March 31, 2014

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

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 28, 2014

City budget likely to ice out education

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

March 21, 2014

'Positive outcome' possible on school budget, Fitzgerald says

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

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Full-day kindergarten has some support at City Hall

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 20, 2014

Cockayne's senior tax relief plan stalls

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

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

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 19, 2014

Mayor to schools: Don't expect more

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 12, 2014

The best law Bristol ever adopted

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

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Rotary showing polio movie on Thursday at Manross

Press release from the Bristol Rotary Club:
Bristol Rotary Invites Public to Polio Movie, Speaker at Library
BRISTOL – To educate people about the danger endemic polio still poses to the world, the Bristol Rotary Club is showing an award-winning documentary and bringing a polio expert to speak to the public on Thursday, March 13 at Manross Memorial Library.
The HBO film, “The Final Inch,” shows the difficulty of the last push to wipe polio from the planet. Users on the internet rating site gave the 38-minute film a high rating – more than 8 out of 10 stars.
Along with the film, Rotary Polio Plus District Chairman Prasad Menon will give a presentation about the fight against polio and where things stand now.  There will also be a question and answer period.
“He’s a very dynamic and enthusiastic speaker,” said Sherwood Anderson, a longtime Bristol Rotarian and the club’s Rotary International Foundation Chairman. “He’s very knowledgeable. He really knows everything about the polio eradication campaign since it started back in the ‘80s.”
Menon, a Rotarian for 35 years, is a member of the Simsbury-Granby Rotary Club and served as Rotary District Governor in 2010 and 2011. As part of his work on polio, Menon took part in national polio immunization drives in Nigeria and India.  
Anderson said the club is holding the event, which begins at 6 p.m., to raise public awareness about the fight against polio and to raise money for the Polio Plus program of the Rotary Foundation, the charitable arm of Rotary International.
Rotary International initiated the Polio Eradication Program in 1985 and continues to be a key player in the worldwide fight against the disease. 

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 7, 2014

State cash for Bristol shelter and BARC

Press release from state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat:


State Representative Christopher Wright (D-Bristol) welcomed an announcement by Governor Dannel P. Malloy that two Bristol nonprofit organizations have been awarded grants as part of the state’s Nonprofit Grant Program (NGP).

The St. Vincent Depaul Mission of Bristol, Inc was awarded $120,640 for shelter renovation and improvement work. Under the program some $10 million statewide was awarded to address maintenance and capital needs of nonprofit facilities. The Bristol St, Vincent Depaul Mission promotes the housing and shelter needs of low and middle income people.

The Bristol Adult Resources Center was awarded $70,000 for a vehicle purchase. Under the program vehicle purchases are an important component to improve services and replace aging vehicles with safer, more reliable, and accessible vehicles. The Bristol Adult Resource Center serves individuals with disabilities.

“These are deserving local community-based organizations that provide very important services to many of our residents,” Rep. Wright said. “Congratulations to both local organizations for being among 146 projects statewide earning these grants. It’s a tribute to the very fine work they do in our community.”

The awards were announced earlier this week at the State Capitol.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Martin hit for opposition to the busway

Press release from the Connecticut Working Families Party:

Connecticut Working Families Party questions Henri Martin’s judgment on Busway

When Republican Bristol City Councilor Henri Martin announced his run for Connecticut State Senate in the 31st district, he was heavily critical of the New Britain to Hartford Busway. The busway, which will be completed in February of 2015, has created good jobs for workers in central Connecticut. It shows poor judgment on Henri Martin’s part to criticize a project already underway which is on time, on budget, and providing needed jobs in the building trades sector.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s about what is best for workers. New Britain’s newly elected Republican Mayor Erin Stewart said of the Busway: “But, whether you supported it or not, it’s here,” she said. “So, the question now is: How are we going to make it work, not only for New Britain but for the residents of the central Connecticut corridor?”
Every year, the Connecticut Working Families Party looks at the records of all the candidates from every party and only endorses the candidates who share our values. That means being a champion for issues like raising the minimum wage, expanding Connecticut's historic paid sick days, and promoting infrastructure projects that put Connecticut residents back to work, like the busway.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 6, 2014

Pavalock opposes bill to toughen driver's license renewals

Press release from Republican state House candidate Cara Pavalock:

Pavalock Opposes Proposed Law Regarding Driver’s Licenses.
(Bristol) Cara Pavalock, the Republican candidate for State Representative in the 77th Assembly District today announced that she is opposing a bill that would require anyone holding a Connecticut Drivers License to take a written test at the time of renewal.
The proposed law recently had a public hearing at the State Capitol.  The bill (RSB-335) has been referred to the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee and was sponsored by House Committee Chairman Antonio Guerrera (D-Rocky Hill).
The text of the raised bill is below:
(NEW) (g) (1) On and after January 1, 2016, a licensee seeking renewal of a motor vehicle operator's license shall be required to pass a comprehensive test as to knowledge of the laws concerning motor vehicles and the rules of the road. If such licensee does not pass such knowledge test on the first attempt, such licensee shall be required to pass an on-the-road skills test, as prescribed by the commissioner, in addition to such knowledge test.
“This proposed law is ridiculous and creates an undue burden on our Senior Citizen population.” Pavalock continued, “Our state has incurred a massive amount of debt, unemployment is high, businesses and families are fleeing Connecticut and our General Assembly is wasting its time debating issues like this.”
Pavalock’s opposition stems from what she believes will be cost of implementing this proposal and the intrusion it will have on Connecticut drivers and citizens. “Has anyone who supports this bill ever stood in line at a motor vehicle office?” Pavalock asked.
“The implementation of this proposal would create longer lines, increase the need for more staff, and more importantly add more regulations to our already cumbersome motor vehicle laws,” Pavalock continued, “I would suggest that the Transportations Committee’s time would be better spent debating how it would erase the daily gridlock on I-84 through both Hartford and Waterbury, rather than spend it precious time increasing the cost of government.”
“I sincerely hope that my opponent in November, incumbent State Representative Christopher Wright (D-77) will join me in opposing this bill and let the people of his district know now where he stands on this issue.,” Pavalock continued, “We need less government, more common sense and a legislature that is focused on reducing spending and creating jobs for its citizens.”
Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Martin declares intention for state Senate run

Republican city Councilor Henri Martin declared his intent this week to run for state Senate. Here's the story.
Here is a copy of his prepared remarks for the Tuesday evening event:
Why did I decide to run for State Senate?
I’m running because I want to help put the state back on a path of prosperity.  As we all know, the state is still struggling to recover from an economic downturn that began over six years ago and is still affecting our economy. 

As a real estate broker I come across individuals and couples regularly who are under a considerable amount of stress from this downturn. You probably know friends and family members and business owners who are having a hard time too.

I wish the state did more to help stimulate our economy. But they don’t.  Despite the spin we hear from the Governor’s office about a surplus, the facts show we have one of the weakest economies in the country, our job growth is well below the national average, and our financial outlook is so fragile that businesses and people are moving out faster than any other state in the country.  According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Connecticut Department of Labor, Connecticut was the ONLY state in the country that saw a decline in its Gross Domestic Product in 2012.  And this was the second year of decline in a row, again the only state in the country with that record. 

Many people are still looking for work.  And many have to leave the state to find work. In 2008, the state lost 121,000 jobs. In the past six years we have recovered only 52% of those jobs, while the rest of the country has recovered nearly 80% of its lost jobs. 

Job growth in Connecticut has been stagnant since 1990. That’s over 2 decades. During the same period, the number of jobs in the U.S. grew by over 20%. Put another way, if Connecticut had kept pace with the rest of the country the state would now have 350,000 additional jobs.

Another contributing factor of these challenging economic times is the reality our state has a $66 billion deficit made up of debt service and unfunded pension and health care obligations.  With a state population of 3.6 million, the per capita dollar value of $66 billion in unfunded obligations is $19,000 for every man, woman and child living in the state.  If you compare this to the bankrupt city of Detroit, their per capita obligation is $25,000.  Lurking ahead, Connecticut also faces a $2 billion deficit in the next two fiscal years.

One has to ask: how did this happen?  We have the best and most productive workers in the country, we are well educated, our location is exceptional and our quality of life is second to none.  But all these advantages are being drowned out by government overspending, massive debt and policies that reduce our business competiveness in the national and global market.  Simply, we need to go in a different direction – and fast – and that is why I’m running for State Senate in the 31st District.

We must do better and the people of Connecticut deserve better from their elected leaders in Hartford.  This problem didn’t happen overnight and will take a while to fix.  It’s been growing for years and the responsibility belongs with the past and present Executive and Legislative branches of the state government, us who elect them and special interest groups who support the elected officials for their own gain at the expense of our future. 

The current leadership in Hartford has had free rein over state policy and spending for several years.  They have abused their majority position and have put our future at risk and damaged our state’s reputation badly.  I am fed up with bad decisions and bad policies being rammed down our throats like the outrageously expensive bus way between Hartford and New Britain.  Nobody needs a $600 million dollar bus way, and nobody wants it.  Yet it was forced on us and they spent a lot of money we need to improve roads, bridges and rail lines.  This is unacceptable to me, and the fiscal irresponsibility, raising taxes and unsustainable spending has got to stop if we want our state economy to improve.

Further, I don’t believe the solution to Connecticut’s lackluster economy, being proposed by our Governor in an election year, is to raise the minimum wage and give everyone $55, while claiming we have a budget surplus that everyone knows is just an accounting shell game.

The facts are clear, communities and states with higher economic growth are the ones with less government spending and lower taxes that attract people, businesses and jobs.  We have already lost one seat in Congress because of our shrinking population and we are well on our way to losing another if the flow of people leaving the state doesn’t stop.   We need to offer our children opportunities to stay here in Connecticut and raise their families as we had when we were starting out. 

There is no easy solution to turning these problems around.  But it is obvious the direction the Governor and the Democratic majority in Hartford is taking us is not working.  The numbers speak for themselves, and have for several years now.  Albert Einstein said it best, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”  But that’s exactly what we will be doing if we re-elect Governor Malloy and another Democratic majority in Hartford.  If we want to avoid what happened to Detroit and put Connecticut on the right path to economic growth we’ll need to face the situation with eyes wide open and make some hard decisions.   We cannot keep doing what we are doing; passing bad financial decisions and wasteful spending on to future generations. 

For Connecticut to find its path to economic growth and prosperity, and retain its jobs and skilled people it is going to require hard working and concerned citizens to elect leaders who will advance policies that will reduce taxes, minimize government spending and take the initiative to address our looming debt obligations.

With your help in electing me, I’ll work to help refocus our state government on things that matter most:  economic growth, long term job creation and fiscal responsibility.  And that is why I’m running for State Senate and why I’m asking for your support and your vote. 

If elected I’ll take to heart the words of Rudy Giuliani – “It would be an obligation, on my part, to perform honestly and effectively.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 5, 2014

Roche excited to share stage with Obama

A Bristol Democrat who’s running for state Senate wound up with a dead center seat on the stage, a few rows behind President Obama.
“He’s taller than I thought he was,” said Dave Roche, president of the Connecticut Building Trades and Construction Council.
Roche said he was surrounded by Central Connecticut State University students, many of them studying political science. All of them, he said, were upbeat.
“Everybody was excited” to eyeball the president, Roche said.
He said he was happy to hear what Obama had to say as well.
“It’s   great to see a president that’s pushing tobring people up instead of trying to take away or push people down,” Roche said. “A rising tide raises all ships.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

Renaissance's financing plan remains a mystery

City officials quietly wonder if the downtown project is dead.
The Long Island-based Renaissance Downtowns was supposed to submit a financing plan for the first phase of its Depot Square project early this month, early enough to allow the Bristol Downtown Development Corp. to review it next Monday.
First phase rendering
But the BDDC, with no plan to review, has cancelled its Monday meeting.
The agreement between the city and the developer provides that it must purchase the first lot, a 4.7-acre parcel along Main Street, by May 26. There is no provision for a delay, though the city could perhaps allow one if officials saw room for hope.
Ryan Porter, the project manager for Renaissance, said recently the company aimed to have a financing plan ready this month. He's still working on it.
The initial phase of the project calls for two large rental housing buildings, one of them facing Main Street with restaurants and shops on the first floor. In back, it would have a large public piazza.
Also included in the $40 million initial phase is a site for a future boutique hotel, but it's already on hold.
City officials say they won't talk on the record about the project because they don't want to undermine Renaissance's efforts to arrange financing. They said pouring cold water on it at this point would help noone.
Renaissance isn't throwing in the towel yet. It continues to push Bristol Rising, a grass-roots group it created to spur community interest in the project and the revival of downtown.
The developer is also in the process of getting permission to carve up the former mall site into three separate parcels, one of which is the area eyed for phase one. Without the formal property split, the city can't sell that piece come May.
If Renaissance can't arrange for financing that meets with city approval, which is increasingly likely, it's not clear what will happen with the 15 empty acres the city has owned since 2005, when it bought a decrepit mall and knocked it down in a bid to create a "live, work, play" urban neighborhood that officials hoped would bring back the traditional city center atmosphere.
It appears that if Renaissance's plan fails, the city would essentially return to go, with no preferred developer and no plan.
It's not the outcome city leaders want to see.
So they're crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. They're rooting for Porter to find the money Renaissance needs so that its plan, already approved, can move ahead instead of collecting dust.
The full-scale Depot Square plan, which isn't finished and hasn't been scrutinized in detail, calls for almost $300 million in new construction that would include more housing, offices, retail and restaurants. If it ever happens, it would transform Bristol.
And if it never happens, what then? Nobody knows.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

March 1, 2014

City demolishes blighted Gridley Street house

The city ripped down a condemned three-decker house on Gridley Street Friday as part of its renewed blight fight.
Mayor Ken Cockayne said the house was in “real bad” shape and its owner had not responded to repeated orders to fix it up.
The 114-year-old house, condemned last September, had so much roof, siding, window and structural damage that saving it would have required extensive repairs, city officials said.
The owner, Erik Guerra of Monroe, could not be reached for comment.
Guerra bought it in 2004 for $154,000. The city recently appraised the property for $181,000, of which $42,000 was for the land alone.
The city’s building official, Guy Morin, issued an order Dec. 23 to raze the structure because he deemed it “unsafe, dangerous and unsanitary.” He gave the owner 10 days to take action, but nothing was done.
Cockayne said that by the time weather allowed for razing the house, it was “beyond repair” because so much water had poured in through the roof that its interior was utterly ruined.
An excavator hired by the city tore through the house Friday, reducing it to a pile of rubble in about four hours. The cost of the demolition will be charged to the owner, officials said.
The city has torn down several blighted houses since Cockayne took office promising to pick up the pace of a blight fight that’s been fought off and on since Mayor Frank Nicastro’s tenure more than a decade ago.
Cockayne said he has no intention of slowing down.
“We are not stopping,” he said. “Stay tuned. More to come.”

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at