First Selectman’s Update

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Melissa Mack

Melissa Mack

This year’s spring was highlighted by a notable chill in the air. I have wondered if the budget news from Hartford is to blame. At this writing, the Town passed a $55.6 million budget for 2017-18 (including both the Town and Board of Education) by a substantial majority. The Town portion represents an increase of 0.98%, attributable entirely to a rise in employee health care costs and the mandated real property revaluation. We worked diligently to secure as fiscally responsible a budget as possible given the State woes which undoubtedly will have a ripple effect on all Connecticut cities and towns. Unfortunately, this is proven to be already true with the recent cut in State aid to Suffield totaling $943,412 for the current fiscal year. While I understand the need for sacrifice during these difficult times, this particular cut is enormously unfair and disproportionate to Suffield. The reduction represents 7.5% of the total dollars awarded in State grants to Suffield and is the fifth largest reduction behind Hartford (0.75% of total state grants), Bridgeport (0.9%), New Haven (0.8%) and Waterbury (0.6%) – true cities within Connecticut. Representing each of you, the residents of Suffield, I have voiced my concerns and frustrations to the Governor regarding this cut and will continue to advocate zealously for a more equitable solution.

Because of the ongoing State budgetary rollercoaster, Suffield will in all likelihood need to revisit its FY17-18 budget once the State budget is finally adopted in the fall. In the interim, we will work to control operating expenses and limit starting non-bonded capital projects while ensuring essential Town services are maintained. Uncertainty also requires that we exercise a conservative approach to our contingency fund, in particular. The difficult truth is that we may be forced to dip into what many refer to as the “rainy day fund” to meet the shortfall(s) that proposed State cuts produce as it appears the State is forecasting torrential rain. However, maintaining a significant balance in our reserves encourages a strong bond rating and thus competitive premium rates – serving to stretch our tax dollars – as we look to bond two major projects in the near future.

Given the considerable tax dollars associated with those two major projects – Town Hall and the Bridge Street School Community Center – and the residual heartache felt from the Kent Memorial Library environmental issues, we have devoted a substantial amount of time upfront in the planning stages in order to ensure expected project delivery and to protect the Town’s investments. Past projects provide cautionary examples of the ensuing difficulties that may arise when contracts entered do not adequately protect the Town’s interests. Requests for proposals (RFP’s) for both bond projects are imminent, pending review by the Town’s construction attorney. We appreciate everyone’s patience to date, and are hopeful that our conscientious efforts are understood and valued. Once we have the results from the RFPs, bond counsel will determine if another Town Meeting or referendum is required as dictated by cost or scope changes from the Town-approved bond resolutions or if we are ready to break ground.

As we seek a more stable future for Suffield, the best course of action is to focus on economic development to provide an expanded commercial tax base and help diminish the volatility of State issues affecting us. To that end, I am excited to share a new policy recently approved by the Board of Selectmen. The newly adopted Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Policy will guide the creation of the Town Center TIF District (subject to Town Meeting approval) as well as any future TIF Districts in Suffield. Designed as a financial tool to encourage new investment, TIF provides funds to construct public infrastructure, promote development and redevelopment opportunities, and expand future tax bases within a municipality. TIF uses increases in property taxes to help finance projects within a TIF district.

While future opportunities through TIF look promising, it’s important to celebrate our recent economic development successes including the grand opening of the River Valley Animal Center on Route 75, a beautiful newly constructed facility for cats and dogs. We can expect more good news with the subdivision of approximately 63 acres of light industrial Town-owned land on Route 75 into saleable lots. The 4-lot subdivision will be an important revenue source not only from the sale proceeds, but also from anticipated tax revenue on development. As we start the transition from spring to summer, I am hopeful for more sunny days ahead.

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