Kelly: Proposed senior/community center should be decided by Trumbull voters
First Selectman Herbst recently penned an Op-Ed stating that now is the "perfect time" to build a brand new Senior/Community Center. Trumbull Democrats believe that Mr. Herbst is forming that opinion without considering all relevant facts. Here I present those facts, and urge all Trumbull residents to carefully consider them.
Challenging Budget Issues in Hartford
The State of Connecticut budget news coming out of Hartford is becoming more challenging with each passing day. Just last week, we learned that Trumbull will lose approximately $266,000 in state education grants and $250,000 in local capital improvement funds from the current fiscal year. We counted on both of those grants when we approved our 2016-17 budget. The Legislature will soon be meeting to discuss the next biennial budget, and there is a large deficit that must be addressed. We may very well have further cuts in municipal grants, and uncertainty abounds. Now is not the right time to proceed full speed ahead.
We Have 7 School Buildings Which Need Some Level of Renovation
Trumbull has completed the renovation of Trumbull High School, and Frenchtown School and Trumbull Early Childhood Education Center (TECEC) are still relatively new. However, Madison, Hillcrest, Jane Ryan, Tashua, Middlebrook, Daniel's Farm, and Booth Hill Schools were built in the 1950's and 1960's. At some point, all of these older schools will need some type of renovation beyond the recent work on boilers, windows and some roofs. We can’t postpone this forever. We should have a long range plan that properly prioritizes all of our town building renovation and maintenance needs.
We Do Not Have a Long Term Solution to the Sewer Issues
The recently signed sewer deal with Bridgeport buys Trumbull some additional time to figure out a permanent long term plan for our sewers, but it does not solve the problem of Trumbull's reliance on Bridgeport. Trumbull sewer users pay the highest sewer use fees of any community our size in the state. Our sewer use fees are much, much higher than surrounding towns like Shelton, Stratford, and Fairfield. The current deal with Bridgeport contemplates that Trumbull will find another solution for sewer treatment by the end of the contract, and that solution could cost our town many millions of dollars.
Interest Rates May Be on the Way Up
The Fed just raised interest rates in December, and more increases are forecast for 2017. We are no longer in the lowest interest rate environment in decades, we really haven’t been for some time, and it is uncertain where interest rates will be when this project is bonded. Again, caution is in order.
There Is No Real Consensus in Trumbull to Build This Senior/Community Center
In all of our discussions with Trumbull residents and in our statistically-valid public opinion poll, we found that building a new building was not a big priority among Trumbull voters. In talking to members of the current Senior Center, we are told over and over that the problem is not the building, but the lack of investment in programs and staff, budget cuts, and the closure of the kitchen where seniors gathered to have lunch. Trumbull Democrats believe that the decision as to whether we should proceed forward has not received the consensus of the people. The original charge to the Building Committee included determining the need for a brand new building. However, the survey sent to seniors did not even ask the question as to whether a new building should be built. The question as to whether we should build has not been discussed at any of the town-wide meetings. Trumbull Democrats firmly believe that this should not be presented as a done deal, and the people of Trumbull must decide whether they want to spend millions on a new building. Our promise to Trumbull is simple: If elected, we will not put a shovel in the ground or spend another dime on this unless and until this plan is approved by the people of Trumbull. A referendum, ballot question, initiative, or other measure can and should be taken to determine the true consensus of the people. We will fully support this project if this is what the people want, and we think asking voters is the prudent path forward.
In summary, the process that the current administration has employed in discussing this Senior/Community Center is deeply flawed. We need a more transparent process which starts with answering these fundamental questions: Do we need a new Senior/Community Center? How much will it cost? Can the current Senior/Community Center be remodeled at a much lower cost? Where will it be located? How much will it cost each year to staff and run? Does any taxpayer know the answers to these questions? We don’t think so. Only when these questions are answered in an open and honest way can the people make an informed decision.