First Selectman: Trumbull doing fine despite pandemic

Trumbull Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dan Onofrio asks a question of First Selectman Vicki Tesoro during Tesoro's May 26 Address to the Business Community.

Trumbull Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dan Onofrio asks a question of First Selectman Vicki Tesoro during Tesoro’s May 26 Address to the Business Community.

Zoom screen capture

TRUMBULL — An uptick in commercial development has helped, but Trumbull remains a community of choice because of its workers, volunteers and residents, First Selectman Vicki Tesoro told a virtual gathering of Chamber of Commerce members May 26.

In her annual Address to the Business Community, sometimes called the State of the Town speech, Tesoro recognized the efforts of all those who kept the town operating safely and efficiently over the past year.

“Normally at the State of the Town, I give an award to a community member for their service to the community,” Tesoro said. “But this has been such a difficult year, and so many people have done so many wonderful things, that singling out one person would be impossible.”

Instead Tesoro dedicated her speech to the essential workers — emergency responders, health care workers, school and town employees and everyone else who stepped up during the pandemic. She also praised the spirit of community volunteers who delivered food to the home-bound, worked vaccination clinics and donated food, clothing and personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 quarantine.

“The First Selectmen’s Award is meant to recognize extraordinary public service,” Tesoro said. “It’s fitting that this year the award goes to those whose dedication and commitment to our community was exemplary in every way.”

In her address, Tesoro focused mainly on the efforts the town made to maintain service despite buildings closing to the public, and about Trumbull’s future.

“While some will speak in grandiose terms about their vision for the future, my vision for our community is a simple one — A safe community, welcoming to all, affordable to all, with excellent schools, ample recreation opportunities and quality comprehensive services delivered in a fiscally conservative manner,” she said. “In other words, the kind of community where people want to live, raise their families and conduct business.”

Her vision is happening all around, she said, as Trumbull is the second-most popular community in the state in terms of people moving in.

“Those new residents had many choices and they chose Trumbull,” she said. “They chose Trumbull because they know, what we all know, that Trumbull is the place to be.”

Tesoro credited a number of town actions in the past year with keeping Trumbull an attractive place to live. The town altered its tax deadlines, held job fairs, used hybrid scheduling for employees, ran a COVID-19 test center and numerous vaccination clinics, all while using social media, automated phone calls, postcards and online virtual meetings to communicate with residents, she said.

She also touted local property taxes, which did not increase this year and are slated to rise by less than 2 percent next year.

“We accomplished that by conservative budgeting and restrained spending,” she said. “We also allocated $2.8 million from our healthy general fund, also known as our Rainy Day Fund, to cover lost revenue and expenses. This was the right thing to do. I don’t know a better example of an emergency situation.”

But despite navigating the past year, challenges remain, Tesoro said.

“Our largest taxpayer, the Westfield Trumbull mall, like many mall properties across the country, is faced with significant problems due to the impact of online shopping and the pandemic,” she said.

The problem created an opportunity, though, she said: approval of a 260-unit apartment complex at the mall property was a good first step. The town would soon be commissioning a planning study for the mall area.

“The plan will develop a roadmap for the transformation of the property,” she said. “The community will be fully engaged as this effort goes underway.”

She also promised a community meeting to receive feedback from residents about development in the Long Hill Green and Route 111 areas.

Questions from those in attendance at the virtual event focused on economic issues, including the status of the development projects in the Lindeman Drive and Long Hill Green sections of town.

Tesoro said the Ten Trumbull and Woodside apartment complexes have transformed Lindeman Drive. Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar said there was more to come.

“In 2016, that neighborhood was over 60 percent vacant,” Bakalar said. “Now there are residences mixing with businesses, recreational and light industrial uses. I’m really excited about that neighborhood.”

Tesoro said she expects a similar result at Long Hill Green, which is 85 percent leased despite most businesses not being open yet.

“It’s so magnificent looking,” she said.