Vernon mayor looks for 2013 to develop nicely
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Tue., Jan. 8, 2013
The new year will bring new challenges, but also new successes for Vernon, according to Mayor George Apel, who talked with the ReminderNews about new and continuing struggles and endeavors that the town will face in 2013. Budgeting for 2013-14 will be one of the biggest hurdles, as Vernon and other towns try to guess what the state's municipal funding will be.
Apel said he told all of his department heads to plan for a zero-increase budget. “Some of them were able to,” he said. “Some of them weren't, mainly because of salaries.” Apel explained that in some departments employee salaries are as much as 97 percent of annual expenditures. “If some of them get a 1-percent raise, it pretty hard to stay at zero,” Apel said.
The town will be looking to find efficiencies and keep expenditures as minimal as possible.
“Unfortunately, what we end up with as taxes for citizens depends on what we get for revenue,” he said, “and I'm very fearful that we are going to get less revenue from the state. You can tighten your belt as tight as you can, but then you're going to have to work with citizens to convince them that all of this is needed.”
Apel said that what makes it difficult is that the town won't know what monies are coming from the state until well after Vernon's budget needs to be passed, and that while cuts to services will have to be on the table, one thing he refuses to skimp on is public safety. “We can identify, where we have to, where we can make cuts,” he said. “I cannot and will not compromise safety – fire protection, police protection, and the DPW for the roads. Then we would look at other areas where we aren't going to be able to do as much.”
Development will likely continue to be a more positive note, as it was in 2012, which saw more that 30 ribbon-cuttings in town. The former Talcottville and Roosevelt mills are about to enter the next phase in redevelopment. The former Amerbelle mill also recently has acquired a developer and will hopefully see a good result. “Even though it might be a tight budget year, it looks encouraging that we're going to see some things get kicked off,” Apel said. “I'm pleased with the activity, and we'll continue to work with anybody interested in development.”
Recently-implemented strategies, including a more user-friendly permitting process, have helped make it easier for businesses to come to Vernon, the mayor said, and 2013 will see some fine-tuning to that process. “It's being extremely customer-oriented,” Apel said. “That's going to continue to go on.”
Re-branding is another area the town will work on. “The development commission has been working on [the concept of] what do we want to be known for, and what do we offer to entice [business] people to come here,” Apel said. “I still think what has to happen when it comes to development is we can't look at just downtown Rockville alone. We have to integrate all of Vernon and Rockville. I would like to see in 2013, getting a group together to start to look at that.”
The town spent a good deal of effort on upgrading the Information Technology department, including a more powerful network, and 2013 will see the addition of staff and training of current staff to use the fiber-optic network, as well as adding the remaining school buildings to the network that already includes most town and school departments. “That's going to be important, because starting in 2015, they're going to be doing school testing via the Internet,” Apel said.
School security will be looked at by the town. Apel said the Board of Education and superintendent will be taking the lead on that, in conjunction with the police department. “School security is pretty good – that was pretty much addressed by the [recent round of] renovations,” Apel said. “It's time to review it, and we will also look at security at town buildings. It's challenging, because you also want to be open and inviting. It's a balancing act.”
The police department will continue to upgrade its fleet, including increased usage of SUVs instead of the Taurus chassis that has replaced the Crown Victoria. Apel said the all-wheel drive is more useful, especially in the hilly sections of Rockville, and the SUVs have more space to accommodate modern police equipment.
Apel said that his plans for Vernon are to keep economic development easy for businesses, but also develop larger plans for the projects that are long-term, and that is difficult for any mayor, since they only have two-year terms. “It's not easy, because we're a population of 28,000 people, and there are probably 28,000 opinions about what Vernon ought to be,” he said, adding that the mill projects will add energy to the town for other things to happen.
“I think in 2013, we can look forward to some additions,” Apel said. “We have been making some accomplishments, and that's very encouraging to see that we have some entrepreneurs out there, even in times like this, they don't lose their enthusiasm to expand or make something new.”