I’ve that some of Stratford’s issues are structural in nature, and accordingly, the outstanding "big ticket" topics can have overlapping, and frequently interrelated, solutions.
I’ll attempt to consolidate my positions into this one article, and illustrate the intertwining threads.
Dirty streets and neighborhoods don’t often get the same attention as the big issues but litter is absolutely detrimental to quality of life and economic development.
Littering can be dealt with in two ways: prevention and cleanup. Prevention would require law enforcement, where we are currently understaffed, and cleanup requires more public works employees, where 12 positions were eliminated in the last two years, despite a which would have kept them intact.
The solution to littering could lie in staffing, which requires more money in the budget, leading me to the next item on this integrated list of issues.
Salary of the Town Attorney
Take a look at the town budgets and you’ll be staggered by the escalating legal fees, currently peaking at nearly $2 million being spent in the town attorney’s office.
Cost-containment should be a priority, and since the Council controls the funding for that office, the town attorney can be made an in-house position. That incredible savings can pay for the restoration of public works employees and an economic development director…
We need leadership with a proactive and strategic vision for the kind of town Stratford can be, and which industries will yield the most growth, jobs, opportunities and contributions to the tax base.
Hiring an experienced economic development director who brings a strong redevelopment, business growth and marketing strategy designed to attract and engage commercial enterprises that can contribute to the grand list is an imperative.
For example: Dogstar Studios was touted as the catalyst for spurring a whole new growth industry in Stratford, but this project languishes too. A visionary leader who believed that the film industry would leverage Stratford's proximity to New York, Boston, New Haven, I-95, airport, railroad, beach and forest film settings, and quaint New England locale would be busy courting the ecosystem to support the burgeoning growth.
There was strong advocacy for hiring an economic development director, from a variety of stakeholders, and it once appeared in Mayor Harkins' budget. But recruitment efforts were stalled and the position disappeared as a line item last year.
But how can you attract people and employers when properties are contaminated with…
Environmental and Hazardous Waste
Just this week, the Connecticut Post on the residential homes and commercial properties sitting on toxic sites, and causing health concerns. The longer this languishes, the more detrimental it becomes to our residents, and disturbing and transporting toxic waste through neighborhoods is likely to present future health hazards.
Where we are with this issue is indicative in many ways of how Stratford has operated: we reach a stalemate or are unable to find an equitable solution, and we wait, and wait, and wait.
What we need to break through the gridlock is the kind of innovative thinking 3rd District Town Council member Matt Catalano has proposed: cost-effective EPA-approved soil-cleaning technology.
Speaking of stalemates, remediation and economic development, here lies the prime example…
Stratford Army Engine Plant
We have allowed ourselves to become victims of the Army, waiting for them to try every imaginable scenario with a one-dimensional benefit instead of us proactively engaging higher levels of Connecticut leadership who can influence better solutions.
The Army’s reluctance to subdivide the property, which would enable Stratford to sell some less toxic parcels more quickly, further underscores our lack of ability to influence the Army and their lack of regard for the interests of Stratford.
If we could subdivide, remediate and build on the less contaminated sites, that development would spur further growth and provide momentum to build on the next parcel, and the next, until the area is fully cleaned and developed.
You can’t talk about SAEP without coupling it with the other big legacy issue…
First, I would never favor a poorly conceived contract like the one the Town Council was about to sign with William Hanney in 2009. It was nearly all risk, and no benefit for Stratford.
I’d like to explore partnering with an educational facility to create a performing arts school. Trumbull High School has an Agriscience Center; Bridgeport Public Schools has an Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center; why not a Stratford Regional Theater and Performing Arts Center? Educational grants would be a likely funding source, minimizing financial consideration to the town.
Meanwhile, the development of the White House as a can quickly be accomplished within months.
As long as we’re making the theatre a focal point…
Stratford Center Redevelopment
I like the idea, whereby we really put the elements in place to make Stratford a destination. A great example is what's occurring in Hudson, NY. It was a town without growth, and even declining, and then some shops and galleries opened. People began investing in the properties and revitalizing them. Now it's becoming upscale, as tourists, day-trippers and second homeowners buy antiques, art and gourmet food. Stratford already has many advantages over Hudson -- we're not on a decline; we have the RR; buildings are not in disrepair, etc.
A recent Patch discussion, , triggered many great ideas. I suggested Stratford might capitalize on our haunted past and add more Salem-flair with a new age kind of shop and related gift stores, which could spur artisans, crafts, coffee and food specialties shops.
If we’re a destination, let’s make it pet-friendly…
Stratford Dog Park
(An idea that will be presented to the next sworn in Council)
I lost my older dog earlier this summer, and adopted a rescue dog from Puerto Rico last month. She has special needs that make walking difficult, but, surprisingly she is a great runner so dog parks have become recent weekend tours.
I met Carissa and Matt, Residents for a Stratford CT dog park, and have been listening to their ideas about the neighboring dog parks they think have worthy attributes.
At their suggestion, I learned more about the Shelton Dog Park and visited the facility (in the Halloween snow storm), and found it to be a model that would have minimal impact on town resources while contributing to two- and four-legged residents’ quality of life.
And let’s bring this full circle, back to littering, where I first mentioned…
Understaffed Police and Fire Department, Pensions
Here’s another stalemate: a savings opportunity is available with the Stratford Fire Department contracts to reduce pensions and diminish the unbalanced burden placed on taxpayers. However, nothing has been accomplished in two years.
Additionally, as long as the FD remains understaffed, overtime will continue skyrocketing. Democrats have advocated to significantly reduce the $2 million overtime by hiring the minimum number of staff and scheduling annual tests to maintain a qualified list of candidates. Was that plan or a viable alternative even considered?
All first responders -- Police, Fire, EMS -- need the necessary equipment and support to perform their jobs well, along with equitable short- and long-term financial compensation. However, just as equipment must be state-of-the-art, so must the structure of the benefits and pension plans. Transitioning from an old, unbalanced system to one that is in alignment with market standards has to happen.
An Addendum: Mayor’s Salary
Does the next mayor deserve a salary review to ensure we’re in alignment with municipalities similar to our demographics? Yes. Do I think that equals $25,000? Definitely not.
Most importantly, I want someone with the skill set to do the job right. I’d rather attract someone who looks at this role as an opportunity to effect positive change (and perhaps a decrease in salary), than someone who sees it as a $100k+ jackpot and an ego trip.
All these interconnected issues have resulted in a quilt of untapped potential for Stratford. You can’t look at these individually; there has to be big-picture vision and holistic approach toward associated solutions.
To help solve them requires a strong team of innovative thinkers, and, more importantly, "do-ers" -- not talkers. I hope you vote for the candidates who are outlining the new ideas and the action plans to follow them up.