Timothy M. Herbst April 8, 2010 State of the Town Address Frenchtown Elementary School As we gather tonight for this, my first State of the Town address, all elected representatives in both parties share a tremendous privilege – - to be placed in office by the votes of the people we serve.Nine months ago, I stood in this very room to accept my party’s nomination for First Selectman of the Town of Trumbull. In that speech, I vowed that we would work to restore the promise of Trumbull. Tonight, I will set forth policies that I believe advance that ideal. On December 7th of last year, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work on behalf of our employer, the people of Trumbull. Our accomplishments these last 4 months have been through the hard work of dedicated public servants and volunteers who share the common goal of restoring people’s faith in their government. Restoring people’s faith means honoring their trust and respecting their will. I wish to begin this evening by congratulating two people who I have recently appointed to key positions in our government. In the short time they have held their duties, they have provided the type of vision, leadership and judgment to help move our Town forward. Please join me in congratulating our new Director of Finance, Maria Pires and our new Director of Public Works, John Marsilio. When I took the oath of office as First Selectman, I pledged that the Town of Trumbull would run a leaner, more productive government. To do so required a commitment across the board to eliminate waste, inefficiency and duplication. Before you can heal the patient, you have to stop the bleeding. Therefore, our immediate cash crunch required fast, decisive action and we did not delay in taking it. When we found out that the Town’s pension plan had overpaid beneficiaries at a cost of $250,000, our Finance Director and Town Attorneys took immediate action to rectify the problem. When we made a commitment to identify $1 million dollars in operational savings in the first 100 days, we did not shy away from the challenge. We welcomed it. Through the hard work of our Town Treasurer, John Ponzio, Finance Director Maria Pires, department heads and Town employees; the Town of Trumbull was able to identify $1 million dollars in operational savings in 100 days, while preserving our senior tax relief program and maintaining our leaf pick up program. We proposed a budget that held expenditures to a less than 1% increase while at the same time increasing the contribution to our Town’s municipal pension fund. We have diversified our investment portfolio, which will bring an increased rate of return in this difficult economic environment. We have also reviewed the financial institutions we do business with and reallocated our investment dollars to those financial institutions that want the town’s business and are willing to work with the Town in an effort to increase our return. This will reduce the tax burden on our citizens. We have taken advantage of the town’s very positive financial rating as well as the receptive municipal bond market and refinanced some of our debt to reduce future interest expense. We stopped the practice of free healthcare which was costing the Town $767,000 a year. We have and continue to work to curb the number of Town issued cell phones and Town issued credit cards paid for by you, the taxpayers. We have taken a hard line to address our annual debt service by pulling back on capital projects that do not resemble an immediate priority for the Town. While the Town of Trumbull continues to pursue these short term solutions to address our financial condition, the success of our recovery also depends on the implementation of long term reform. Those solutions can and should come through the Charter Revision Commission over the course of the next year. Over the last eight years, Trumbull’s debt has gone from 61 million to 121 million dollars. We are fast approaching the 10% threshold that is frowned upon by bond rating agencies. This is before we factor in the 68 million dollars about to come on our books with the renovation of Trumbull High School. Let’s be very candid. The current economic problems we face at the federal, state and local level did not create our problems. It exposed them. We are in this predicament because we over-extended ourselves. Like a business, government should only spend that which it can afford. Tonight, I am asking the Charter Revision Commission to recommend that if a proposed bonding initiative reaches a certain threshold of our total debt, then that proposed bonding initiative should be put before the voters by way of a public referendum. We have to review how we are spending our money on a permanent, ongoing basis. Efficiencies must be constantly pursued. I’m asking the Charter Revision Commission to recommend giving the Internal Auditor even more authority to review the balance sheets of both the Town and the Board of Education and to specify that authority in the Town Charter. For far too long the Town of Trumbull has been without a comprehensive purchasing policy. It is time to adopt a comprehensive purchasing policy and make this part of the Town Charter. We must make sure the taxpayers of this Town are receiving the best product for the best price. While cost containment will continue to be a priority, of equal importance is the development and pursuit of revenues to balance our budget. This starts with our tax collection procedures. Until recently, our Town was without uniform procedures to collect delinquent taxes. Right now, there are over 2.5 million dollars in delinquent taxes and 2.5 million dollars in property tax deferrals. Through the efforts of our Town Attorneys and our Tax Collector Mary Moran, we have developed uniform procedures to pursue delinquent and deferred taxes. Through their hard work, we have increased the tax collection rate from 98.5% to 99.3%. The aggressive new procedures we have implemented have yielded an additional $338,000 in revenue in the last four months alone. Besides changing our procedures internally, the Town continues to aggressively attract new businesses to grow our Grand List and develop future revenues. Last week, I had the privilege of addressing the Trumbull Chamber of Commerce to discuss new economic development opportunities here in Trumbull. Currently, we have a historic 40 million dollar renovation of our mall underway that will promote commerce and grow our Grand List. In these economic times, it is truly impressive that Westfield will invest such a significant amount of money in the Town’s largest commercial asset. The end result of their commitment will be an exciting destination in the region. Trumbull Center is currently in the midst of Phase I of a comprehensive renovation. The Long Hill Green is on the cusp of a comprehensive revitalization that will draw restaurants and small businesses to Trumbull. The lower Main Street design district across from the Mall has been approved. Homes on lower Main Street in need of repair will be restored by businesses coming onto the Town’s tax rolls. All of this will grow the Grand List and help to stabilize taxes over the next several years. Increasing revenues will be of paramount importance as we confront the constraints of a severe economic recession. In this current fiscal year, we have been faced with a $1.7 million dollar revenue shortfall, with a total projected revenue loss of $3 million dollars over the next two years. This can be attributed to not only an overstatement of revenues locally, but a substantial decrease in our municipal aid from the State of Connecticut. Our aid from the State of Connecticut will decrease by 1.7 million dollars over the next two years. This sharp decrease in revenue weighed heavily in preparing a budget that I felt taxpayers could afford during these difficult times. Had I honored all departmental requests, while addressing the revenue shortfall, the taxpayers of Trumbull would have been faced with a 5.3 % tax increase this year alone. When faced with this prospect, I decided to make reductions, across the board. In these unprecedented times, we must do more with less. In my proposed budget, we took advantage of vacancies and eliminated 9.5 full time positions at a savings of $440,000 to Trumbull taxpayers. Further, by increasing healthcare contributions for non-union employees and decreasing the number of employees who were healthcare dependent, we saved an additional $231,000. When I asked Town departments and Town employees to do more with less, I also asked the same thing of our school administrators and teachers. Today, we are charged with providing our children with a quality education under the constraints of a severe national recession. Good people can disagree on the levels of appropriate funding for our school system. However, let’s distinguish the facts from the fiction. My proposed budget provides an increase to the Board of Education of 2.24%. This is certainly more than the 0% increase recommended by the Mayors of Norwalk and Shelton. It is also more than the 1.7% increase recommended by the First Selectman of Fairfield and more than the 2% recommended by the First Selectman of Easton. What is happening here in Trumbull is happening in every town and city across Connecticut. Municipal leaders are reacting to an ability to pay crisis. With Municipal aid down, we must still honor binding contractual obligations and increased health care costs. These contracts were created before the economic downturn and cover an extended period of time. This is the single largest driver that accounts for the Board of Education increase. The Board of Education has asked for an overall increase of $2.1 million. Salary increases alone will amount to almost $2.4 million, with roughly 420 employees receiving increases of 6.25%. Let me break that down – - our contractual obligations alone, by raw dollar amount, exceed the total raw dollar amount requested by the Board of Education for fiscal year 2010-2011. According to our Superintendent, cuts had to be made in other areas to compensate for these salary increases. Make no mistake – - I’m proud to have gone through this public school system. I am proud of the good things that go on in schools like Frenchtown. I’m proud of principals like Jackie Norcel, and her teachers who educate our children. We all want excellent teachers here in Trumbull. But let me be clear. The Town of Trumbull cannot and will not sustain this financial trend line. The people of Trumbull can no longer see their property taxes increase at rates their incomes cannot sustain and the children of Trumbull should not be held hostage during annual budget deliberations. And it is with the best interests of Trumbull’s children in mind that I believe we need to complete this high school renovation on time and under budget, by staying focused on the core academic centers. We also must make comprehensive security enhancements a priority. The recent bomb scare at Trumbull High School, the second in less than 6 months, underscores the need to give our school administrators the resources they need to stop the problem. That is why tonight, I pledge full support of this administration to begin the process of installing security cameras and receivers throughout the school building. Further, I applaud the work of the Board of Education’s Kindergarten Subcommittee. Because of your hard work, we are on track to offer full day kindergarten in the Trumbull Public Schools by 2012. Tonight, I am calling on the 7 members of the Board of Education to take the necessary action to find immediate and substantial cost containment. To reduce healthcare costs while maintaining quality coverage for our employees, the Board of Education needs to pool their healthcare insurance with not only the Town municipal employees, but have that same opportunity with other school districts and municipalities to reduce costs. I am also asking the Board of Education to vote to authorize a consolidation of facilitates management between the Town of Trumbull and the Trumbull Board of Education. This is an area where we can and will realize substantial savings without affecting the quality of education in Trumbull. The benefits of consolidating will eliminate an unnecessary layer of cost and bureaucracy. We have talked about this for the last twenty years. The time for action is now. The school system and its leaders should be focused on educating our children, not maintaining public buildings. Toward that end, our Public Works Department, under the leadership of John Marsilio, will begin the process of developing a robust five year capital improvement plan that is realistic, sensible and affordable. By maintaining our facilities on an annual, ongoing basis, we will avoid costly renovations intended to mitigate years of neglect. This five year capital plan will prioritize our investments and seek out stimulus and other sources of revenue to address our most pressing needs. A strong infrastructure is only strong if our community is safe. Providing a safe environment in which to live and work is critical to the success of any community. Trumbull is no exception. In 2009, the Trumbull Police Department responded to 19,716 calls for service. This is up from 18,994 in 2008. Last year, as you will recall, Trumbull had a substantial increase in residential burglaries with forty (40) burglaries in the third quarter and fifty (50) residential burglaries in the fourth quarter. Due to the fine work of Trumbull’s Police Department and outstanding collaboration with other area police departments, multiple arrests were made and residential burglaries have dropped in Trumbull by 88%. When it comes to our emergency management response, our objective is to enhance communications, provide superior call processing and dispatching, while achieving significant cost savings for the Towns of Trumbull, Easton and Monroe. In cooperation with Congressman Himes, I am pleased to report that at our direction, the three towns are actively pursuing State and Federal funding for a central emergency communication center. This center will dispatch police, fire and EMS personnel for each of the three towns. The State will contribute $750,000 towards the construction of the new communication center. The three towns have submitted a joint grant application seeking an additional $500,000 for equipping the new communication center. The State of Connecticut will subsidize the tri-town Emergency Communication Center with $190,000 per year. Substantial savings will be realized by eliminating redundant staffing. The estimated savings in staff and benefit costs through this consolidation is $504,000. These successes in public safety can be attributed to the fine leadership of our Police Chief Thomas Kieley, and the dedicated men and women that comprise our Police, Fire and EMS services. As First Selectman, I am proud of their service and thank them for their hard work on behalf of our Town. However, Trumbull is presently faced with a serious issue that can and will affect the public health, safety and general welfare of our citizens. As we have now learned, a private company is planning to lease property from the Southern Connecticut Gas Company to construct a natural gas power plant that is a combination turbo expander and fuel cell facility on the corner of Primose Drive and Huntington Turnpike. The fuel cells will consume around 500,000 cubic feet of natural gas a day, producing electricity, carbon dioxide, water vapor and an immense quantity of heat. The plant will release up to 66,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a day, 6500 gallons of wastewater into the as yet non-existent sewer system and a steady vapor stream from the exhaust stack. There are currently none of these plants operating in the United States. There is currently only 1 other facility of its kind in North America. The facility in Toronto, Canada is much smaller than what is being proposed for Trumbull and has only been in existence for 18 months. In sum, this new technology is funded by taxpayers and rate payers. This is untested technology. Every Trumbull resident must understand this point. This is not a Nichols issue. This is not a Trumbull issue. This is a Connecticut issue. The placement of this facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood will establish a dangerous precedent. As First Selectman, my most solemn duty is to protect the public health, safety and welfare of my fellow citizens. A densely populated residential neighborhood should not serve as this company’s science experiment. Tonight, I am calling on Southern Connecticut Gas Company and the fuel cell company, DFC, to stand down and not file their application with the Connecticut Siting Council. It is time for the gas company to cancel its contract with DFC. If they fail to do so, the Town of Trumbull is prepared to exhaust every legal remedy, and dedicate the necessary resources to wage an aggressive battle before the Connecticut Siting Council. Tonight, I look to the people of Trumbull and ask directly for your help. Join the fight, become involved and help us defend our Town. In this moment of challenge, I have seen the best of Trumbull. I see it in Trumbullites like Edna Collucci, Richard Moore, Keith Klain, Fred Marra and so many other residents of Nichols. When they saw the threat of this Fuel Cell, they did not sit on the sidelines. They put on their cleats and took to the field. They have mobilized so many of their fellow residents and raised awareness within our community. They have exemplified the fundamental principle that one person or a group of people can make a difference. Their diligence and hard work makes me proud to be their First Selectman and your First Selectman. Their efforts tell me that the state of our town is strong because her people are strong. Working together, confronting the challenges that lie ahead with a resolute commitment to lead our town to better days, I am confident that the reality of Trumbull will live up to the promise of Trumbull. Thank you and God Bless you all.