April 26, 2011

One possible downtown, from Renaissance

Renaissance Downtowns describes this as "a car-free piazza vision of the Bristol crowd" -- but it may not reflect the tentative plan the Long Island-based developers will unveil this week. Renaissance will reveal more at a 7 p.m. Thursday session of the City Council and Bristol Downtown Development Corp. at City Hall.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Who might replace Matthews?

It only took a few minutes Monday for politicians to start wondering who should take the City Council seat that Kate Matthews had to give up.
The early betting was that Mayor Art Ward would probably pick Terry Parker, the Democratic candidate in 2009 who fell short on Election Day in the 3rd District.
Parker is a longtime party activist, a moderator at Greene-Hills School elections for years and a genial, decent fellow.
He also doesn't seem to be tied in to any particular faction within the party, which is sort of a rarity these days.
But there are some who want Ward to ask state Rep. Frank Nicastro to fill in the rest of Matthews' term, since he's steeped in the issues and won't have a learning curve.
On the other hand, Ward doesn't like him.
Among the other possibilities are John Lodovico, a downtown commissioner, and Craig Minor, a former councilor. Ward, however, was never too keen on Minor when they served together.
There is also some pressure, of course, to pick another woman since the alternative is to have an all-male council, which is hardly an advertisement for the new with-it Bristol that Renaissance and others are trying to promote.
In any case, Ward has to act soon. The charter only gives him two weeks to pick someone.
The council gets to vote, too.
The only legal requirement is that Ward has to pick a Democrat who lives in the district.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Matthews resigns from City Council

First-term city Councilor Kate Matthews resigned unexpectedly Monday after doctors found a large tumor in her 4-year-old daughter’s abdomen.
Though Anna is expected to make a complete recovery, Matthews said she had to step down immediately in order to care for her daughter.
Matthews, a Democrat and the only woman on the council, said that Anna’s “upcoming treatments” and surgery “are my priorities at this time.”
Matthews, who has represented the 3rd District since 2009, notified city officials shortly before 4 p.m. that she could no longer serve.
In a written statement, she said that she hopes “whoever is chosen to fill the City Council vacancy through November enjoys the many rewards of public service as much as I have.”
Because the November 8 municipal election is less than nine months away, the city charter requires the mayor to appoint a replacement from the same party “with the approval of the City Council.” He has two weeks to act.
Mayor Art Ward said he wishes the best to Matthews and her family.
“Our prayers are with them,” he said, adding that he would do anything to assist her.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, a second-term Republican, had planned to tell the Republican Town Committee Monday evening what he intended to do in this year’s campaign.
But, he said, given the “terrible news,” he opted to wait.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to her family,” Cockayne said. “Family has to come first.” Click here for the full story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 21, 2011

Malloy seeks OK for $90 million for busway

From the State Bond Commission agenda for next week:

REQUESTED:  1)An Allocation and Bond Authorization (to agency) $89,740,000
2)Approval to authorize the Secretary of the State Bond 
   Commission to accept reports and statements on behalf 
   of the Commission as required by the Act. 
FROM:  Sec. 4  Acct. No.  13033-DOT57000-43115
Total Earmarking  $1,000,000,000
Previous Allocations  708,767,695
Balance Unallocated  $ 291,232,305
These funds are requested, pursuant to Section 13b-79p of the Connecticut General 
Statutes, to provide the balance of the state’s 20% share of funding to commence 
construction on the New Britain-Hartford Busway.  The first of a series of construction 
contracts will be awarded and begin construction this summer. 
This project will create or retain 12,000 construction related jobs. 
Total Estimated Cost  $572,690,000
Less: Estimated Federal Funds  459,350,000
         Previous State Funding  23,600,000
Total, This Request  $89,740,000

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City plans to tap pension excess

In the coming fiscal year, West Hartford plans to pump $11.7 million into accounts established to pay the pension costs of its municipal retirees.
That’s pretty typical for Connecticut cities and towns the size of Bristol.
But Bristol taxpayers don’t have to put a penny into pension trust funds this year – and haven’t for more than a decade.
The city is perhaps the only one in America that has so much money socked away in its pension trust funds that it can shift some if it into related trusts aimed at paying retirees’ health care costs, experts said. Click here for the full story.

With city pension trust funds at new heights – just a few dollars short of $600 million – officials are ready to resolve a longstanding controversy and tap into excess cash to cover costs for retiree health care.
That’s about $200 million more than experts say the city needs to pay off its anticipated obligation to current and future retirees.
City councilors said this week they want to shift some of that extra money – from accounts designated for police and fire retirees – into another trust fund to pay for health care for retired police and firefighters.
“It’s going to help the city,” said city Councilor David Mills, a first-term Republican.
The comptroller’s office estimates the move would save taxpayers $1.1 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Click here for the full story. [Please note that city Councilor Kevin Fuller told me this morning he is not necessarily going to vote to do this.]

Here is a PDF of city Comptroller Glenn Klocko's presentation about this issue a couple of years ago.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Downtown plans to be unveiled next week

Renaissance Downtowns, the Long Island-based developer chosen to come up with a plan for the former mall site, will unveil its conceptual plan at a public meeting next week of the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. and the City Council.
The session is slated to begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28 in the council chambers at City Hall.
Here is a link to reporter Jackie Majerus' story previewing the development.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 20, 2011

Wright leads Armenian genocide commemoration

Press release from state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat:
State Representative Christopher Wright (D-Bristol) is announcing the annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration is scheduled to be held at the State Capitol on Saturday, April 23, 2011.
Rep. Wright is Chairman of this year’s commemoration.
“The Connecticut General Assembly, in association with the Connecticut Armenian Community, invites everyone to join us in commemorating the 96th Anniversary of this horrific event,” Rep. Wright said. “Please join us in remembering this somber occasion and celebrating the triumph of those who survived.”
The first genocide of the twentieth century began on April 24, 1915 when the Turkish government began a campaign to annihilate its entire Armenian population. By 1923, over 1.5 million people had suffered and perished.
The keynote speaker is James Robert Russell, a scholar and professor in Ancient Near Eastern, Iranian and Armenian studies. He has published extensively in journals and has written several books. He is the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University and sits on the Executive Committee of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
The events on Saturday, April 23, 2011, will begin with a flag raising ceremony outside the State Capitol at 11:00 am. At 11:30 am, the commemoration ceremony will be held in the House Chamber in the State Capitol building. After the ceremony, refreshments will be served in the Hall of the Flags, on the first floor of the State Capitol building.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Cockayne to announce plans soon

City Councilor Ken Cockayne, a second-term Republican, may be running for mayor.
He wrote on his Facebook page this morning that "I should finalize a decision as to what I'm doing this election over the weekend. May announce next week! Then let the campaigning begin!!!!!!"

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

City seeking to sell Fall Mountain Road house

Press release from Mayor Art Ward:

Bristol, CT, April 20, 2011,  The City of Bristol, through the Real Estate Committee of the City Council, is seeking proposals for the sale of surplus property at 446 Fall Mountain Road.  The property consists of a 2.0 acre parcel with a residential home, built in 1925 on the property.  The property was acquired by the City through foreclosure in March 2011.

“The main intent of the Real Estate Committee is to get property back on the tax rolls, into the hands of private interests where it properly belongs”, said Councilman Kevin McCauley, chairman of the Real Estate Committee.

For further information, contact the City’s Purchasing Agent, Roger Rousseau, at (860) 584-6195, or by visiting the City’s website at http://www.bristolct.gov.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Schools face 'devastating' budget cut

Determined to freeze property taxes this year, Board of Finance members are eyeing a $175 million spending plan that would allocate $2.5 million less for education than it got this year.
The move would “devastate education” and leave the school system unable to cope with the needs of a growing number of low-income students, said Tom O’Brien, a longtime Board of Education member.
Neither O’Brien nor other school officials could say Tuesday what cuts the proposed reduction would mean for the education system other than trimming the number of support personnel working with needy children.
While fiscal overseers said they don’t want to hurt education, they also declared strong support for freezing property taxes this year if it can possibly be done.
“We’re trying to be fair to everyone,” said Finance Chair Rich Miecznikowski. “The taxpayers are falling off the cliff right now.”
The finance board is pondering $4.3 million in cuts suggested by the comptroller’s office in order to reach a budget for coming fiscal year that would hike property taxes less than 1 percent.
But finance commissioners said they’d like to see more cuts in order to freeze, or even lower, the mill rate. Click here for the full story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 19, 2011

Tax collectors oppose measure to cut deals on back taxes

A plan proposed by Bristol lawmakers to let municipalities negotiate back tax payments drew strong opposition from the state’s tax collectors.
Letting cities and towns negotiate tax payment amounts would give tax collectors “too much discretion” and serve no public purpose, according to legislative testimony by the Connecticut Association of Tax Collectors.
The group said the change sought by all of Bristol’s legislators – with backing from City Hall – “would greatly imperil the revenue stream upon which municipalities depend.” Click here for the full story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Conservation program aims to help homeowners, kids

The path to making America energy independent begins at home, officials said Tuesday.
During a visit Tuesday to the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol, plugged a new partnership Tuesday between the club and Victory Energy Solutions of New Britain that aims to help homeowners conserve energy.
Larson called the partnership “a terrific idea” that can pay dividends for the children served by the club while helping wean the country off foreign oil.
The program allows homeowners to get an energy audit of their homes for $75, with two-thirds of the money going into the club’s coffers. During the audit, technicians will seal up drafty windows, install efficient light bulbs and more, officials said.
Mayor Art Ward said that he had Victory Energy come to his house and was happy to return from work one day to find a drafty window fixed, just one piece of the company’s work to save money for homeowners.
Michael Suchopar, the chief professional officer at the club, said this is probably the first partnership in the country between a boys club and an energy-saving group.
He said the alliance makes a lot of sense.
“We save money. We save energy. And we end up saving kids’ lives,” Suchopar said.
Ronald Araujo, who manages the conservation program for Northeast Utilities, said that for every dollar spent on conservation efforts, people get back about $4, one of the best deals around.
Raquel Kennedy, a Victory Energy representative, said the partnership offers a unique opportunity for her company, the club and homeowners.
The work done for homeowners is worth $800 or more, according to Victory, but is offered for $75 because the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund subsidizes it. It typically leads to savings of $400 or more annually, officials said.
To participate, contact Victory Energy at (877) 306-4483 or go online to www.victoryenergysolutions.com. Be sure to indicate that you want to benefit the club when you sign up. It is not necessary to live in Bristol to take advantage of the program.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 14, 2011

Ward KO's claims committee

After another tangle among councilors dealing with a damage claim by a city employee, Mayor Art Ward recently abolished the longstanding claims committee.
Ward said the panel isn’t needed because the city’s insurance carrier can sort out which claims should be paid.
City Councilor Kate Matthews, who has clashed with other members of the panel, praised the mayor’s decision to rely on insurance experts instead of having claims first go through a municipal committee.
Ward said the change won’t cost the city more money and will allow experts to deal with payment claims filed against the city.
Spurring the move was a controversy surrounding the payment of $627 to Noelle Bates, a legal secretary at City Hall whose car was damaged last fall in the parking garage.
Matthews said there were novel legal issues she wanted advice on before deciding the case that she could not get answers about because city attorneys, who work with Bates, stepped aside because of a potential conflict of interest.  Click here for the full story.

Here's the full statement that Matthews sent me yesterday:
The point I tried to make at last night's meeting (without bringing the claimant into it) is that she presented a novel theory of law in addition to the standard claim brought pursuant to the highway defect statute; as well, there is a legitimate legal question as to whether the highway defect statute would even apply in this situation, giving that the incident occurred in a parking garage, and not on what would traditionally be considered a "highway" under the statute. These were legal questions that go to the heart of the City's potential lability for this claim. They were never addressed, because the City attorneys all recused themselves from this matter, and because the Chair of the Committee, Ken Cockayne, was not interested in obtaining legal advice.
Notably, we did obtain other expert advice regarding the alleged "defect" - from our City Engineer and Building Official - and it is my understanding that both opined that the parking garage was not "defective" or in violation of applicable code. No defect means no liability for the City.
Further, we also sought the advice of our City's insurance broker as to how we should proceed. We were notified by them, in writing, that this claim and all others should be turned over to our insurance carrier.
Despite the advice of our City Engineer and Building Official that there was no defect, and despite our insurance broker's advice that this claim be turned over to our carrier for their consideration, my fellow colleagues on the Council Matters Committee nevertheless voted to recommend payment of the claim.
I abstained from this vote because I know that we were not in a position to make an informed decision. I suggested that it be turned over to the carrier as recommended, but was overruled. My colleagues' decision to recommend payment of the claim was arbitrary.
Frankly, I am glad that the Council Matters Committe has been disbanded by the Mayor, and that future claims will go directly to our insurance carrier. This will provide consistency in our claims resolution process, and will better protect the City from liability.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

April 13, 2011

Larson hails Obama 'for drawing a line in the sand'

Press release from U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol:
WASHINGTON D.C. – Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01) released the following statement today on President Obama’s speech on reducing our long-term deficit:
“President Obama went straight to the American public today with a plan to grow the economy, create jobs and get the deficit under control without putting the burden on the backs of seniors who depend on Medicare or live in nursing homes, or on workers who’ve lost their health care, or on our veterans or students and their families. They’ve all sacrificed enough already. That’s the key difference between our vision for the nation and the Republican’s: shared sacrifice and fairness.
“I applaud the President for drawing a line in the sand – with respect to our seniors and Medicare and Social Security, and for the basic fairness that all Americans deserve.”

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

$16 million in state aid for Bristol could vanish

The alternative budget that Gov. Dannel Malloy is eyeing should state workers refuse concessions would leave cities and towns reeling.
Bristol alone would lose $16 million in state aid for the coming fiscal year -- enough to devastate services and cripple education.
Raising that much locally would require a property tax hike of nearly 4 mills, which nobody would try to do in an election year, so the only way to cope would be layoffs and axing services.
Frankly, I'm not sure what Bristol would do. It's a scenario so dire that nobody's ever talked about how they'd deal with such a hit.
Of course, the legislature might well refuse to go along with such a large cut.
But lawmakers have shown time and again that they don't like to deal with fiscal realities. Malloy at least is looking at the ugly necessity of either slashing spending or raising taxes. He's not just punting.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Police need 'thorough review,' investigator says

An investigator who’s been looking into problems at the city’s police department has urged officials to conduct a comprehensive management study of the entire force.
In a report completed recently about a detective’s mishandling of weapons seized for evidence, Lori Coppinger says the city “needs a thorough review of departmental policies.”
The report also says the city should “hire a professional company to do a comprehensive management study of the police department in its entirety.”
Mayor Art Ward said Tuesday that “a management study might be a consideration” for the department. Read the whole story.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

Back again!

Sorry for the long delay in posting. I got clobbered by mono, of all things, and have spent several weeks doing little more than sleeping.
But this week I'm making a stab at doing my job again.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com