Town manager talks about prospects for 2013
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 2, 2013
As we say goodbye to 2012, many in local government are already looking ahead – sometimes warily – to 2013. Town Manager Matthew Galligan agreed to share his perspective on some of the hot button issues the town will be facing in the coming year.
Heavy on the minds of town leaders across Connecticut are deficit mitigation agreements that the Connecticut General Assembly has voted on to close a $415 million fiscal gap. With $17.3 million in cuts to municipal aid voted on by the assembly, towns are braced to tighten their belts. Fortunately, the items on the chopping block do not affect South Windsor, as yet; however, the future is grim. “I think for next year's budget, all municipalities are going to take a hit,” said Galligan. He said he can't foresee the state balancing its budget without everyone “feeling the pain.”
“We'll be extremely lucky if we hold our revenue line with the state at this point,” he said. South Windsor's revenue from the state is primarily for education. For example, the town receives about $18 million for Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding. If this funding were to be reduced, Galligan said it would be a “major hit” to the town coffers and to the Board of Education – a hit that town taxpayers may bear the brunt of.
Galligan himself is frustrated with a state that is making cuts while also making new school mandates. “My suggestion would be, allow boards of education to not have a minimum expenditure requirement,” he said. “If you need to make cuts, that's fine, but then take away some of the mandates so that the taxpayers get relief, and let school boards decide how they're going to educate their children.”
He notes that this would be a temporary measure to take during difficult economic seasons. “Those are the quid pro quos that can be dealt during this time, and when the economy turns back, you can start going back to the way business is,” he said. “But you can't do both.” He believes raising taxes is not the solution, as it will hurt residents, especially seniors.
Another issue facing South Windsor is the much-anticipated Connecticut Studios, LLC, project. Long-expected construction for the movie studio did not commence by the original Oct. 26, 2012, deadline. Since a “reverter clause” on their contract said that the land would revert back to the town if construction did not begin on time, town councilors were obliged to give CT Studios an extension to Dec. 3, 2012. As of that evening, no new construction had begun, save for a structure that CT Studios described as a security building (and what some councilors described as a “shack”). Councilors met that evening to decide on the fate of the project, but the developer, Anthony DelVicario, came before the council and described the setbacks he was facing, as well as his own efforts to advance the project. In light of the explanation, the council again extended the deadline to April 3, 2013.
Galligan himself is trying to remain positive about the project. “I know that they're working very hard,” he said. “We're all trying to make this happen, because we need the jobs, and we need the revenue that this project will generate.”
Another major issue from last year that will spill over into 2013 is the proposal to build a new recreation center at Evergreen Walk. Proponents of the plan called for the council to create a 63-20 corporation to help finance the project. This financing vehicle would also bypass the need for a referendum, which has elicited skepticism from voters and councilors alike.
The town council has yet to take firm action on the proposal. Some have openly opposed it. On Dec. 14, Galligan presented the council a pro-forma spreadsheet of various options the council could select for a recreation center, but having received no further direction, the ball is in the council's court to make some decision.
“I think the private industry is going to take over this project,” said Galligan. This would render the long discussion about using a 63-20 corporation irrelevant. Galligan said the 63-20 still is a useful financing mechanism, which allows government to treat a project like a regular business deal – something municipalities cannot do themselves due to state statutes, such as the requirement for bids to be public and go to the lowest bidder.
One of the pivotal components to the proposal is the inclusion of two ice rinks. Representatives of the South Windsor Youth Hockey Association have championed the new rinks, while the owners of the town's only skating rink, South Windsor Arena, have opposed it. While Galligan said he knows little about hockey, he said there is certainly community support for it in South Windsor and he believes someone in the private sector would run a rink better than the town government.
Another important factor to the recreation center proposal is its location in Evergreen Walk. Proponents of the plan have called it the “booster shot” Evergreen Walk needs, and Galligan believes that even if the project is taken over by the private sector, the location will remain the same. The project will need a hotel and housing – both of which have been approved at Evergreen Walk. Also, the recreation center will need to be located in a place that is already well known in the state, and which already has restaurants and shopping to service out-of-town visitors. “I think you'll find that for a lot of these hockey facilities, right around them are malls or other amenities,” he said. “Everybody needs a place to eat and go shopping, so that is the most perfect location to put it.”