Cross post from HatCityBLOG (H/T to the Great John N for the video!)
State of the City 2011
Thank you, and of course I would like to thank you for attending today’s event.
Congratulations are in order for Jim Marquis and his team as the recipient of the Cecil J. Previdi Award. As Mayor of Danbury I am proud to see Jim and his business flourish in our great city. Kimchuck’s success is a direct reflection of Jim’s energy, his enthusiasm, and vision.
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to recognize the public officials who have taken time out of their day to be here.
Danbury works because we all work together, regardless of party- to move the agenda of our community forward.
Of course all of us in government disagree from time to time, that’s to be expected, but when the debate is over – we figure out a way to compromise. I would venture to say that all of our state and local elected officials who serve Danbury understand that the art of compromise is what moves our community forward. They understand that none of our residents are served when we dig in, and when we refuse to bend.
It’s a lesson that our federal government might want to follow given the challenges that our nation faces.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have had a terrific year as far as new business growth and development in the City of Danbury.
The Danbury Hospital has broken ground a $150 million expansion, Western CT State University has broken ground on it’s new performing arts center, The Army will soon break ground on the Army Reserve center at Lee Farm, The Danbury Fair Mall has filled the old Filenes space with a Cheese Cake Factory, Brio, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a just announced LL Bean, the Shops at Marcus Diary are under construction with Whole Foods being their anchor tenant, over the last several months we have announced expansions at Goodrich. Pitney Bowes, DRS Technologies and Boehringer Ingelheim. The Reserve has begun to build again, and thanks to Union Savings Bank we have broken ground on a new building on Main Street, The Matrix Corporate Center has done a phenomenal job a recruiting employers to their facility. This year we have cut ribbons to welcome companies like Guideposts, GM and STP at their facility.
We are in final negotiations with several blue chip organizations, if everything works out just right, in early 2012, we hope to announce new and relocations that will add significant job growth to our region. So stay tuned..
There is a reason our phones are ringing and why our unemployment rate continues to be the lowest in the state, it’s because we have sent a very loud and clear message that we are a pro-jobs community.
All that is good news for us locally – and something that this Chamber of Commerce and this community ought to be incredibly proud of.
We still have a ways to go with our housing industry, and we must continue to be relentless and fearless when it comes to creating jobs for our residents.
These economic times demand the very best in us. There is no margin for error..
Last year I came to you and reported to you that we would be hiring a full-time Director of Economic Development. This past spring the City Council approved the funding for the position.
I am proud to announce today that I have approved the hiring of Bruce Tuomala for the position of Director of Economic Development for the City of Danbury.
Bruce comes to us with wide resume of business development and community outreach. A unique blend that marries broader business perspectives and the intimacy and the needs of our Main Street.
The focus of our new Director will be two fold. First to market our 44 square miles to any business that wants to come to Danbury, stay in Danbury, or expand in Danbury.
The message has got to be that while we cannot control state policies and national politics, we are open for business in Western Connecticut.
Second will be to work closely with a new agency that has been created to market and manage Main Street, the Danbury Main Street Partnership.
This past year, we created this entity by ordinance, and solicited people who would be interested in donating their time to improve Main Street. To our delight there were so many people interested, that we had to make some tough choices as to who would serve on the Partnership.
For those who were not selected for the first Partnership, fear not, we will be more than happy to gain your valuable insight and ideas through a variety of different committees and policy groups as we begin to enhance the engagement of our Main Street by my administration.
Our City Council is currently considering proposals from the City to lower permit fees and sewer and water connection fees along Main Street. Imagine that, a government actually lowering the cost of business. Remarkable..
The Zoning Commission has already created the Downtown Revitalization Zone or DRZ. Broadening what we consider Main Street, and including more properties that will be eligible to take advantage of these new incentives.
While I think everyone agrees that our Main Street has great buildings and enormous potential, Bruce and the Main Street Partnership as well as Andrea Gartner and the CityCenter organization can begin to think strategically about how to leverage the changes to our regulations and how to leverage our new package of incentives to encourage economic growth and development along the Main Street corridor.
A key to a successful Main Street is to locate city services and agencies whenever possible along the central corridor. For example, the addition of Naugatuck Community College has been helpful in putting people on Main Street during the day and during the evening. There are almost 700 students now using the Main Street building.
The City of Danbury has a lot of tough choices to make regarding expanded space as it relates to our schools. When possible we ought look to locate those facilities on Main Street or at least in the DRZ. Besides the students, schools bring staff and support personnel downtown who will use the facilities and the stores and restaurants located on Main Street.
With service from the HART bus line, the Danbury Public Library, and access to many other amenties like Western Connecticut State University, locating any of our school facilities along the Main Street corridor will be important for the long term stability of Main Street.
In the next two years we will also have to deal with the challenge of growing enrollment in our public school system. The good news is that people want to live in Danbury. While other cities of similar size in the Northeast are losing population and people are leaving, in Danbury the opposite is true.
It’s no accident that this year Danbury was ranked as the 5th best city to live in in the State of Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine. To put that in persective, Danbury was ranked higher than Bristol, Stratford, Middletown, New Haven, Milford, and Hartford for our quality of life. We were only eclipsed by Greenwich, Stamford, West Hartford and Fairfield, communities that are much more wealthy than ours.
While investing in our education system is not something that we are really in a position to do, it is something that we must do to preserve our property values and our quality of life. In April, I will ask the voters to approve a modest borrowing to cover the cost of addressing our space needs for our schools and we will have a straight discussion about the cost of staffing our new space to meet the needs of our children into the next decade.
I have also asked Dr. Pascarella, our Superintendent of Schools, to design the next generation of programming for the new space. Programming that will not just focus on putting students into chairs, but will help all of us – including Bruce, market the total community as a great place to live, work, and be educated in.
While the 2020 Task Force Report is being finalized, I envision the acquisition of a new building to house two new middle school academies, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy (STEM) that we hope to partner with a local corporation that will provide resources and mentoring, and we will add grades 6,7,8 to our popular elementary Magnet School.
Both academies will hold approximately 375 students that will help us manage the numbers at our middle schools.
Danbury, like any community during this economic crisis, is faced with significant financial challenges related to the cost of employee benefits and salaries.
Today I am proud to report that we have been working in a cooperative fashion with all of our unions to restructure compensation levels as well as pensions, medical costs, and retiree medical costs. While there will be a short term expense, these changes will bend the cost curve over the long term for our taxpayers.
Just so that we are clear, we have redefined public employment through these contracts in a way never done before. If these agreements are ratified by the union members, many new employees will be participating in a defined contribution plan rather than a traditional pension plan, health care plans will have been retooled to be more in line with the private sector, in some contracts provisions like longevity payments and retiree medical have been completely eliminated.
When taken together these new contracts, will save millions of dollars of future expenses and make our government sustainable for generations to come.
All of these changes are difficult to make, but are necessary if we are to put Danbury’s long term future on a sustainable financial path.
Union contracts were not the only thing on our mind to help reduce cost. Working smarter, more efficiently has been critical for us.
Every department has been asked to participate in our redesign of city government.
Under Chief Herald’s direction, the Fire Department has implemented a pilot program to have our firefighters respond to non-fire related calls with a SUV that is equipped with medical supplies and equipment. This vehicle or SRV, now responds to the 75% of calls that are not a working fire. This reduces the wear and tear on our more expensive pumper trucks and ladder trucks. In addition, the new vehicle saves our taxpayers thousands of dollars in diesel fuel when our firefighters go to shopping center to help someone who has locked their keys in their car.
Chief Baker has implemented a new pilot program that has added multi-directional cameras to our police cars that can read multiple license plates from multiple views to determine if the vehicle has a lapsed registration or insurance or is wanted as stolen property. The cameras work in milli-seconds and save time and manpower on what a was once a laborious process of hand entering each license plate one at a time to determine if the car in question was properly registered.
Both Chiefs are working on our civilian driven combined dispatch center that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime costs. The city will issue an RFP right after the first of the year to hire an outsider vendor to do our dispatching of fire,police, and ems our rollout will be in the summer of 12’.
Our Finance department and IT Department will be implementing a new core software system that will help us better track expenses and will help us reduce paperwork and ultimately personnel as more functions become automated.
Of course we look at the revenue side of the budget as well. We have one of the most creative and innovative tax collectors in the state. Scott Fergusan spends his time coming with new ways to collect the taxes that are due. That is why we routinely maintain a 99% to 100% collection rate.
Several years ago I came to you explaining that the City of Danbury of would like to purchase the Transfer Station located at 307 White. As negotiations dragged on and the economy continued it’s downward spiral, it became clear that a public-private partnership would be less risky for the city and would still provide a revenue stream for Danbury.
This year Winters Brothers Inc and The City of Danbury have signed a memo of understanding that will provide transparency to the facility and will generate a significant amount of dollars for Danbury.
Last year our bond rating was upgraded by both S&P and Fitch, I am confident we will maintain our current bond rating as well as our credit ratings given these changes to our employee benefit package and our tight management of the city’s finances.
The next several budget years will not be easy given the poor economy, lack of state aid, and the pressures of funding our schools, but residents can feel good that our long term forecast has brightened dramatically.
I have to confess, this past year has been a long and difficult one both professionally and personally.
We started 2011 off with some of the worst snowfalls in recent memory – which brought roof collapses and had our firefighters shoveling the roofs of our school buildings all over the city. We moved through the spring and the summer during the rainiest season in the history of Danbury. We had not one, but two tropical storms that brought record amounts of flooding and damage to many parts of the city and of course an extended power outage.
We then had a late season October snowfall that was arguably was the worst in our history in terms of damage to our city. The October storm brought limbs down and a second extended power outage that was worse than the first.
I will never forget how strong this community was during those trying times. I was so proud of my wife Phyllis who spent several days at our shelter at the War Memorial comforting and feeding those who could not go home.. I was honored to work side by side with our first responders, my staff Wayne Shepperd, PJ Prunty, Elisa Munoz, Joan Soderstrom, and a host of city employees who have went above and beyond the call.
All also want to recognize Antonio Iadarola Director of Public Works, Chief Baker and Chief Herald, Duke Hart our Superintendent of Highways, and Paul Estefan our Director of Emergency Management for their outstanding service to Danbury during this difficult time.
Ashbritt, the company that collected debris from the storm left this morning- thank God. For the record Ashbritt has collected over 100,000 yards of debris, cleared 3,184 tree limbs, and cut down 27 trees for a cost of $3.8 million dollars.
The grand total of damage from these storms from Jan. 1 2011 until now for both public and private buildings is into the tens of millions of dollars.
Is that important? Absolutely.
Do I think about these costs everyday? Yes.
But, in the long run, we must look at the totality of our lives and ask – does it matter? I’m not so sure..
You see, at the same time that we were managing the storms, roof collapses, floods, policing the city, power outages, cleaning debris from streets, my own father was taking the final journey to his resting place, he was making his peace with God and what lies beyond during that last October snow – he did this while I held his hand, it was a beautiful moment. A life changing moment.
That’s the part of life that matters.
I mention this personal experience to you not because I want to depress you before the holidays, but because I would ask that you take time during this holiday season to reflect on what is important and then reflect on what really matters.
Is it important that you have the next promotion or get the next job? Sure.
Does it matter?
Is it important that you have brush on your lawn from the storm that haven’t been picked up? Absolutely.
Does it matter?
(Let me be clear, we will pick up your brush).
Ladies and Gentlemen, we live in a great city of eternal optimism, with limitless potential, that can overcome any obstacle placed in front of it – and we always do
That’s what matters.
A city made up of a beautiful mosaic of people from all over the world that all get along and work together.
That’s what matters.
We live in a city where people want to do business, where the entrepreneurial flame burns bright for start ups, small and medium sized businesses, our corporate partners every day.
That’s what matters.
We live in a city that cares for the less fortunate, that does more for those in need than most cities in the State of Connecticut.
That’s what matters.
Feel good about our city, our state, our country.
This is the holiday season – live, love, laugh, and celebrate with your friends, your family, your co-workers and your neighbors.
Because that’s what truly matters..
Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the state of our city for 2011.
May God Bless You and May God Bless our Great City..