Herbst: The people of Trumbull will decide senior/community center
Like many other Trumbullites, I am gravely concerned with the current budget impasse. As of last week, Connecticut was one of only two states in the nation to fail to adopt a budget. Trumbull, like every other municipality remains in unchartered territory. Governor Malloy’s reckless budget would eliminate 3.5 million dollars from our local education budget and shift nearly five million dollars in teacher pension costs to the local level. These draconian proposals have caused unprecedented anxiety and concern among our residents. I want to assure the people of Trumbull of this important point. While our leaders at the state level don’t know how to manage effectively, our leaders at the local level do. Over the last eight years, we have grown our tax base every year and maintained an average tax increase of 1.68% - - one of the lowest eight year averages in all of Fairfield County. We did this while investing more money in public education, public safety and our infrastructure every year. The results are a safe community with a nationally ranked school system that just scored fourth in the entire State of Connecticut.
It is my position that a date for the referendum of a Town Community Center should not be set until the state budget is finalized and adopted. There are items in the state budget that remain uncertain and impact our town budget and this project. Let me be very clear. The decision to construct a community center for our town won’t be made by politicians and certainly won’t be made unilaterally by Vicki Tesoro, Michael Redgate or Paul Lavoie. The decision to proceed with this project will be made by the people of Trumbull at the ballot box when a referendum is called.
I recently read press releases from the two major party candidates for first selectman of Trumbull. I would specifically like to address Mrs. Tesoro’s proposals articulated in her press release. What Mrs. Tesoro has proposed is in fact illegal, devoid of any planning or common sense, all the while ignoring the recommendations of public safety professionals. Here are some facts that the people of Trumbull should consider when evaluating Mrs. Tesoro’s proposal:
- Mrs. Tesoro proposes selling the properties acquired by the Town across from the municipal campus and using those funds to renovate the existing senior center. The $1.6 million used to acquire these parcels was approved in a bond authorization sought by my predecessor, Raymond G. Baldwin, Jr. for land acquisitions. What Mrs. Tesoro is proposing violates bond covenants as the bond authorization was approved for a specific purpose and should be used as such. What she is proposing cannot legally be done. The fact that a Board of Finance member seeking the Town’s highest office doesn’t understand how municipal bonding operates is alarming, on several levels;
- Even if a community center is not constructed on the proposed site, Mrs. Tesoro knows full well that one of the major reasons for purchasing this property was to allow for midpoint trailhead access and additional parking for the Pequonnock River Trail. The trail is used weekly by 6,000 users during peak season. We currently have a well-documented parking problem on Taits Mill Road and Whitney Avenue. We clearly do not have enough parking to meet the demands of the trail. Chief Michael Lombardo of the Trumbull Police Department and Chief Joseph Laucella of the EMS Service both opined last year that midpoint trailhead access was critical in responding to public safety emergencies on the trail. I have seen firsthand the emergency call volume generated from the valley and midpoint trailhead access makes it easier for public safety professionals to respond to public safety emergencies.
- I would ask Mrs. Tesoro, if you were 2.5 miles into the trail and you or someone you were with suffered a heart attack, would you want police and EMS to have to travel 2.5 miles to respond to the emergency or would you want them to get their quicker with midpoint trailhead access? If Mrs. Tesoro sells the Church Hill Road property, where is she going to provide the additional parking that we know the trail now requires? The fact that a candidate for first selectman would outright ignore the recommendations of public safety professionals should give every resident pause for concern. When Chief Lombardo, Chief Laucella or our fire chiefs give me a recommended course of action, I go with it because that’s what responsible leaders do when it comes to public safety;
- Mrs. Tesoro’s band aid approach of renovating the existing senior center shows how she hasn’t consulted with the Town’s Public Works Director or Facilities Manager. The current senior center is almost 100 years old and was renovated in 2005. Thirteen years later, it has an inoperable kitchen, air conditioning systems that have a myriad of issues, ventilation issues and is not ADA compatible. The current senior center is not centrally located and does not have enough parking to meet the demands of the center. Since Ms. Jakab’s appointment as our new senior center director, membership has grown from 400 seniors to 1000 seniors. Mrs. Tesoro should tell us how she’s going to solve the existing parking problems and where she is going to expand the parking lot. Is she going to acquire adjacent residential homes and tear them down to build a new parking lot? That in fact is what she would have to do to implement her proposal.
Mrs. Tesoro has more to say about a community center than she does about Governor Malloy’s disasterous proposed cuts to the Town of Trumbull. Other Democrats around our state have had the courage to stand up and oppose the Governor while Mrs. Tesoro and her party leaders have remained silent. There is a reason for that - - Mrs. Tesoro would rather have the political support of the State Democratic Party and Governor Malloy to win an election than to stand up and fight for the people of Trumbull. Our Town does not need a leader who will do to Trumbull what Dan Malloy has done to Connecticut.
As the municipal campaign in Trumbull progresses, voters need to directly ask Mrs. Tesoro these tough questions. Having run against her, I found that her campaign handlers limit her public exposure, schedule debates late in the game and only allow her to answer questions or respond to people through carefully crafted sound bites and press releases. You can’t ask her a question on the fly, but instead you have to submit your questions online so someone can help her develop the answer. Someone that wishes to lead a $170 million dollar municipal corporation should be put through the gauntlet and be required to back up their rhetoric with substance and an understanding of the issues.
As this state budget unfolds, I know the concern our residents have with new projects and how they might impact property taxes. But I should point out that we have undertaken several school renovation and road repaving projects over the last eight years while holding taxes table. We have renovated existing municipal buildings while holding taxes stable. And we have invested 40.8 million additional dollars into our pension fund while holding taxes stable. We have put in place a plan to retire 69.5% of the Town’s debt over the next 10 years, which will allow the Town to borrow in the future while holding taxes in check. Recently, the Town of North Haven undertook an $18 million dollar renovation of their police station. Last year, they held taxes flat and this year they are poised to do so again. With strong fiscal management, we can invest in our communities while holding spending and taxes in check.