case for Scalia

Attorney James Ziogas, who represents the property owner, said the process “has been flawed.”
The charter says that an advisory panel of city engineer, planner and others could have been tapped. Ziogas said this is the first time Strawderman and Weiner have been involved, which they agree about.
“Therein lies the problem,” Ziogas said.
They have the expertise “to help in this process” and they should have had input, Ziogas said.
The Scalia site is flawed.
“Is it safe for a school?” Ziogas said. “I know it’s not.”
He said he would also like to know the cost of infrastructure improvements off the site.
Ziogas said that Pequabuck Street “cannot handle the traffic.”
“The infrastructure costs are going to be tremendous” and they are not going to be reimbursed,” Ziogas said.
He said he’s also concerned about the cost of the Crowley site.
“They’re asking you to make this recommendation in a vacuum,” Ziogas said, pointing out there is not even a traffic study.
McDermott said that no detailed cost estimate has been done, only broad ones.
There hasn’t been a traffic study, school officials said.
McDermott said it would be premature until a site is picked.
Veits said he would like to know whether workshops were ever considered.
Streifer said he doesn’t think so. He said the building committees followed the traditional process, including the one used for Chippens Hill Middle School back in the 1990s.
Michaell Dudko of Lewis Road said his problem is with the Scalia site.
“We have two sites that are on extreme ends of the city,” Dudko said.
Dudko called the Scalia site “very isolated” when they should be more central.
A school could be put in the central part of the city, Dudko said.

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Streifer, mayor disgagree on need for speed on decision

Keeton said she is not concerned about the Crowley site.
O’Brien said the district has to build two new schools to have room for the students.
Streifer said that finances are a consideration. Any change to the plan submitted to the state “effectively forfeits” the expected reimbursement rate.
“We’ll never see 73.9 percent reimbursement rate again,” Streifer said.
Streifer said that it would cost $93 million to $100 million to renovate the four old schools. It will take as much as $130 million to build the two new schools, he said.
Weiner said the size of the site may be an issue.
He said the site would take 19 to 24 acres, according to the feasibility study.
The building itself takes 3 acres, with parking and such taking perhaps another 5 acres, Weiner said.
He said he wants to know how the size of the fields was determined.
The universe of sites considered would be greater if the acreage could be lower, Weiner said. “There may be more choices,” Weiner said.
O’Brien said there is no requirement for a specific number of fields. He said that officials figured it had to be at least 17 acres, which meant the mall site and the Divinity Street location could be considered.
But, he said, there is a critical field shortage “so we should maximize” what could be part of the project.
O’Brien said an original plan to build a new O’Connell School by taking housing along Park Street was shot down by the state because of the possibility of flooding.
At Scalia and Roberts, there is room for more fields so officials figured they might as well maximize the number of fields so the state would help pay for needed new fields.
There is no requirement for fields, O’Brien said.
Streifer said that once fields are included, there have to be enough to offer equal access to boys and girls.
City Engineer Paul Strawderman said there has been a lot of discussion about the planning panel’s role.
But one item that hasn’t been talked about is whether the city should buy this property rather than purchasing a different one, Strawderman said.
He said it would take a lot to convince him that the extra costs to make the Scalia site useable in terms of infrastructure should be ignored.
The city engineer said he wanted to know how Greene-Hills got added.
O’Brien said it was added later, before any decisions were made.
Streifer said that Strawderman is “exactly right” in considering the cost of the property, but “what we’re all facing as a community is that every cost decision we make now” is that given timelines to make deadline of June 13, 2010, the city needs sites, architectural plans and a contractor to build it.
“All that has to happen by June 13, 2010 or the city forfeits” the reimbursement rate, Streifer said.
Mayor Art Ward, by the way, told me earlier today that the deadline could be extended. Streifer didn’t mention that possibility in his testimony tonight.

Update at 9:03 --
Streifer said he thinks the project will cost about $130 million.
Weiner said the state won’t reimburse for costs to improve streets and infrastructure off the site.
Streifer said that’s true.
So apparently there are millions of dollars in other improvements that would be needed that don’t count in the Scalia site cost.
Because of the high reimbursement rate, “This is an opportunity that we as a community can’t turn down.””I wish we weren’t facing that deadline, but it’s there. It’s real,” Streifer said.
Costs will rise 7 to 10 percent annually, he said, and the reimbursement rate will be lower if the city fails to meet the deadline, the superintendent said.

Update at 9:09 --
Veits said he wants to know why it took so long for the site selections to reach the Planning Commission.
Streifer reviewed the back and forth between the council and the school building committees.
Streifer said that he pushed for a decision in order to make the deadline reachable.
Veits asked how often the building panels met.
Streifer said there was “quite a bit of activity” in addition to monthly meetings.
Soares wants to know from Strawderman what he can say about the infrastructure challenge.
Strawderman said Barlow and Pequabuck streets need help.
“I wouldn’t begin to guess what it might cost to upgrade those streets,” the city engineer said.
There is a one-lane railroad overpass on Barlow that won’t be changed “no matter how much money you throw at it.”
Strawderman said there is “little or no storm drainage” in that area. Plus there’s a need for a water line.
Whether sidewalks are needed is another issue.
There are site line considerations on Clark Avenue and on Barlow Street, Strawderman said.
Any problem can be solved with enough money, he added.
Veits is now offering the audience a chance to speak.

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Sorry for typos.

Forgive me for typos. I'm going fast.
At this stage, there is one vote no on the Scalia site. The general tenor of the talk is anti-Scalia, but no other commissioner has stated a specific position other than Marie Keeton.

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One commissioner opposes Scalia site

Weiner said at the time the plan was created eight years ago, there was no consideration that new schools would be needed.
Weiner said that planners “would have been glad to have been involved” in choosing potential sites, but was never asked.
Streifer said it’s been a decade since the issue came up.
McDermott said the existing structures “probably couldn’t meet current standards” even eight years ago.
Board of Education member Tom O’Brien, who is spearheading the project, said “this is consistent with the plan of development” because it seeks to replace “aging, inefficient schools.””We have no alternatives except to build new schools,” O’Brien said.
He said that it is “the only possible solution” because the older schools have small sites and can’t be renovated while students remain in class.
If transportation and busing is an issue, O’Brien said, should realize few walk to school today. More than 80 percent of Bingham, Memorial Boulevard and Greene-Hills students are bused. The rest are mostly dropped off by parents.
“A very small percentage of students walk” to those schools, O’Brien said.
At O’Connell, he said, more walk, but there are safety and traffic issues there.
Ewings said he would like to know the costs of improvements at the Scalia site compared to other possible sites, including the one on Divinity Street.
O’Brien said it would be unrealistic to do cost assessments of all 12 potential sites. Until a specific site is chosen, O’Brien said, “we were in no position to spend any additional funds.”
O’Brien said he “loved” the Divinity Street, “but it doesn’t matter.”
Soares asked about remediation on the Crowley site.
Streifer said the proposed deal with Crowley is that he will deliver “a fully demolished and clean site” and that payment wouldn’t be made until it was done.
“We’re comfortable that we’ll get a clean site,” Streifer said.
Streifer said an additional sum to take care of demolition and full site cleanup would be included in the deal.
Marie Keeton, a planning commissioner, said he has “some issues” with the Scalia site. She is “really concerned” about the surrounding infrastructure.
“I’d have to not be in favor of this at all,” Keeton said.
“I drove up those roads all day the other day,” she said, and doesn’t believe it can be fixed.
“It will be a tremendous mess,” Keeton said, if that site is used.

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The questions begin...

Anthony Dell'Aera, a panel member, asked Milone & MacBroom about the city’s plan of development. He asked if the planners should consider more than the report mentioned.
Vincenet McDermott, a consultant for the school board, said there are “broad comments” about educational sites in the city’s master plan. The issue here is whether these are acceptable sites.
Planning Chairman Bill Veits said the city’s master plan, almost a decade old, said the city is “not likely to experience a shortage of school space” and was unlikely to need new schools.
Brian Ewings, another commissioner, asked where the students would come from for the two schools.
Superintendent Philip Streifer said that about 1,400 will come from the four schools eyed for closure.
“We think we’ll be able to fill the two K-8s with the 1,400” but enrollment may increase more. “If it doesn’t, we could possibly close another elementary school,” Streifer said.
Streifer said he would like to see citywide busing for all students “for safety reasons.”
He said there is a safety hazard with ice and poor sidewalks. Some students don’t even come to school in bad weather.
Streifer said he will propose next year “to bus all children regardless of the new schools.”
John Soares, the vice chairman of the planning panel, said the size of the athletic field sizes “appear to be large.”
McDermott called the diagram “simply a bold” map “to determine if there is sufficient size” for a school and fields. “It is not in any way considered to be a design,” he said.

Update at 8:06 --
Streifer said the City Council and school building panels decided the sites were appropriate for the criteria that the planning began with.
Jim Barrett, one of the consultants that did the first study, said the initial matrix used for sites was not weighted. “It wasn’t a stand alone, sole document determining the outcome,” Barrett said.
Streifer said that busing “is an issue for the Board of Education” and it’s up to it to decide what to do about after school busing.
“It’s a different environment” today, Streifer said, re busing.
Question about the infrastructure of the Scalia site…
McDermott said that infrastructure was considered. He said there will be a need to make road improvements, extend water lines and other issues that would have to be addressed.
“The question here is whether this site is appropriate for a school,” McDermott said.
Question re closed schools…
Streifer said they will be turned over to the city. “They are in severe need of repair” and would probably be sold for commercial development, Streifer said.
Dell’Aera said that the issues involved in the referral from the City Council give the impression of “a very narrow vision” of what the role of planners is. One thing he said he would like to note that the state statute appears to take a wider view.
The state statute offers “a more inclusive set of criteria” beyond the “very narrow vision of what the Planning Commission ought to consider” in the view of the school board, Dell’Aera said.McDermott said that the transportation issues are not something that should be considered now. He said the street system is adequate.

Update at 8:20 --
Among those in the audience are former Mayor Bill Stortz, city Councilors Craig Minor, Mike Rimcoski, Cliff Block, Kevin McCauley and Ken Cockayne. There are many school officials, too, including most of the members of both of the school building committees.
McDermott is arguing that the question of roads, sewers, drainage and other issues “aren’t on the table” now. They can all be dealt with, he said.
“The design questions come at a later time,” he said. The only question, McDermott said, is “can this site support a school?”
City Planner Alan Weiner said he disagrees with McDermott’s thoughts on the issue.
The board that gets to decide ultimately on the appropriateness of the site is the Zoning Commssion, when it deals with a site plan.
Weiner said the panel here has a larger issue – to look at whether the site fits with the needs of the entire city.
“You have the ability to weigh that not in a vacuum, but to look at it in the context of the city as a whole,” Weiner said.
He said the point of the planning panel having a say is for members to consider how the site fits into the larger view of what the commission wants for the city.
The state requires a planning report for municipal developments, Weiner said, and there is no need to limit it solely to the adequacy of the site or even whether it fits within the master plan.
Instead, Weiner said, planners should be able to consider whether it is an appropriate site “as an engine of land use development and change.”He said the choice is “somewhat larger” than McDermott urges.
McDermott said he doesn’t entirely disagree, but, he said, if the commission had concerns about a site they might have been identified potential locations in the master plan.

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Public gets a chance to talk on school sites

Public comment OK'd on a 3-2 vote of the commission. But first, members of the panel are asking questions.
Here are the planning commissioners. The five regular members will decide tonight.

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At the planning board

I'm here at the Planning Commission and, presumably, you're not. I'll try to keep you informed of what happens.
The commission got a report prepared for it on the school plan and will likely use it to make its decision. I'm told that proponents may not get a chance to make a pitch directly.
Planning Chairman Bill Veits said he's going to ask his colleagues whether they want public participation or not. He said he wants commissioners to talk before they hear from City Planner Alan Weiner.
Here are scans of the pages from the report prepared for the Board of Education for tonight's meeting:

Cover sheet
Table of contents
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7
Page 8 (map of school locations in Bristol)
Page 9 (Scalia site map)
Page 10 (Scalia site map)
Page 11 (Greene-Hills site map)
Page 12 (Greene-Hills site map)

City Councilor Cliff Block told me that he checked today on the state reimbursement for the property. He said that the reimbursement looks at the amount of buildable acreage on the site so the entire purchase cost should qualify for state aid. That makes it a little cheaper and answers the question I raised earlier.
There are a number of school people here and a few residents. There are quite a few people I don't know, who I fear are here for other issues that might make the controversy of the night take place a bit later than I'd hoped. One never knows.
I'll update when there's something to say.

Update at 7:20 p.m. --
Just checked the agenda. There's only one pending application for the panel to finish, which is about to happen, and then there is one new one.
After that, we get to the school sites. Should happen pretty soon.
The new one is a subdivision application beside Allentown Road. They're handing out maps about it now and attorney Jim Ziogas is getting ready to talk. It will be scintillating, no doubt.

Update at 7:26 --
They're talking about a drainage pipe and a culvert.
And to think that people volunteer to serve on land use panels.

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School site study details pros and cons of possible locations

Here is a PDF of the March 2007 school site feasibility study's executive summary.
It makes for some interesting reading.
One fascinating aspect is that the Scalia site that the city is planning to buy is bigger than it needs to be -- which likely means that the state won't reimburse the city for more than a third of its cost and may not reimburse for some of the athletic fields that are eyed for the school.

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Planning may decide school site fate tonight

The planning commission may decide tonight whether to back the proposed sites for two new schools in Bristol.
Though some officials said this week that the decision would come next month, they may well be wrong.
It's up to planning commissioners whether to make a choice tonight or wait another month -- and they have typically decided on these types of questions in a single meeting.
Moreover, there may be a chance for public participation as well.
Again, planning commissioners have the right to listen to public comment on the issue. They apparently don't have to provide the forum, but they can, and they might.
Anyone who wishes to talk should keep in mind that they can only discuss the merits of the sites selected - the Scalia sand pit off Barlow Street and the former Crowley dealership off Pine Street - and not the merits of the kindergarten to eighth grade plan or other issues unrelated to the sites themselves.

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Schools already in the red

Less than three months into its fiscal years, the city’s school system is facing an $830,000 deficit.
But school leaders said they hope to end the year in the black through cost-saving steps that managed last year to turn a similar shortfall into a surplus of almost $800,000.
“We’re going to do our best,” Superintendent Philip Streifer said.
The school system spends more than $100 million to operate, mostly for teacher salaries, but two other elements are driving the deficit.
Streifer said that the schools anticipate a $658,000 additional charge for energy beyond what they planned for in the budget approved in May.
They are also eyeing a $604,000 deficit in the special education account, driven by 19 students they didn’t know about at the start of the year.
Streifer said that 15 of the students were placed by the state Department of Children and Families, all of them from Bristol. They’ll cost an additional $802,000, he said.
Four other students moved into the city. Educating them will sock taxpayers for $406,000, official estimate.
Since the state pays a hefty share of the extra tab, the city needs to come up with about $604,000 in extra spending to educate the 19 children, Streifer said.
Streifer said that the special education situation is “not nearly as bad” as the one the schools had to address last year.
Moreover, he said, school officials have new controls in place “to try to keep that number from growing.”
School officials have to provide the necessary education for special education students, some of whom are severely impaired. It can cost as much as $280,000 a year to educate a single special needs, Streifer said, though most require much less.
Prodded by Board of Finance members to explain how an integration lawsuit in Hartford contributes to the budget, Streifer said the city spends about $40,000 for magnet school tuition for students who want to leave the district.
Streifer said that state officials want them to push the program more, but his policy is not to dissuade students from going “but we’re not going to go out of our way either” to promote it.

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September 23, 2008

Schools flee downtown, too

A Board of Education report prepared for Wednesday's Planning Commission session has an interesting map included within it.
The map, which I'll try to post here later, shows the location of each of the city's schools and the two sites eyed for new kindergarten to eighth grade buildings.
What's striking about the map is that when you exclude the schools that officials aim to close - O'Connell, Bingham and Memorial Boulevard in particular - what you have left is a circle of school locations that entirely bypasses the city center.
South Side and Jennings schools would be the closest ones left to downtown if the current plan goes through. And Jennings may not survive many more years.
What would be left in the city center are the old buildings - from the Board of Education's own headquarters on School Street to the former high schools on Summer Street and the boulevard, along with O'Connell, Bingham and the school beside Federal Hill Green that's now a pleasant apartment building. There may be others that aren't coming to mind.
It’s interesting at the very least that at the same time City Hall is spending millions to try to pump life into downtown, the school system is giving up on it completely.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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Educators plan for pitch to planners

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:

It's possible that school officials won't get a chance to make a pitch to planning commissioners when they consider the proposed placement of two new K-8 schools Wednesday, but they've covered their bases with a specially prepared booklet touting the sites.
A written presentation – in case no oral arguments will be heard – complete with six full-color fold-out maps was given to every planning commissioner in advance of the meeting, according to Steve Devaux, the district's business manager.
The maps and presentation handbook by the Cheshire engineering and landscaping firm Milone & MacBroom are general, according to Devaux.
"They're not seeing sanitary sewer lines," he said. "They're not seeing traffic counts."
And, Devaux said, speaking to school building committee members Monday night about the crucial upcoming planning board meeting, no one is going to discuss the merits of a K-8 system or any other educational theory on Wednesday.
What is included in Milone & MacBroom's spiral-bound booklet are eight pages of text outlining the school district's position as far as the selection of the sites for the two proposed schools and the planning commission's role.
The planning board must determine whether to recommend for or against the site locations – an expanded version of the current Greene-Hills School and the former Scalia sand pit off Barlow Street.
City councilors overwhelmingly approved the Greene-Hills site, but split in a narrow 4-3 vote on the Scalia property, making the planning board's vote crucial. If planning commissioners recommend against the locations, it will take a two-thirds council vote to override it.
The Milone & MacBroom document describes the Scalia parcel as having "fairly gentle" topography in the center of the property but having "steep slopes" on three sides that cannot be used for building.
The 14 acres of steep slopes make up more than a third of the property, leaving 61 percent available for the school building, parking lot, playing fields and playground at the bottom of the slopes.
Milone & MacBroom suggested that the slopes would be useful as a buffer between the school and the neighborhood, which would be elevated high above the school.
Devaux and Superintendent Phil Streifer will attend the planning meeting, said Devaux, to answer questions if the commissioners ask any. He said Streifer wants everyone on the school building committees to attend the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall on Wednesday "to show the planning commission support that we have for the project."
Devaux said he tried to learn what to expect from the meeting.
"We don't anticipate that there will be any public participation," said Devaux. He also said he didn't expect that the board would take a vote on the matter until its October meeting.
School board member Tom O'Brien, who serves on the building committee, deflected a question about why the planning board was brought in so late in the game.
They didn't have the power to bring their proposal to the planning board, O'Brien said, only city councilors did. He said there wasn't any point to raising the issue with planners until they had decided on a site.
"They don't give advisory rulings," O'Brien said.
If it is to move forward, the project would eventually have to pass through all the land use boards, Devaux said.
Though the city has reached an agreement with car dealer Ken Crowley for his property on Pine Street, O'Brien said they may also need the convenience store next to the school.
"There is that possibility in the future," said O'Brien.
The city has not agreed on a purchase price for the former Scalia sand pit, which could be acquired through the use of eminent domain. The Scalia family apparently does not want to sell the property.
The planning board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in public session. Commissioners have not said whether they will make a decision that night or wait until their next meeting, and they have not made it clear whether public comments will be allowed.
Meanwhile, officials are moving forward with the selection of an architect for the school project, according to Roger Rousseau, the city's purchasing agent.
Next week, architectural firms will be interviewed, said Rousseau, and committee members will narrow it down to four firms.
Then, Rousseau said, committee members will determine the scope of the services desired from the architectural firms and solicit bids from the four finalists.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 22, 2008

Wright wants to open up state employee health care plan

Press release today from state House contender Chris Wright, a 77th District Democrat:


Chris Wright, the Democratic candidate for state representative in Bristol’s 77th Assembly District, says he will support legislation to open the state employee health care plan to municipal employees, small businesses and non-profit organizations.
Called, “The Connecticut Health Care Partnership,” the proposal was passed by Majority Democrats this year, but was vetoed by the Governor.
The fight for the legislation is expected to be renewed when the General Assembly convenes in January.
“The veto was unfortunate,” Wright said. “This is a plan that not only has the potential of reducing health care costs for municipalities and taxpayers, but it would enable small businesses and non-profits to participate in the program and provide affordable health care for their workers.”
Under this program participation will be voluntary, participants will be able to take advantage of the increased bargaining power and reduced administrative costs associated with the State plan and employees will receive the comprehensive benefit coverage that state employees currently receive.
“We hear a lot of talk about wanting to help small businesses cope with their health care costs and this plan will provide businesses with access to a comprehensive benefit package,” Wright said. “I have talked with small business people and they are certainly interested in looking at the plan to see if it fits their needs. The goal should be to pass it next year and get the Governor’s signature.”
Starting last November, House Majority Leader Chris Donovan traveled across the state talking to and receiving positive reactions to the plan from municipal leaders, small businesses, doctors, workers and elected officials.
Examples of projected savings for towns included $2.8 million for Danbury, $1.9 million for Meriden, $1.1 million for East Hartford and $157,118 for a small town like Sprague.
“These are real savings which translates to property tax relief,” Wright said. “Each town will have to examine the plan and see for themselves how much money they will save and then act accordingly.”
“By opening up the state plan and pooling resources, we will be able to provide Connecticut businesses and their workers with comprehensive health care and that means affordable health care for many Bristol workers who deserve affordable health care,” Wright said. “I look forward to fighting for and voting for this plan.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 20, 2008

Visconti wants federal probe of New Haven and Hartford

Republican congressional contender Joe Visconti just sent this along:

Visconti Calls for RICO Investigation of Sanctuary Cities

Connecticut's 1st Congressional District Republican candidate Joseph Visconti Saturday called on the US Attorney's office to launch an investigation into Hartford and New Haven's Sanctuary City designations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Speaking on the steps of the New Haven City Hall where Mayor John DeStefano fired 35 city employees Friday in a cost-cutting move, Visconti said, "Mayor DeStefano is refusing to protect the health, safety and welfare of this city's legal residents."

"I have spoken to the US Attorneys office for New Haven and Hartford … and will ask them to begin an investigation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. We believe an inquiry under this statute will result in indictments against the mayor of New Haven as well as many other groups and individuals."

Visconti said the devastating impacts of illegal immigration on American society are self-evident in New Haven. "Today, the equivalent of a platoon of New Haven city workers is enduring its first day of unemployment. These people lost their jobs, and now face an uncertain future because the mayor of this city decided it was more important to provide sanctuary for people who are here illegally, than to live up to his oath of office."

"The city of New Haven is tens of millions of dollars in debt due to the strain that illegal immigrants have placed on city services. Legal workers are losing their jobs, and the social services budget can not possibly keep up with the influx of new claims resulting from the Sanctuary City designation.

"And Hartford is next! This is criminal."

Visconti revealed that he has had preliminary discussions with representatives of the US Attorney's office and believes a RICO investigation is the preferred avenue to address the nation's illegal immigration problems.

"The mayor of New Haven has clearly been breaking federal immigration laws and celebrates his accomplishments today. He has conspired with like-minded individuals, groups and not for-profit agencies. He is deliberately and intentionally inviting foreign criminals into our country and into his city."

Visconti was one of several speakers who attended a Community Watchdog Project rally on the steps of New Haven City Hall. The group has been fighting the Sanctuary City designation for New Haven. The group estimates that New Haven has spent more than $71-million in taxpayer money on education and social services for the estimated 15,000 illegal aliens living there since DeStefano signed the Sanctuary City designation in December 2006.

Addressing the claim that the bulk of the illegals are workers doing jobs that Americans won't do themselves, Visconti said, "As a General Contractor I see it every day – skilled construction workers seeking jobs while illegal construction crews are brought in to perform carpentry, framing, roofing, drywall, painting and many other jobs."

"These are not jobs Americans don’t want. These are jobs my crews want; the kind of jobs I want."

Visconti said illegal immigration has become a critical issue in America because the Congress refuses to address it honestly. This situation is a direct result of "the inaction and failures of elected officials like Congressman John Larson and Rosa De Lauro, as well as Senator Chris Dodd."

"This City Slicker Mayor took it upon himself to break federal law for political purposes, because he knew full well his Congressmen and Senator would allow it and, we must assume, have condoned it. Our Senators and Congressmen talk endlessly, but accomplish nothing. It is up to us as citizens of the United States to use our own laws to our advantage."

"These federal office holders represent the Democratic leadership of the United States House of Representatives and Senate, and the example they set is one of lawlessness and anarchy. We will demand federal indictments under the RICO Statutes against those who are waging war against the United States from within the United States. We will do what our elected representatives have refused to do – act responsibly and defend our way of life."

Visconti is challenging incumbent Democrat John Larson for the 1st Congressional District seat. Larson is the number-five ranking Democrat in the US House of Representatives. His websites do not list Immigration Reform as one of his priorities.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

September 19, 2008

Security cameras for Memorial Boulevard soon

Security cameras may be in place along Memorial Boulevard this fall.
Bids for a half dozen cameras are slated to be opened in early October
Officials hope the wireless camera system will help them cut down on vandalism along the historic parkway, a problem that struck home over the summer when a statue of a Spanish-American War soldier was ripped from its base and mauled badly.
The Sony wireless cameras, already in place at downtown’s Brackett Park, may help deter vandals and could assist police in catching culprits who ignore the cameras, officials said.
“Maybe it will cut down vandalism,” city Councilor Mike Rimcoski said.
Tom Ragaini, a parks commissioner, said that they can’t hurt.
Cameras will be mounted in a half dozen spots along the boulevard, with their pictures sent electronically to a video recorder that will keep the photos on file for many hours in case authorities need to review something.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said that at the very least, the cameras should help police pinpoint the time when vandals strike.
But officials said that the pictures are often surprisingly clear, even in the dark, so they may prove effective in identifying those who create problems.
They could also be used for live webcasting, if the city ever opted to use that option, which might allow residents to keep an eye on the boulevard from their homes.
The cameras are touted as being “ideal for webcasting and remote monitoring applications used almost anywhere – from airports to train stations, factories to supermarkets, and from street corners in small towns to big cities.”
They each cost between $750 and $1,400 online, depending on the vendor. But the city also needs the appropriate networking and connections to use them.
The city’s Park Board is planning more cameras to combat vandalism at Rockwell Park as its renovation nears completion next year, with other parks likely to follow in years to come if the cameras prove helpful.
Swicklas said recently that during the past month, there hasn’t been any vandalism worth noting in any of the parks, a sharp change from the spate of trouble last spring.
Mayor Art Ward said he recently spoke with a prosecutor to detail 57 incidents of vandalism in city parks this year in a bid to convince the law enforcer to come down hard on those arrested for spray painting the pool at Rockwell Park in the spring.
Ward and other city leaders said they are convinced that one way to clamp down on vandalism that costs taxpayers thousands of dollars annually is to “make an example” of anyone caught – and to make them reimburse the city for the expense of repairing the damage.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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New Courant coming Sept. 28th

I'm told that the new Courant -- a slimmed-down, spruced-up version of the old Courant -- will be unveiled on Sunday, Sept. 28.
What can Bristol expect?
"Two or three stories a week" about the Mum City.
It's going to get ever harder to know what's going on in Bristol as newspaper cutbacks keep coming and coming.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at

Fournier calls Wall Street bailout a "looting of the treasury"

Green Party congressional candidate Steve Fournier just issued this comment on the crash of the global financial system:

“The ‘bailout’ now under consideration by Congress amounts to a vast transfer of wealth to the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots.’ A trillion dollars will flow directly into the pockets of people who risked money to make money, many of them Asians, Arabs, and Europeans, and out of the pockets of people who work for it, along with their kids and grandkids, who will have to sweat for at least another two generations to pay it back. If my opponent Congressman John Larson votes for this looting of the treasury or even allows it to advance, he will be answering for it a hundred years from now.”

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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September 18, 2008

No fees for city job seekers

A proposal to begin charging job seekers at City Hall a fee fell flat this week.
“There’s other ways we can save money,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, who heads the Salary Committee.
The salary panel killed the request because its members feared that imposing a fee for those seeking to take the police and fire tests – the first step toward getting a public safety position in Bristol – could potentially keep good people from coming forward.
Personnel Director Diane Ferguson said that charging about $12 an applicant would bring the city about $2,000 annually, an idea she said was spurred by Mayor Art Ward’s request that department chiefs look for ways to bring in new revenue to cover costs.
Many municipalities in the state charge fees for entry level police and fire tests, Ferguson said, including West Hartford, which imposes a $20 charge; New Britain, which asks for $35; and Waterbury, which socks residents for $75 and out-of-towners for $100.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski suggested that if Bristol opted to begin imposing fees, it should ask for $10 from residents and $15 from those hailing from other towns. He said it would probably average out to about $12 per applicant that way.
Ferguson said there are about 100 applicants annually for firefighter jobs and usually a bit less for police positions.
Hitting them up for the expenses involved would be “a way to cover some of the costs for the testing,” Ferguson said.
City Councilor Cliff Block said that he worries that if the city begins requiring a fee, some qualified people won’t bother to apply.
“I don’t want to deter anyone,” Block said. “I’d like as many people tested as possible so we get the best and the brightest.”
Block said that the $2,000 or so the city might get from test-takers is “not going to make much of a difference in the budget.”
“Not the way you vote,” Rimcoski responded.
But Rimcoski agreed that the $2,000 the city might gain is “peanuts” in the big picture.
Nicastro said he had “mixed feelings” about the issue, but that Block had made a good argument for leaving the system the way it is.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at