January 30, 2009

Clear those hydrants, for your own safety

Press release from the mayor's office:
Water Superintendent Robert Longo said Thursday that “While many hydrants around town are buried beneath the snow, Water Department crews are working each day to clear them out”.
Residents are always encouraged to lend a hand by digging out hydrants near their homes. With the importance of keeping the hydrants accessible for the fire department, the Water Department needs some assistance from property owners.

After each storm, Water Department crews focus on hydrants around the City’s schools and Bristol Hospital. Longo said “Once those areas are complete, our crews move out to other areas of the City, yet with the frequency of storms this year and the potential for more snow next week, crews may not be able to get to all hydrants between storms”.
Mayor Ward has asked that residents be diligent in helping the City keep these areas free of snow. If you are unable to attend to a hydrant on your property for health reasons, please contact the Water Department so they are aware of the situation. Mayor Ward stated, “The Bristol Water Department maintains over 1,600 hydrants throughout the City. We ask neighbors to keep an eye out for their area. If we all pitch in to help, potential tragedies may be avoided.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Hints of Streifer's education budget ideas

In making the pitch to bond rating analysts this week, city officials gathered all the information they could about this year's proposed spending plan.
Among the information was a preliminary plan from school Superintendent Philip Streifer about how he might cope with the possibility of a big cut in state aid to education.
Several officials said that Streifer has prepared three plans - A, B and C.
One deals with the most optimistic scenario, which isn't all that cheerful given the bleak budget situation in Hartford. The other two address more dire options.
But what is he thinking about?
We'll know next week when he tells the Board of Education. He also plans to speak to the Joint Board on Feb. 11 to lay it all out to city councilors and the Board of Finance.
There is a hint, though, in the notes prepared for the discussions with bond analysts.
On a page devoted to the budget, there is a line about support for the schools.
Beside it, in red ink, are these words: "Furloughs, shortened yr. Incentive packages."
I'm pretty sure those were written by city Comptroller Glenn Klocko, who spoke to Streifer shortly before the telephone conference calls about the city's bond rating.
Now they may mean nothing at all. But it sure looks like they touch upon some possibilities.
I've heard repeatedly that every day the schools are closed rather than open, the city saves more than $300,000. It doesn't take many fewer days to make a big, big difference.
The incentive packages could well refer to an early retirement program that might reduce salaries by turning to cheaper newcomers rather than old pros in the classroom.
I'm not sure how furloughs fit in the picture, but we certainly see companies in town taking that step to save some money. The schools could perhaps follow suit.
We'll find out next week if that's the way things are heading.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Bristol's credit report card excellent

The city got a stunning but entirely welcome gift Friday: a bond ratings upgrade that will save taxpayers at least $100,000 in the years ahead.
"We're happy campers," said Mayor Art Ward, who pumped his fist in the air in joy at the unexpected news.Astonishing city officials who only sought to maintain Bristol's existing bond rating, Standard & Poors awarded the city an upgrade Friday on its credit rating so that it is only one step behind the best-rated municipalities in the country.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko called it "freaking phenomenal," saying it would save taxpayers $100,000 in next week's bond sales alone.
“We’re shocked,” Klocko said. “I’m just amazed. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d get this.”
City Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said the higher rating will be "a big plus for us" in future bond sales as well.The other two rating agencies, Moody's Investor Service and Fitch Ratings, left the city's rating as it has been.
But Fitch's report indicated it might upgrade Bristol in the months ahead as the firm revises its way of dealing with municipal bond ratings generally. Moody's is also eyeing changes that could push Bristol's rating higher.
Bristol's new Standard & Poor’s rating is significantly higher than the city's demographics would normally indicate.
That’s because it has managed to take care of its money so much better than most towns, officials said.
“Bristol’s management is very, very impressive,” said Matthew Spoerndle of Milford’s Phoenix Advisors, the city’s financial consultant.
He said that upgrades these days are “few and far between” but Bristol’s financial record indicated that it deserved one.
Spoerndle called it “really tremendous” for the city and “extremely good news” for taxpayers.
He said that within minutes of getting word of the upgrade he heard from four or five firms asking about purchasing Bristol’s bonds at Wednesday’s planned sale of $8.9 million in long-terms municipal bonds and $7.4 million in taxable notes.
The top tier municipal bonds are in high demand nowadays, Spoerndle said, because there’s so much uncertainty about many other bonds.
That’s likely to translate into lower interest rates for the city when it sells its bonds next week, officials said.
The city made its pitch to the rating agencies on Tuesday, spending about 90 minutes on conference calls with each. A number of city officials spoke, including Ward, Klocko and economic development director Jonathan Rosenthal.
The Standard & Poor’s final report won’t be ready until Monday, officials said, but Spoerndle said he was told directly by the S&P analysts that the upgrade was a sure thing.
Moody’s said that it expects Bristol’s “overall financial position to remain healthy over the near term given the track record of strong fiscal management, conservative budgeting practices and adherence to prudent fiscal policies.”
Fitch said that “despite below average economic indicators,” Bristol has “sound financial flexibility” and a “well-managed overall fixed-cost burden.”
It touted Bristol’s “conservative financial management” for creating healthy reserve funds, flush pension funds, and relatively low debt.

Bristol’s bond ratings
Moody’s – Aa3
S& P – AA+
Fitch – AA

For the city’s fiscal overseers, having bond rating analysts pore over the books every two or three years leads to a kind of report card on Bristol’s finances.
So it’s no surprise they’re ecstatic about getting what amounts to an A- from Standard & Poor’s, one of America’s top two ratings firms.
Though the written analysis used by the Wall Street firm isn’t yet available, it’s pretty clear from the judgments of Moody’s Investor Service and Fitch Ratings what Bristol’s been doing right even in these tough economic times.
At lunchtime Friday, city Comptroller Glenn Klocko read the ratings reports from Moody’s and Fitch.
He proclaimed himself thrilled to have convinced them to hold the city’s bond rating steady despite rising unemployment, sinking state aid and a cloudy economic future for the entire country.
Klocko said it would have seemed “absurd to seek an upgrade” in such hard times.
But a few hours later, the city’s financial consultant called to say that’s exactly what Bristol pulled off as he passed on word from Standard & Poor’s that Bristol would take a step up in the financial world to join other towns with AA+ ratings, including Cheshire and Danbury.
Only a smattering of towns outside Fairfield Country have the higher AAA rating – Avon and West Hartford among them – but most of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns have significantly lower ratings than Bristol.
Snagging the higher rating from S&P puts Bristol ahead of many towns that are generally wealthier, including Newington, South Windsor, Trumbull Middletown, Wethersfield and Enfield.
Klocko said that’s the result of many years of building up reserves in Bristol and refusing to fork over money for projects that cost too much.
He said, for instance, that a key moment in recent times came when the Board of Finance blocked a City Council move to create a recreation complex on the former Roberts property, a controversial call that enraged some but kept spending in check.
“Now we are receiving the benefit of their unpopular decisions,” Klocko said.
That ability to sock away money during good times has made it possible for Bristol to cope with downturns, Klocko said.
“We can weather this storm because we have reserves,” Klocko said.
Another financial highlight is that Bristol is one of only a few cities in New England that has its employee pension fund completely paid for – and then some.
Klocko said he told the ratings analyst the city lost more than $100 million on its pension investments during last fall’s market freefall. There was a long silence at the other end, the comptroller said.
Then he told them that the city still had well over what it needed to pay expected pension obligations, Klocko said, adding that city leaders for three decades deserve credit for the policy that made it possible.
The upgrade from S&P, Mayor Art Ward said, “speaks very well of the process that’s been practiced for many, many years through many administrations” in Bristol.
He said that city officials, including city councilor and finance board members, generally act as a team with the same aim: to keep Bristol’s solid financial standing intact while providing necessary services.
Ward said the upgrade “gives us hope for the future” because outside experts can see what the city can do.
“We’re still healthy,” the mayor said, at a time when many municipalities are laying people off and wondering how to stay afloat.
The rating upgrade also sends a message, Ward said, that “we need to maintain our prudent financial oversight” because it pays off.

Check back later. I hope there will be some documents linked here that go into this in much more detail.

PDF of Moody's bond rating report on Bristol

Questions that Fitch askd city officials to answer during their presentation (PDF)

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City snags a bond upgrade

Astonishing city officials who only sought to maintain Bristol's existing bond rating, Standard & Poors today awarded the city an upgrade its credit rating that puts it only one step behind the best-rated municipalities in the country.
"We're happy campers," said Mayor Art Ward, who pumped his fist in the air in joy at the unexpected news.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko called it "freaking phenomenal," saying it would save taxpayers $100,000 in next week's bond sales alone.
City Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski said the higher rating will be "a big plus for us" in future bond sales as well.
The other two rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch, left the city's rating as it has been. But Fitch's report indicated it might upgrade Bristol in the months ahead as the firm revises its way of dealing with municipal bond ratings generally. Moody's is also eyeing changes that could push Bristol's rating higher.
Bristol's rating is significantly higher than the cty's demographics would normally indicate because it has managed to take care of its money so much better than most towns.
It has a large rainy day fund, overfunded pension plans and policies over the long run that have proven its commitment to a fiscal conservatism that bond buyers appreciate.
I'll have more on this later today.

Update: Here is Fitch's report today on Bristol's finances:

NEW YORK - (Business Wire) Fitch Ratings has assigned an 'AA' rating to the city of Bristol, Connecticut's $8.9 million of tax-exempt general obligation (GO) bonds, issue of 2009, and an 'F1+' rating to the city's $7.4 million of taxable GO bond anticipation notes (BANs). The bonds and BANs, scheduled to sell competitively on Feb. 4, will finance various general purpose and school projects in the city. Fitch also affirms the 'AA' rating on the city's approximately $51.8 million of outstanding GO bonds. The Rating Outlook on the GO bonds is Stable.
The 'AA' rating is based on Bristol's sound financial flexibility, well-managed overall fixed-cost burden, and slightly below-average economic indicators. Strong financial management, including prudent budgetary practices, has contributed to consistently healthy reserve levels, which provide ample operating flexibility particularly in the current recessionary environment. Pensions are significantly overfunded and future capital needs appear manageable. A key rating driver is the city's ability to maintain its financial flexibility during the current recession, while also continuing to diversify the local economy. The short-term 'F1+' rating reflects the city's general credit characteristics.
Bristol is located in Hartford County approximately 16 miles west of the state capitol. The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) has its headquarters in the city, accounting for 11% of the residential employment base and 5.3% of fiscal 2009 taxable assessed valuation. The company's approximately $1 billion of infrastructure investments this decade and longstanding presence in the city somewhat offset Fitch's concerns about the single-employer economic concentration. Bristol's 229 Technology Park is fully occupied and the Southeast Bristol Industrial Park, which can accommodate up to 750,000 square feet of industrial space, was recently completed. The Southeast Bristol Industrial Park and successful redevelopment of the 17-acre downtown mall area should help broaden the local economy and improve labor market conditions over the next several years. The city's November 2008 unemployment rate grew to 7% from 5% the prior year, and remained above the county, state, and national levels. Population growth has been modest this decade and per capita income levels are below the high state average but slightly above the national level.
Bristol's conservative financial management has resulted in consistently healthy reserve levels. Fiscal 2008 ended with a $1.3 million surplus, which brought the unreserved general fund balance to $27.2 million, or a sound 13.2% of spending. Reflecting the city's prudent budgeting practices, economically sensitive investment income, building permit fees, and conveyance taxes ended the year near or above budgeted amounts. Officials expect to end fiscal 2009 with another modest general fund surplus after realizing a large 51.8% increase in the tax base stemming from the Oct. 1, 2007 revaluation and minimizing expenditures during the fiscal year; the revaluation, effective for fiscal 2009, underscores the health of the local tax base. Officials expect minimal to no growth in the fiscal 2010 operating budget, reflecting tightening budgetary conditions stemming from the national recession.
Overall debt is low at $1,090 per capita, or 1% of taxable market value, and debt amortizes at the rapid rate of 69.4% within 10 years. Bristol's fiscal 2008 debt service burden represented a low 3.4% of general and debt service fund spending, which provides the city with sufficient flexibility to issue up to $28 million in bonds for two new school projects within the next five years. Pensions remain considerably overfunded despite significant investment losses in calendar 2008, and the city is developing plans to manage its $72 million other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability. An OPEB trust fund was created in the current fiscal year.
Fitch issued an exposure draft on July 31, 2008 proposing a recalibration of tax-supported and water/sewer revenue bond ratings which, if adopted, may result in an upward revision of this rating (see Fitch research 'Exposure Draft: Reassessment of the Municipal Ratings Framework'.) At this time, Fitch is deferring its final determination on municipal recalibration. Fitch will continue to monitor market and credit conditions, and plans to revisit the recalibration in the first quarter of 2009.
Fitch's rating definitions and the terms of use of such ratings are available on the agency's public site,
www.fitchratings.com. Published ratings, criteria and methodologies are available from this site, at all times. Fitch's code of conduct, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, affiliate firewall, compliance and other relevant policies and procedures are also available from the 'Code of Conduct' section of this site.
Fitch Ratings, New York

Ryan A. Greene, +1-212-908-0315
Jessalynn K. Moro, +1-212-908-0568
Media Relations:
Cindy Stoller, +1-212-908-0526

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Cockayne: Help push for change in healthcare funding

City Councilor Ken Cockayne sent this along:

These are very trying economic times for all and as a councilman and taxpayer I feel we should be looking for ways to save the taxpayers money and control the city budget from growing and putting more strain on all of our pocket books. As the mayor and the council look for ways to save money and control spending I believe we also have an obligation to plan to pay for some of the benefits that we have promised to our fine city work force. One such benefit is retiree healthcare which we have promised to provide for 10 years after retirement at no cost to the retiree. We all know that healthcare costs continue to climb at an annual rate of 10 percent and the city’s healthcare plan is no different. While these costs inflate due to causes that are beyond our control at the local level, we can begin to plan on how we are going to meet and fund this liability in the future.

One such option is currently being explored by a committee right now called the GASB 45 Committee. They are looking at moving some of the over funding in our city pensions to a trust established to pay for healthcare costs in the future. Currently we pay as we go to fund this liability at 2.7 million per year for retiree’s health benefits; in addition we have an actuarial liability of 4.4 million dollars per year for a total liability of 7.1 million dollars per year to taxpayers. This is built into the City budget and it will continue to grow as we have more retirees and costs continue to rise for healthcare. By developing a fund that is pre funded with these extra funds from the city pension we could begin to build a fund, similar to our pension funds, to pay for this liability. This would reduce the current item from the budget and potentially save the city millions of dollars in the future.

There is resistance to doing this from some of our city unions as they feel they should be able to negotiate this move and get something in return. However, if we move the money 2 things happen that benefit the union. First, all current employees become vested in their pensions at the moment the money is moved and secondly the city could not change the healthcare plans' costs or benefit level for 5 years after the transfer. These are the conditions set by the IRS to allow this to happen and they both benefit the city workers.

This committee is having a public hearing on Tuesday February 3rd at 5:00pm in the city council chambers to hear concerns and comments from the tax paying public. I ask that you make every effort to attend and let your voice be heard as Bristol as a real opportunity to save all of us some money and begin to look towards the future. This committee will be voting to either recommend this move or not and the public should have their say because either way the taxpayer is on the hook for these liabilities regardless if the pension and healthcare trust are funded or not.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City aims for surplus this budget year

City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said he expects to end the fiscal year in June with a surplus of as much as $300,000. It could also be as little as $100,000, he said.
Last year, the city wound up with $1.3 million extra, thanks in large part to the Board of Education's unexpected success in delivering a hefty amount back to the city's general fund.
This time around, Klocko said, the schools are unlikely to have much left over, but they do anticipate finishing in the black again.
A few hundred thousand dollars extra out of a $172 million budget isn't much, of course, but it's better than coming up short.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Grand List stagnant at best, officials say

We'll know the final numbers of Monday, but several city officials said today they expect the Grand List to go down slightly or maybe hold steady.
It's not going up, though.
Mayor Art Ward said the preliminary numbers show a small decline.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the worst case scenario would mean about $300,000 less property tax revenue in the coming year than the city got this year -- which doesn't help but isn't a crushing blow either.
The main cause of the drop? There are a whole lot fewer new cars out there this year.
But I'll have all the details on Monday.
One thing you can bet the farm on -- ESPN is still the top taxpayer in town.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 29, 2009

Downtown obsolete, yet vital

Downtown’s headed for the scrap heap.

Not the place, just the word.

“Downtown is an obsolete word. It’s a passé word,” said Mike Nicastro, the president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

Instead of calling the traditional downtown what it’s always been known as, Nicastro said he would prefer people refer to it as the “city center” or the “municipal center.”

Speaking to the chamber’s Downtown Business Group – which will need a new name soon – Nicastro said that downtowns have traditionally been the retail and business center of a community.

In Bristol, however, that would clearly be Farmington Avenue these days, not the historic downtown.

Nicastro said the city certainly doesn’t want anyone thinking a state highway that carries people through town is its downtown.

“There are no more downtowns,” Nicastro said at the group’s meeting at the Main Library Thursday.

 David Fortier, a library board member, expressed some sympathy for the idea.

“Words are powerful,” Fortier said.

Nicastro said that he recognizes that words matter.

“I’m a marketing guy by profession. We like our words. I love spin,” he said.

And whatever downtown winds up being called, there’s one thing that’s certain: it will be spelled “center” rather than the fake sophisticated “centre.”

How come?

Because the demolished Bristol Centre Mall used the less conventional spelling. And nobody wants to remind anyone of the vanished mall that stood at the center of downtown for almost four decades until its demolition last winter.

Nicastro said that whatever you call the city center, it’s crucial to revitalize it.

“It’s not just the mall site” that needs attention, he said.

The surrounding areas – Main Street, the West End and beyond – also need attention to create a vibrant area that can attract a new generation that wants nice apartments, restaurants, retailers and more.

Nicastro said the chamber plans to push for just that in the coming years.

He said that as people realize the advantages a densely populated, interesting center offers, from jobs to transportation to culture, they’ll return. It’s a greener alternative to the sprawl that has characterized the state since the 1950s, Nicastro said.

But the community has to rise to the challenge and push forward with the kinds of projects that will help spur growth downtown, from the Main Street streetscape project to the completion of two new schools.

Nicastro said it is “the sizzle that sells the steak” so Bristol needs to give the appearance of a place on the move.

“We can do things to make Bristol more attractive to young people,” said Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, by “creating an environment where people can work, play and live.”

With a fully integrated solution, Nicastro said, “we can be very, very successful.”

Nicastro, who took the helm at the chamber at the start of the year, said that even in the current hard times, there’s work to be done.

“With a down economy comes challenge,” he said, “but also opportunity.”

Next meeting

The Downtown Business Group will meet next at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 25.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Former Press editor's new paper to fold

The Baltimore Examiner, established three years ago to compete with The Baltimore Sun, is closing on Feb. 15, according to the Associated Press and many other news organizations.
That means its editor, Frank Keegan, will be hitting the pavement again at a truly atrocious time for journalists to be looking for work.
Keegan was the editor here from the mid-1980s until shortly before the 1994 sale of The Bristol Press to the rapacious Pennsylvania company I don't want to name anymore because I'm trying to forget its existence.
After leaving Bristol, he served as the editor of the daily in Easton, Penn. and at The Connecticut Post before landing in Baltimore, where he's had a colorful run.
I always liked Keegan, partly because he didn't hesitate to tell mayors to "f-- off" and partly because he had this old-fashioned notion that what we do is really important. I hope that a great opportunity opens for him somewhere now.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Slice of Bristol seeks to help Bristol military personnel

Over the past five years, the Slice of Bristol group has sent off more than 150 packages to the city’s military men and women around the world to give them a touch of home as they carry out their duties across the world.

But it’s been a couple of years since the last round of boxes went out – stuffed with ESPN caps, Lake Compounce passes and other keepsakes from home – and there “is a whole new generation” of soldiers, sailors and more to reach, said city Councilor Craig Minor, one of the original organizers of the effort.

The idea driving the effort is to give military personnel in far-flung places a taste of home, a reminder that people in Bristol are thinking of them and wishing them well.

“We know we have had success” in the past because of the thank-yous that came back from soldiers in Afghanistan, sailors in the Persian Gulf and many others, said Pat Nelligan, who was also among the original organizers.

The Slice of Bristol group, which is now part of the Bristol Veterans Council, plans to send a new pile of packages on March 14 and is busy gathering the names of military personnel who should get one.

“Let’s share the wealth. Let’s get some names,” Nelligan said.

Nelligan said that the group is contacting recruiters in the area to find out any names and addresses they may have. But they also need help from the community because the military doesn’t release the information itself.

If you know the name and address of anyone serving overseas in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard, please print it carefully and mail the necessary information to Slice of Bristol, in care of the mayor’s office at City Hall.

Be sure to include your own name and phone number in case organizers have any questions.

The only stipulation that organizers have is that the package recipients must be from Bristol.

Know someone who should get a box?

Send his or her name and mailing address to:

Slice of Bristol
c/o  Mayor's Office
111 North Main Street
Bristol,  CT  06010

If you have a photograph that could be put in the new display case at City Hall, include it as well.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Tax collections on track

Despite the struggling economy and rising unemployment, city property tax collections this month are on pace with last year.

“It’s phenomenal,” Mayor Art Ward said.

City officials have fretted for months that the property tax collection rate in January might decline slightly, bringing in less revenue for municipal coffers. Even a 1 percent decline might mean $1 million less to cover this year’s costs.

Ward and city Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that property tax collections are running at 98 percent, right where the municipal spending plan for this year anticipated. There are always some who can’t pay – or don’t pay – but they face 18 percent annual charges on whatever they fail to pay on time.

“We’re exactly where we were last year with tax collections,” Klocko said. “No change.”

Klocko said that Bristol has a remarkable track record for paying property taxes on time and even through economic downturns.

But, he said, he was worried that with so many residents trying to cope with a loss of employment, rising utility and food bills and a host of other hardships that it could mean the city tax collector would come up short.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 28, 2009

Larson hails Obama's stimulus package

U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol just sent this:

Washington, DC – Today, the House of Representatives will vote on America’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said on the floor of the House:
“Last week President Obama stood on our nation’s front lawn in front of 2 million Americans and delivered a message that was clear and realistic but hopeful. 
“We face a rendezvous with reality. The Bush Administration left us with the worst financial crisis this country has seen since the Great Depression.  Nearly every component of our economy has deteriorated. Our budget deficits, trade deficits and debt have reached record level. Unemployment has reached the highest level in fifteen years– nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs have been lost.  On Monday of this week alone companies cut 71,000 jobs.  Inflation is on the rise and household savings are down.  States are facing enormous budget shortfalls and are being forced to cut services.  My home state of Connecticut is facing a $1 billion deficit this year.
“Most Americans don’t need to see these statistics to know how serious this problem is. They feel it in their communities as their neighbors lose their jobs, health care and homes.  Our economy is in a deep, cavernous hole. Our climb out will be steep and steady and it will take the hard work, innovation and sacrifice of the American people.
“The recovery package we will vote on today will not solve all of our problems, but it is a first and necessary step. It will provide short term help to those who have been hurt most by the economic downturn and long term solutions to put our economy back on solid footing.  
“This package brings recovery, investment and hope."

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City Council has final say on tapping pension excesses

The final say about whether to use excess pension funds to pump money into new trusts to cover health benefits for retired municipal workers will rest with the City Council.

Bruce Barth, a pension attorney, told the city’s GASB 45 Committee this week that the council would need to adopt a new ordinance laying the groundwork for the change that some officials say could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Named for an accounting rule, the GASB 45 Committee is supposed to examine the issues surrounding the proposal and recommend to the council what course the city should take.

Some union officials have said there are legal complications the city needs to take into account. They also argue that any revision to the existing pension funds should be negotiated rather than dictated by the city.

Barth said the potential shift of money into the new funds for retiree health care “may be negotiable,” but doesn’t have to be.

The basics of the plan are pretty simple.

Under federal law, the city can shift money within its pension trust fund into a new fund for retiree health benefits if the pensions are more than 120 percent overfunded. If the pension fund falls below 120 percent of expected funding needs, the money would be automatically moved back to cover pensions, Barth said.

In any case, the money would remain under the control of the pension fund trustees and would not actually be removed from the fund at all.

Because all the pension fund’ money would be invested as if it was part of a single fund, Barth said, it’s largely an accounting procedure to keep them separate on paper.

City employees would get something out of it, officials said.

Barth said that if the city makes the move, every city worker at the time it’s done would be automatically vested in the pension fund and the city could not change the health benefits it offers retirees for five years.

City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that taxpayers would gain substantially if the city can do it.

As it is, he said, the city pays out $3.6 million for the health care of retirees, who receive municipal health care for 10 years after they retire.

To get ahead and cope with future  demands on the health care system, Klocko said, the city needs to put another $5 million aside annually or it could put $72 million aside all at once.

That’s a tall order for most municipalities, but Bristol has pension funds that are so flush it may be able to do that.

The pension funds this week total about $417 million, with the fire and police funds still well over the 120 percent mark that allows them to be tapped into for the new health benefits account. The general city plan is also overfunded, but it’s probably not much over the mark at the moment after months of battering on Wall Street.

At their height last year, the city plans had more than $550 million between them.

Steve Lemanski, an actuarial expert who consults for the city, said that health care costs are expected to go up about 10 percent yearly in the short term but to slow to about 5 percent annually long-term, if only because the economy can’t cope with the current rate of growth for long.

Lemanski said that the cost of vesting employees early is “really minimal” in the scheme of things.

Klocko said this is the perfect time to explore the option because the market has already crashed. It almost certainly is going to head up again in the years ahead, he said, so the excess in the pension funds is likely to grow larger, not lesser.

Union officials have said they may be willing to go along with the change if the city shares some of the benefit with workers. Among the possibilities, they have said, are giving lifetime medical care to retired employees, dropping employee contributions to the plan or adding some other benefits to those already provided.

What’s most important, they have said, is that the city negotiate with them in good faith rather than dictate changes that might affect money already set aside to pay for employee pensions.

Bristol is one of the few municipalities in the state that has a fully funded pension plan. It is one of the most flush funds in the whole country, the result of a 30-year-old city policy to put aside money for the future expenses involved, a move that is already saving taxpayers more than $6 million annually.

What’s next?

The GASB 45 Committee meets at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 3 to hear from the city’s financial adviser. After that, it plans to listen to public comments.

The committee chairman, T.J. Barnes, said he would like for it to make its recommendation by mid-February.


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Finance board leadership remains same

The chairman of the city's powerful Board of Finance, Rich Miecznikowski, will remain at the helm for another term.
The panel unanimously tapped Miecznikowski as its chairman this week and again turned without dissent to Roald Erling to serve as its vice chairman.
Miecznikowski has been the nine-member panel's chairman since 2001, when he took over from Allan Plourde.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City eyes possibility of major budget cuts

The city’s Board of Finance is preparing for a worst case budget scenario that would slice spending in many departments by as much as 10 percent.
“The economic times are horrible,” said John Smith, a veteran finance commissioner, and the state “doesn’t have a clue” how it’s going to deal with a multi-billion dollar deficit that will surely have a major impact on aid to municipalities.
To keep property taxes from rising at a time when revenues are going down, “we’re going to hav to hurt things bad” in terms of government services, said Janet Moylan, another finance board member.
The financial oversight panel told city department heads this week they want to see scenarios for what happens if they slice spending by 5 percent or by 10 percent in the budget they’re preparing during the next few months.
Mayor Art Ward has already got the city working on a budget that holds spending growth to less than 2 percent, with the aim of preventing any tax hike for the coming year.
But finance board members said that might not be enough given the hard times, particularly since holding taxes in check without cutting into existing programs would likely force potentially damaging reductions in education.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer has prepared a budget that includes three scenarios to cope with sinking aid from the state. They’re supposed to be presented to the Board of Education next week, city officials said.
Smith said he is disturbed that he keeps hearing that the education budget is what’s “going to make or break us” on the overall city spending plan. He said he wants to have more options than simply slicing into schools.
Moylan said the city is facing its “most difficult budget” in at least two decades. She said that finance overseers need to meet and talk through scenarios to try to reach some sort of consensus about how to approach it.
Smith said he wants to know what would happen if the city was told, for example, to lay off 10 people.
Ron Messier, another longtime finance board member, said he would like to see budget planning sessions soon, too.
He said that if the panel waits until March and April, “things go past very fast” and it gets harder to deal with options that need to be explored carefully.
Ward said he’s determined to make sure that cuts don’t affect public safety, but other than that he’s willing to explore any options.
The mayor said that when he asked departments to prepare budgets, he told them to hold increases to less than 2 percent. He said he’s now eyeing increases closer to zero.
The finance board adopts a budget at the end of April. It is given final approval in mid-May at a joint session of finance commissioners and city councilors.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City may raise fees it charges

As the city tries to close a looming budget gap, it has two major options: cut spending or increase revenues.
Since city leaders are reluctant to raise property taxes when so many people are struggling, they are likely to take a long look at other ways of increasing the money the city takes in.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said the city will have to consider increases in the fees it charges for services it provides and perhaps begin charging some new fees as well.
That could mean higher costs for recreation programs, bigger charges for building permits and much more, officials said.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Planning Commission to be held Thursday night

Due to the delightful weather today, tonight's Planning Commission meeting at City Hall has been postponed until Thursday night.
The city's theater and flood committees that were scheduled for Thursday have been cancelled because they didn't have anything on the agenda. That clears the way for the planning board to use the City Council chambers as usual.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City ordinance hearing tonight postponed

Sent by city Councilor Craig Minor this morning:

Due to the weather, the Public Hearing on proposed changes to the Code Enforcement Committee will be "opened" tonight to comply with legal notice requirements, but will be immediately "continued" to Wednesday, February 4, at 6 pm at a location TBD depending on room availability. No testimony will be received tonight, so there is no need for anyone to attend.

The regular meeting of the Ordinance Committee is also hereby postponed to Wednesday, February 4 at 6:30 pm.  Location TBD.

Craig Minor, Chairman
Ordinance Committee

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 27, 2009

City makes pitch to bond rating agencies

City leaders spent much of the day on the phone with ratings experts from the three major bond rating firms today.
If it went half as well as the officials think, Bristol should be fine.
The reports ought be out by Friday or perhaps Monday. It is expected they'll leave the city's bond rating intact, which would be pretty good given the dire budget situation in Hartford.
Both Comptroller Glenn Klocko and Mayor Art Ward said the ratings experts were impressed with the consistent, solid finances of the city, particularly given its demographics, which fall short of most communities with its bond rating.
Helping Bristol along were a long track record of hefty reserves, a fully funded pension plan, experienced managers and more, according to Klocko and Ward.
We'll see what the ratings folks have to say in a few days. Klocko said the reports they issue should give the Board of Finance something to feel good about.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Larson blasts Wall Street greed

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Larson, the East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol:


Washington, DC – Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, made the following statement.
“I am outraged by the actions of John Thain and other Wall Street executives. They have made a mockery of the taxpayer and shareholder. While America loses its jobs and houses and health care, they shower millions on their executives, giving new meaning to the term robber baron. Wasting taxpayer money on personal luxuries and undeserved bonuses at a time of such serious crisis in the financial sector is morally reprehensible. These actions are further evidence of the culture of unrepentant greed on Wall Street.
“To save the entire economy from being brought down by Wall Street’s bad actors, I and other Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, supported the Bush Administration’s request to establish the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). And, I still believe that the consequences of not passing TARP would have been even more catastrophic.
“But now, we must explore all option to resolve the credit crisis because the Bush Administration, Wall Street and big banks failed to meet the expectations we set for them. The creation of a so called “bad bank”, direct government lending to consumers and businesses, lending through the Small Business Association and other alternatives must now be on the table.”
“The legislation that the House passed last week to hold executives accountable for how they use TARP funds and set executive pay caps was a good first step towards accountability. But, we need to do more.”
“Those who brought down our financial system need to be held accountable. I strongly support the prosecution of anyone who uses tax dollars to betray the public trust. We must revamp and restructure our regulatory agencies – the SEC, CFTC and FINRA. We must examine the role of rating agencies in the collapse of our financial markets. And, I will demand that the Treasury Department and other agencies recover all improperly used funds.
“It is imperative that we don’t make the same mistakes again. We owe it to future generations to do a thorough and exhaustive review of what brought about this crisis.”

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Snow removal costs clobber city budget

Wednesday's snowstorm will push the city’s plowing costs past the $780,000 budgeted for the entire winter, officials said.
Public Works Director Walter Veselka said he figures the city will wind up about $300,000 short by the time the last snowflakes vanish in the spring breeze.
Though the amount of snow this winter has been normal, he said, many of the storms have fallen on holidays and weekends, when plow operators earn overtime or even double time.
The fiscal situation would be even worse were it not for the changeover this year from the old salt and sand mix to a new treated salt that has proven more effective and cheaper, Veselka said.
“It’s worked very well putting out less material,” Veselka said.
Mayor Art Ward has repeatedly said this winter that residents are happy with the snow removal efforts. He praised public works crews that have put in long hours to battle some difficult storms.
The city will have to dip into its reserves to pay the extra plowing costs, finance officials said.. That makes it tougher to end the fiscal year in the black.
Veselka said an advantage of the new treated salt material is that spring street cleaning should go much faster because there is so much less sand on the roads. It also makes cleaning out catch basins quicker, he said.
This may be the last winter the city uses sand routinely during the winter.
It is using treated salt throughout the city for the first round of putting material down on roads, but once the trucks have used it up in the Chippens Hill and west Bristol areas, old stores of sand and salt are tapped.
Veselka said that beginning next winter, the sand won’t be used. The old material that’s likely to be left over, he said, will be given out to residents.
What makes the new technology particularly nice for the city is that it can no longer mine its own sand. Its permit is running out so if it wanted to keep using sand it would need to buy it or try to get the permit renewed, which might not happen.
Veselka said that public works uses the treated salt on the streets before the snow falls – or at least before it gets packed down – because that works best.
For example, he said Tuesday, he plans to start putting out the treated salt at about 2 a.m. tonight on the busiest roads and by 6 a.m. on side streets in order to make sure it’s on the pavement by the time there’s much snow there.
It is much more effective that way, Veselka said.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

John Updike dead

A skilled writer with a passion for literature, John Updike, is dead, according to The New York Times. At his best, Updike could capture a period, not just a scene, as he did in the first couple books of his Rabbit series.
It's always sad when a brilliant writer leaves the scene.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Chamber's economic forecast delayed by weather

The Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce's annual economic forecast luncheon will be held at noon on Thursday at Nuchie's instead of holding it Wednesday, as planned.
The weather forecast is, apparently, as bleak as the economic forecast.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Ken Johnson is running for mayor again

As he promised on Election Night in 2007, after losing to Democrat Art Ward, Ken Johnson is aiming for a rematch this time around.
Johnson told the Republican Town Committee last night that he is going to run for mayor this year.
The GOP's town chairman, T.J. Barnes, said today that Johnson is "a great candidate. He does do the work."
"He gave Art Ward a pretty good run for his money the last time around," Barnes said, and could win this year.
I have a call in to Johnson so there will be more later.
Ward is almost certainly running for re-election but hasn't formally announced any plans.
It's not clear if Johnson will face any opposition from within his own party.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski, a Republican, said he wouldn't be surprised if former Mayor William Stortz also runs for mayor this year.
Stortz just kind of smiled at me when I asked him about that a couple of weeks ago, then he changed the subject. I'll ask him again, though.

Update: Johnson and I swapped phone calls, missing each other so far, but he did send along via email a statement about why he's running again:

I spoke during the '07 municipal campaign about the need for the Bristol Republican Party to become 'relevant.' We needed to provide people with a reason to come to the polls so the Democratic Party didn't have defacto appointment power. We sought to give people the opportunity to have a say in their local government. I think we made significant strides towards relevance in '07 with the re-election of Mike Rimkowski and the election of a new councilman, Ken Cockayne. And I like to think I ran a spirited campaign and gave Artie Ward a scare he could not have anticipated from a 'no-name' candidate.
As Bristol Republicans, our charge now is to pick up where we left off in '07 and bring it to the next level. It is 2009 and nothing has changed. Bristol still needs leaders who possess vision and recognize their responsibility to the taxpaying citizens.  Running in '07 was a very enjoyable experience for me and I am energized to lead the ticket again in 2009. Therefore, I announced my intention to seek election and serve as your next mayor.
I am running because I intend to win. We are going to get back to basics: the Republican Party will speak for the taxpayers of Bristol and hold our government accountable for the spending of our money. My ticket will be running as a team, committed in writing to a common set of core principles. We will run a full slate and a strong slate of council candidates - I believe the strongest slate the Republican Party has fielded in many years. I am committed to victory and a clean Republican sweep in November. My one promise is this- when you get involved with my campaign,you'll have fun, a great experience and get to be part of a winning team.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Corruption in Hartford

Isn't it weird that Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is only now facing criminal charges for the alleged corruption we all knew about before his 2007 re-election? It says something about the dysfunctional politics of the state's capital city that people knew they were electing someone with questionable ethics and did it anyway.
And how come it took so long for prosecutors to make a case that was already in the press a year and a half ago? It doesn't seem that complicated.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 26, 2009

Tell the new boss what you want!

The new publisher talked to the staff in Bristol today, thanking us for our loyalty and promising we would be "a happy family" as The Bristol Press moves into the second half of its long life.
There is "a big history to live up to" in Bristol, Michael Schroeder said.
He urged the staff in Bristol -- and, no doubt, in New Britain -- to listen to colleagues, customers and readers. And he told us to share the ideas we hear, or have, with him.
That's a particularly welcome change from the Journal Register Co. years, when nobody ever wanted to listen to anything, ever.
Most people at The Bristol Press still have their jobs, though not all. We may have lost some fine people in the shuffle. I'm still not sure about that yet.
What I do know is that our reporting staff -- down to just Jackie Majerus and I now since we've had two people leave in recent weeks -- is still here. And so is the editor of the Press, Bill Sarno.
That's the core that we have to build from, but all of us have a long history in Bristol. We know the town. We know what we need to do. I'm pretty confident that Schroeder's going to let us get out there and do it.
I'm anxious to do this job without wondering how the corporate types at the JRC are going to mess things up.
At the same time, the connections between the Press and The Herald in New Britain are becoming deeper.
There will be one circulation director for both papers, Brenda Kelly. There will be one production manager for both papers, Wayne DePaulo. There will be one overall editor, Marc Levy, who is also the editor of The Herald.
Schroeder said he is also "anxiously looking for an ad director."
I would feel better, truthfully, if the Press were standing more on its own. I've never liked having our fate tied to New Britain's.
But if that's how it is, well, let's hope my worries are groundles. It doesn't really change what we need to do in Bristol.
Schroeder said he intends to "respect the past and look toward the future" at the Press, to bring back some old features of the paper while taking care to be contemporary, too.
He said we'll be doing experiments not done anywhere else in the months ahead, which is the sort of thing I like to hear. We're better off on the cutting edge. Boldness is crucial.
So, Bristol, tell Schroeder what you want in your paper. He's listening carefully.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

High schools differ on tackling class attendance problems

 At Bristol Eastern High School, nearly 500 first quarter grades were lowered because students missed class or showed up late.

At Bristol Central High School, teachers are not allowed to take off points for tardiness or poor attendance, though officials discovered five of them had mistakenly done so anyway.

Board of Education members decided recently they didn’t mind have two different procedures in place, one at each school, and opted to let each continue to do whatever seems best for its students.

“We should let the high schools deal with this themselves,” said Karen Vibert, a school board member.  “If we do it ourselves, we’d be micromanaging.”

The principals of each of the high schools said that only about 6 percent of students are chronic problems. These students, they said, are well known to administrators, teachers, counselors and others who are trying to keep them on the path to graduation.

V. Everett Lyons, the principal at Bristol Eastern High School, said that 52 percent of his teachers don’t take off points for attendance issues.

Of those who do, nearly half the effected grades are in physical education and about 20 percent are in music classes, which depend heavily on band and choir members showing up.

Three first period teachers in the two subjects were the most stringent, Lyons said.

He also said that most of the problems with getting to class on time occur first period and in the classes that go to lunch in the middle of a long period, with parts of the class both before and after lunch. Students tend to straggle back late from the cafeteria, Lyons said.

He said the four minutes that students have between classes is not a problem, In fact, he said, it used to be three minutes “back in the dark ages, when love lives were not as involved.”

“Kids were faster” back a couple of decades ago, Lyons joked.

Martin Semmel, the principal at Central, said that when he checked on the new policy barring teachers from penalizing for attendance, he discovered five teachers who were still doing it.

“That should not be happening,” Semmel said. Only one tech education teacher had socked many grades, however.

Semmel said the students who pose a problem in terms of attendance should be getting detention, talks with guidance counselors and discussions with parents.

But, he admitted, the new policy at Central hasn’t made a dent in the tardiness of students.

The only thing that has helped, Semmel said, was for administrators to stand in the front hall at the beginning of school and hand out detentions as students come in late.

When they did that, “the kids were moving much quicker” because they knew there would be immediate consequences for failing to be in class, Semmel said.

The problem is that “it’s hard to keep something up like that,” Semmel said.

Fact box

In the first quarter of this school year at Bristol Eastern High School, 484 of 8,884 class grades were lowered to reflect attendance problems.

In five cases, the grade dropped by 31 or more points.

In 17 cases, it dropped between 21 and 30 points.

In 71 cases, it was lowered 11 to 20 points.

In 385 cases, grades fell by 10 or fewer points.

In six cases, the grade did not change though attendance was considered.

Nearly all of the students lost points from physical education or music classes or from three other teachers who proved especially tough.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Rimcoski: Felons shouldn't get public pensions

The city should strip away the pensions of its employees who are convicted of felonies, a city councilor said.

Republican city Councilor Mike Rimcoski said that he wants to ax the pensions of those who have violated the public trust.

He said he hasn't yet made a formal request to change the city's policy because he wants to get more information from the state first.

State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat who is also a city councilor, said that state lawmakers have debated the idea for many hours in the General Assembly without approving it.

The hitch at the state level, he said, was a concern that in punishing felons, legislators would also be snatching money from spouses and children who did nothing wrong.

"It's still being looked at," said Nicastro, who represents the 79th District, encompassing the southern third of Bristol.

Rimcoski, who has pushed the idea in the past, said it angers him to see state workers who are accused of crimes making a quick retirement to lock in their pensions.

"You shouldn't be sending pension checks to the prisons," Rimcoski said.

Nicastro said he absolutely agreed with Rimcoski on that point.

The issue has been bandied about since the scandal that rocked the administration of former Gov. John Rowland, who resigned in disgrace and spent time in federal prison for corruption.

There haven't been any significant scandals at City Hall, but other municipalities around the state have seen workers charged with serious crimes.

Rimcoski said he would bring up the policy again after he gathers the additional information he seeks.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Schools say no to health survey

Rather than dip into instructional time, Board of Education members decided recently to refuse a request by state health officials to survey randomly selected city high school students.

“We’re fighting for every minute we can get” of classroom time, said Chris Wilson, a school board member.

“We do need to preserve all the instructional time we can,” said Susan Moreau, the deputy superintendent of schools.

The health survey request sought to have at least a handful of classes at the two high schools take about 45 minutes each to answer a number of questions about health-related issues.

the Connecticut School Health Survey randomly selects schools across the state to query about issues ranging from tobacco use to diet. There are many issues that have been investigated through the surveys over the years.

One part of the survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, quizzed a little more than 2,000 anonymous students at 46 public high schools in 2007, with 78 percent of the schools chosen participating in the effort.

Moreau said that Bristol seems to get picked a lot for a supposedly random survey. It has done them before, she said.

Both the principals of Bristol Central High School and Bristol Eastern High School said they agreed that the survey takes away too much time from students.

Martin Semmel, the principal at Central, said he didn’t want to get into a situation where one algebra class was taking the test and another was moving forward with its studies.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Hey, readers, help out on a documentary Tuesday morning

Just a reminder, a documentary producer is looking to talk with Bristol Press readers on Tuesday morning. Here are the details.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 25, 2009

Nicastro criticized by Waterbuy paper

The Waterbury Republican-American has an editorial casting state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, has an engineer on the legislature's "train of fools" for pushing passenger service on the barely used railroad line between Berlin and Waterbury.
Perhaps they need to look into the issue more. Try this story, or these, for starters.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

More from our new owner

Read Rick Green's blog entry for The Hartford Courant. We're waiting to see what it all means, for the paper, for the community and for us.
I hope that as the optimism generated by the sale slips away into the daily grind, with the inevitable disappointments, we can keep our eyes on the prospects for a brighter future. I'm eager to see what awaits because we have a chance here to show the whole country what a newspaper can become, how we can stay relevant in a fast-changing world.
But most important, now that we have been given the opportunity to shuck the weight of a crushingly bad owner, we have the obligation to become once again the voice of Bristol and the glue that holds the community together. We can do it. I have no doubt.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 24, 2009

The deal is done

For those who haven't seen today's paper: The Bristol Press has, at long last, a new owner. Michael Schroeder is going to lead us into a new era that can't help being brighter.
The Journal Register Co., which took a thriving daily in 1994 and ran it into the ground, no longer owns the Press. Against all odds, it wasn't closed, as the experts said was inevitable.
Thanks to Schroeder, the paper was instead sold and now belongs not to a dying newspaper chain but instead to an energetic newsman with an infectious optimism about what's possible here.
What will happen in the weeks and months ahead, I have no idea. Clearly, there is a commitment to rebuilding the paper and to healing the wounds of 15 years of corporate neglect of the Bristol community.
I hope that our readers -- and our former readers -- will give us a chance to remake the paper for a new era so that it can serve the Bristol community for generations to come. Give us your support and we'll show you why you need The Bristol Press, in print, online, on your phone, wherever, whenever.
This little paper's only 137 years old. It's still young.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

January 23, 2009

Train students to work at ESPN, Wright urges

In another proposed piece of legislation, 77th District Democrat Chris Wright of Bristol is calling for lawmakers to allocate money "to fund additional courses in broadcasting and communications at E.C. Goodwin Technical High School and Tunxis Community College to train students for positions at ESPN."

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Wright seeks to rein in legislative hiring

State Rep. Chris Wright, a 77th District Democrat, is seeking legislation to limit the number of employees the General Assembly can hire.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Hamzy takes aim at gun control efforts

State Rep. Bill Hamzy, whose 78th District includes Plymouth and a portion of Bristol, is sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly to "prohibit the adoption of a municipal ordinance concerning the right to carry a firearm."
The idea is to prevent cities and towns from regulating firearms with local laws.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

GASB 45 panel to finish its work at top speed

The revamped GASB 45 Committee plans to move with a speed almost unknown in government circles.
Its chairman, T.J. Barnes, said he hopes it can complete its work in three weeks, during which he plans to hear from experts, hold a public hearing and discuss the issues involved before making a recommendations about what the city should do.
The panel is looking into the possibility of using surplus pension cash to cover retirees’ health care and other post-employment benefits that taxpayers are obliged to pay but have set next to nothing aside from which to cover the tab.
“It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out discussion,” Barnes said.
Mayor Art Ward originally set up a 19-person committee to look into the matter, but carved the number down to seven at Barnes’ request in order to make the task manageable.
Named for an accounting rule, the GASB 45 Committee is supposed to examine the prospects for saving millions for taxpayers by transferring pension fund excesses to new accounts set up to cover the future tab for health care coverage for retirees.
There are a lot of legal and financial issues involved.
But Barnes said he hopes the city’s pension attorney, pension adviser and actuaries will be able to shed light on what’s possible and how it might be done.
“First, let’s get the facts,” Barnes said. “The more information, the better.”
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said he would provide the panel’s members with letters from the attorney and actuary who have provided information to him so they can bone up before the experts come to a committee session.
Since the experts earn as much as $400 an hour, Klocko said, “we want to use their time wisely.”

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Repeal global warming, Piscopo urges

Thanks to Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green's blog, I see that the state representative whose district includes Burlington, Republican John Piscopo, has introduced a measure "to repeal global warming legislation that was passed based on the assumption that global warming is caused by human action."
I have a call in to Piscopo to find out why he's seeking the legislation.
But here is something from a 2006 transcript of the House proceedings that provides a revealing glimpse:

Mr. Speaker, I didn't want to make this into a big global warming debate, but I guess it's been introduced, and I just kind of want to summarize.
Yes, there is some warming on the planet in the last few years. A lot of it can be measured by the activity on the sun. The sun is just more active. We go through periods of warming. We'll go through periods of cooling.
Mark my words, in ten years, we're all going to be worried about late spring frosts, and early fall frosts, and crops dying and we're going to be in some huge climate cooling hysteria. That's just the way it is with this globe. It warms and it cools.
There is nothing the little State of Connecticut, in rolling back its economy to 1990 standards, or over-regulating its manufacturing industry or anything like that, is going to do to stop this huge planet from having fluctuations in its climate.
And I can introduce a lot of different science to this. A lot of it gets squashed by our mainstream media, but I hope that you will all keep an open mind on this debate, in the future, and I will keep trying.

And here is a press release he put out about it awhile back that I wish I'd seen before today.
Here's what state Rep. Bill Hamzy, the Plymouth Republican whose district includes northwestern Bristol had to say during the same 2006 floor debate where Piscopo spoke:

I also rise to speak on the issue of global warming, which was introduced by one of my fellow Representatives, and also state that I believe you can have, in this Chamber, a difference of opinion without resorting to code words like right-wing think tank, or left-wing think tank, or liberal or conservative.
And you can have an honest difference of opinion in a conversation about issues that we take up in this Chamber. And because of differences of opinion, I'm not sure that it's credible to be throwing out those types of words.
If you go back over the course of the history of this world, more than just 15 or 20 years, but go back 1,000 years, you'll see the pattern of global warming and global cooling and recognize that while, I also believe that it's incumbent upon us to reduce emissions.
But I do not believe that the emissions that are released in the State of Connecticut affect the global warming as an entire universe.

And last February, with this measure, Hamzy and Piscopo sought to use money allocated to combat global warming to reduce electrical rates instead.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com