2018: The year ahead in Newington

Published on Thursday, 4 January 2018 21:59
Written by Erica Schmitt

Staff Writer

NEWINGTON - The next year will be an especially challenging one for this suburb of Connecticut’s capital city.

First and foremost is a $3.4 million loss in state aid looming over Newington town officials as they proceed into 2018-19 budget deliberations.

“There’s no way out; we’ve got to address that,” Mayor Roy Zartarian said.

As chief of the Town Council, he and fellow councilors will receive Town Manager Tanya Lane’s budget proposal in March. In the draft will be each department’s requested funding allotments, tailored by the town’s financial team.

According to Lane, December’s differential motor vehicle tax bills that accounted for 4.59 mills will generate around $1 million in revenue to the town. Additionally, the town’s Capital Improvement Fund may be used to offset the remaining loss in state aid.

“I am analyzing and exploring all options,” Lane explained. “There is a hiring freeze in place. Most vacancies will probably not be filled until July - we will keep the positions open, just not fill them. I am trying to avoid furloughs and layoffs.”

The Board of Education laid off four teachers this past year and used its entire non-lapsing surplus fund to prevent any additional staff cuts, leaving it $1.2 million behind at the start of the new fiscal year.

“It’s likely going to be another tough budget year,” BOE Chairman Joshua Shulman said. “We’re hoping to come up with a fair budget, continue strengthening our relationship with the Town Council and provide transparency to the public. We are working to keep our schools strong and moving forward.”

Among top priorities is opening STEM Academies at the high school, to provide biomedical and engineering classes. The district is looking to fund two teachers to staff the building’s newly renovated STEM wing.

Elected school and town officials agree they must build upon their collaboration in the year ahead.

“Hopefully, the current fiscal situation will be the incentive to bring both sides to the table to talk,” the mayor said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bill Collins is expected to present his budget to the BOE on Jan. 24.

As in the past two years, department staff has been instructed to submit budgets that reflect a zero-percent increase over current spending.

“I have asked that department heads explore different methods to deliver their services - increase efficiencies, reduce redundancies, brainstorm with colleagues,” Lane pointed out. “Just about anything that might generate a less expensive and more creative way of doing business.”

She does not plan on eliminating necessary town services like snowplowing and trash removal. Other cuts in expenditures were already made over the last few years, leaving little to work with.

“We are looking for ways to generate more revenue, but with few viable options,” Lane continued. “And while town government is extremely reluctant to do so - raising taxes is an option. Although we are struggling to avoid this, realistically with the cuts in state funding, this may be unavoidable.”

The town is also preparing to begin a $28.8 million rebuild of Newington Town Hall and the Mortensen Community Center. The project won over nearly three-quarters of voters in November and the next step is to secure building loans.

“Right now we are looking at a ground breaking in late August or early September 2018,” Zartarian said.

The architect is preparing a demolition plan for the existing structure and schematic drawings for the new building.

“It is difficult to know when the town will go out to bond,” Lane said. “We are currently awaiting a preliminary cash flow projection from our construction company, which will dictate the timeline for bonding.”

Despite some dark times, there is light on Newington’s horizon.

Economic development officials are enthusiastic about several new ventures that could add to the Grand List.

Priority one is the clean expanse of land at the corner of Fenn Road and Route. 175, which abuts one of the town’s two CTfastrak stations. A developer with plans to build a hotel at the site is currently being held up by the state, which is hoping to secure a multi-use parking garage for busway riders on the same property.

Another project in limbo is an assisted living community atop Cedar Mountain, off of Russell Road. The developer is still trying to secure funding to begin construction.

The Town Council’s first meeting of the year is Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or eschmitt@centralctcommunications.com.

Posted in Newington Town Crier, Newington News on Thursday, 4 January 2018 21:59. Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2018 22:01.