Town manager looks at anticipated challenges and successes in 2013

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Jan. 16, 2013
Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson discusses the year ahead. File photo by Steve Smith.
Glastonbury Town Manager Richard Johnson discusses the year ahead. File photo by Steve Smith.

Budget concerns, the next phase of Riverfront Park and the town's economic development are highlights of the outlook for Glastonbury for 2013. Town Manager Richard Johnson said the budget is really a year-round concern, as he and his staff routinely look for economies and ways to become more efficient. “While it's focused in January, February and March, it's always with us,” Johnson said.

Glastonbury officials, like those in other towns, are concerned over potential cuts from the state. Johnson said that while he will likely present the Town Council with several scenarios, it would be hard to generate enough revenue to cover the loss of Educational Cost Sharing and other state grants.

“It's very difficult to develop other revenue sources,” he said. “If those grant monies go away, it's virtually impossible to replace them with other town revenues. You either have to respond by increasing taxes to make up for that shortfall, or you have to cut programs, staffing or services, and, as we do every day, try to wring costs out of the system to make yourself more efficient.”

In the worst hypothetical case, Johnson said, a facility could be closed, programs and services could be eliminated, class sizes could be raised or people could be laid off. But he said the first thing that would be done would be to find ways to become even more efficient than the town already is.

“Cutting back state aid has a significant impact on cities and towns,” Johnson said, “and largely just shifts the tax burdens.”

The ground should break within the next few months on Riverfront Park's Phase II, including river access, boat launches and a boathouse with a banquet facility. The anticipated finish date is August 2014.

“That's something that will be an exciting project,” Johnson said. “People will see it rising out of the ground. We're in the design phase now, and we hope to go out to bid in late March, and start construction in the spring.” Johnson said that despite a tight budget, the time is right for the project, because the cost of construction will not likely be cheaper anytime soon, but also because it helps the town's economic development long-term.

“It wouldn't ever be as cost-effective as it is now,” Johnson said. “The other thing we're trying to do, as part of our town center plan, is that what happens at the river will have a very positive effect on our downtown business community. If you're in town and there's an event going on at Riverfront Park or the Community Center now, it's very hard to get into Subway, Starbucks, Giovanni's, etc. Those places are packed.”

Johnson added that events at the boathouse will be both directly and indirectly lucrative, as there will be opportunities for event planners, florists, photographers, etc. “That's going to put Glastonbury on the map and I really believe it's going to be good for our downtown,” he said, “and you never know when a new business is going to pop up because of it.”

The town's center itself will become more of a focus for the town this year, and for the foreseeable future. Johnson said the Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as the Town Council, will be passing new regulations to move toward the Glastonbury Center 2020 Initiative, “to either enable or encourage the types of development we want to see downtown.”

The Main Street repaving project – which is 100-percent federal grant-funded – is expected to start this summer, along with a redo of many of the intersection signal lights.

The Academy School building will be part of the capital improvements discussions. The area formerly occupied by the building's D-wing will likely be re-landscaped, and the rest of the building is slated to become more community-use friendly, in an overall-phased approach.

Other developments on tap include a very large apartment/commercial complex, being planned for the Flanagan mill property on New London Turnpike. The project and site will soon be discussed at zoning and council meetings. The town will also see the 13-acre Hearth assisted care facility within the Gateway Medical Campus.

“Economic development overall will continue to be a huge issue, to try as best as we can to provide more commercial tax revenue, which is tough to do, because Glastonbury is a residential community,” Johnson said.

With so many things going on, Johnson said 2013 will not likely be boring, and there will of course be other new challenges, but the encompassing outlook is good.

“All those things are good,” he said. “They're all part of the building blocks. I think it's going to be a pretty busy year. Sometimes it's not how many different things you do, but if you have those two or three that have a lasting, positive influence, and I think there's a few out there.”

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