Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members are scheduled to discuss the commercial redevelopment of 67 Church Hill Road with the proposed construction of a new gas station/convenience store there. The P&Z meeting, which will include two public hearings that bear on the project, is slated for Thursday, March 20. The one-acre parcel on the western corner of Church Hill Road and Edmond Road currently holds a decaying structure that formerly was a Shell gas station/convenience store. Town officials consider the deteriorated 2,100-square-foot structure to be an eyesore and want it demolished as part of their plans to have the “gateways” into Newtown become more attractive.
After about 90 minutes of deliberation March 13, the Board of Finance unanimously endorsed a 2014-15 townwide budget that will require no property tax or mill rate increase. Once the proposal is received by the Legislative Council March 19, Council members will be considering a spending plan that according to Town Finance Director Robert Tait provides $111,066,204 to cover town and school services, along with the annual cost for debt service on bonding which is carried in the Board of Selectmen's budget. While the finance board's endorsed budget request represents a 0.91% increase above the current year, because of updated revenue projections, the spending plan will actually require 0.02% less in taxation than the current operating budget — and will require a 2014-15 mill rate of 33.31, representing a zero increase.
If it is recommended by the Board of Finance and approved by the Legislative Council as part of an overall budget request, a $400,000 allocation to Newtown’s self-insured employee medical benefit fund would represent a substantial increase beyond the four percent bump already factored into the spending plan currently being deliberated. On March 6, the finance board heard from Mark Mattioli, chair of the local Employee Medical Benefits Board, and Joe Spurgeon, MHA, representing Milliman, which is among the world’s largest providers of actuarial and related products and services. Mr Spurgeon is a senior health benefits consultant at Milliman consulting on Newtown’s self-insured employee benefit plan. The officials explained that since the town established its own self-funded health plan there has been relatively low inflation in medical costs, but the industry is signaling that low inflation trend is about to end. Mr Mattioli said his board believes the town will be facing at least a six percent increase, which is a significant change from previous years. The board and Finance Director Robert Tait expect that by the end of the current fiscal cycle in June the self-insured fund balance will show $2.3 million in reserves.
The Newtown Police officer who has not yet returned to work since the 2012 school massacre because of post-traumatic stress disorder urged Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday to expand the state’s workers’ compensation law to cover the condition. Thomas Bean, a 38-year-old married father of two, said he’s unable to return to his law enforcement career and faces an uncertain financial future. He told members of the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee on March 11 that he has experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts since responding to the December 14, 2012, mass shooting, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead. Bean is receiving about half of his base pay through Newtown’s long-term disability insurance plan, but that policy is due to end in June 2015. If he were receiving worker’s compensation benefits for his PTSD, Bean would get more than 66 percent of his net pay, including an average of overtime pay, tax-free. There are two bills moving through the legislature this session that would require worker’s compensation coverage for mental trauma in the wake of intentional violent events such as 12/14.
The Newtown Lions Club Foundation has formally announced it has ceased directly administering benefits to providers and individuals through a fund established following the 12/14 tragedy. Peter McNulty, president of the Newtown Lions Club, said in a release, “Our original plan estimated that we would need to serve about 100 individuals for approximately 10 years. During the past 14 months we have provided benefits to over 250 individuals and expended over $350,000." The demand on the club has become overwhelming, Mr McNulty said. As a result the local Lions Club has sought other means to continue to provide support to the community. By joining forces with others, "we bring all of the organizations' strengths together to provide financial support in the most efficient way." The Lions will continue fundraising for 12/14 relief, including a golf tournament that is scheduled for late June.
It appears the Newtown Board of Finance is poised to consider adding $400,000 to the 2014-15 budget proposal to boost the town’s self-insured employee benefit fund balance, but will also consider new allocations to bump up senior tax relief and road repair programs as well. And some officials believe it can be done while preserving a flat or slightly lower spending plan for local taxpayers. First Selectman Pat Llodra told The Bee March 12 that Finance Director Robert Tait had prepared a “what if” spreadsheet that factored in new revenue, and that the document specifically referenced using that revenue to offset added underwriting for the self-insurance fund, senior tax program, and capital roads budget lines. The finance board was expected to deliberate those ideas and pass a final budget proposal to the Legislative Council March 13, after the newspaper’s print edition went to press.
Riding 400 miles from Newtown, 26 bicyclists hoping to change the nation’s gun laws faced some strong headwinds on their way to Washington, D.C. When they reached the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, they faced even more — of the political kind.It’s been nearly a year since a bill that would increase FBI background checks on gun buyers failed to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The House has not taken up any gun control legislation and doesn’t seem inclined to do so.But for the members of Team 26 and their allies in the Connecticut congressional delegation, things are on track. “Some said the Connecticut effect would not last, and they are right,” said Monte Frank, an experienced cyclist who heads Team 26, a group of activists from Newtown and other towns that have suffered from gun violence. Frank and many of the riders who pedaled through Ridgefield and Greenwich, Harlem, Doylestown, Pa., and Baltimore to reach the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building Tuesday did much the same thing a year ago, wearing the same green and white windbreakers that honor Newtown’s 26 victims of gun violence.
Legislators will get to hear feedback on the rollout of the Common Core Curriculum Wednesday during a public hearing at the State Capitol complex. The noon event is the result of a move by Republican minority legislators to force the reluctant leaders of the Education Committee to hold a hearing on the bill that would put implementation of the state’s new academic standards on hold. Two days before the hearing, 52 people have already submitted testimony, most of whom oppose the new standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. The state’s largest teachers union — the Connecticut Education Association — recently called the state’s roll out of the standards “botched” and “mishandled.” The CEA says a survey of its members shows teachers overwhelmingly want a moratorium on implementation of the standards. Supporters meanwhile have scheduled a press conference before the Wednesday hearing.