Ellington looking foward to 2012's possibilities
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Fri., Jan. 6, 2012
Ellington First Selectman Maurice Blanchette said 2012 will bring the usual budget challenges, but also something of a 'snowball effect' from 2011. “In some areas, we're doing fine, and in some other areas, we're not,” Blanchette said. “The storms that we've had are making things difficult. There was even some effect from the snowstorms back in January of 2011, because that kind of carried over. We got some FEMA reimbursement, but that came [after] the budget year of 2010-2011.”
While tropical storm Irene did some damage, the October snowstorm had the biggest impact on the town's budget, Blanchette said, adding that it is still being dealt with. “We started working off of our winter funds for Public Works, and we've got a sizeable amount we're submitting to FEMA, but we're not sure what they'll pay for, in terms of the clean-up,” he said. Blanchette said those potential reimbursements will likely come within the next fiscal year, making a big variable in the future planning.
The town's grand list being essentially stagnant, Blanchette said Ellington could benefit from more commercial construction, but that presents its own challenges, as does the town's continued increase in population, as Ellington is also trying to hold onto its farmland. “We are taking advantage right now of some funding that the state and federal government has to buy development rights of farm land,” he said. “We still have a significant amount of farm land in town, and we feel like it's a good deal to try to lock up the development rights, and make sure it stays farm land into the future.”
While more families moving to Ellington has its benefits, Blanchette said the biggest difficulty it presents is the “bulging” of the school population — a main reason for the Crystal Lake project, since it is the only building that has not received renovations since a school renovation program began in 1995.
“We're really tight in filling up the school buildings that we have,” Blanchette said. “We're going to expand Crystal Lake School, and then re-district some of the kids. That will address a lot of the problem right there. We shouldn't need any more significant additions in the next eight or 10 years.”
While the town is awaiting words on STEAP grants for some expansion of other town buildings and important sewage lines, Ellington residents will also decide on $21 million in new renovations for Crystal Lake School, as well as a new $2.5 million senior center – both of which will likely go before voters in separate questions on the same day's referenda.
“[Crystal Lake School] probably won't affect next year's budget very much,” he said. “Regardless of what we do right now, we wouldn't be able to start doing any construction until July of 2013.”
Blanchette said the town will not need to come up with the renovation monies up front, and some will likely come from grants, and the senior center's funding is also expected to partially come from grants and donated monies.
“As a senior myself, I can empathize,” he said. “Certainly the senior center we have, in comparison to other towns in the area, does seem to be challenging. The proponents of a new senior center have made a good case for it, and they're moving ahead.”