With the upcoming legislative session fast approaching, Town Manager Sean Kimball has come up with a list of proposals to be submitted to local state representatives next week.
“These recommendations have been developed in discussions with Town Staff, meetings and conversations with staff at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and other municipalities,” he said. “In some cases (they) build upon prior year recommendations that were not ultimately resolved at the state level.”
The list consists of 14 issues that the Town Council agreed should be submitted to the state: That the prevailing wage threshold for renovation projects be raised from $100,000 to $400,000; a time limit be imposed for completion of a binding arbitration case; juvenile justice reform; reimbursement of the state tax exemption on manufacturing machinery, equipment, and commercial motor vehicles; to resume funding for the state’s portion of the elderly/disabled tax relief program; to restore funding to the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant program; state assistance in encouraging business development of the 45 acres of state-owned land in the “Interchange Zone”; transference of the school bus depot property from the state to the Town of Cheshire; enabling legislation for community choice aggregation for energy; an alternate solution to the teacher pension crisis; opposition to tolls; implementation of municipal speed limits; upgrading route 70; and considering the addition of a CT Rail Express Shuttle.
“The list we have is hefty,” Council Chair Rob Oris noted. “I am going back and forth with the idea of just sending these recommendations as they are or if we should par down this list. On [Jan.] 28, we will discuss these items with the state legislators and figure out where our priorities lie, what is most reasonable and which we are most likely to make headway on at the state level.”
Before the meeting, Second District Councilor Jim Jinks added the last three items to the list, which all deal with transportation issues in town.
“The items I have brought up are all under the theme of public safety and economic development by way of transportation,” he began. “Municipal speed limits and crosswalks were taken up at the last legislative session, and moved through the Senate for passage. The upgrading of Route 70 is part of the State’s transportation plan as a designated bike route, all I am asking is for the State to move forward with that classification.”
At-Large Councilors Tim Slocum and Sylvia Nichols supported sending the list to the legislators as-is, but Slocum for one insisted that certain items are more pressing than others.
“The Council should only be supporting items that support the taxpayers,” Slocum added. “Many of these items relate to the operating budget process, and the additional items added by Mr. Jinks are not really worthwhile and I don’t support them.”
“I think we need to also ask the (legislators), when they come, why they haven’t done anything with the last legislative package we sent them,” added Nichols. “And I would like to know what keeps items from moving forward.”
Councilor Peter Talbot, Fourth District, reiterated his opposition to including an item pertaining to tolls.
“I would like to vote on a motion to remove item number twelve; which relates to tolls, from the list of legislative recommendations,” he insisted. “I would hate to vote no on the entire list of recommendations just because of one item.”
Talbot did not directly state why he was against the item at the meeting, but last April, when the Council voted on a resolution expressing opposition to tolls, Talbot again voted “no,” suggesting the action was politically motivated.
Councilor Don Walsh immediately responded.
“I respectfully disagree with Mr. Talbot’s request,” he said. “The impact of tolls on Cheshire taxpayers will be very large. Traffic will be driving through our backroads in order to avoid the tolls, and this will directly affect businesses like Whole Foods and Bozzuto’s, who have major truck fleets.”
Talbot remained steady on his request, and simply asked the Council again to consider removing item 12, the opposition to tolls.
“In the spirit of collaboration, I urge you to change your views on this issue, Mr. Talbot,” Oris requested. “There are certainly items on this list which I would like to see removed, but I am not going to voice them because I understand we are a bipartisan group that needs to collaborate with each other. I ask you to reconsider this, because we need to present this as a united front to the legislators.”
Talbot ultimately withdrew his request, citing Oris’s call for collaboration as his reason.
Oris then called a vote to approve all items in the Legislative Package, including the ones added by Jinks. The vote passed unanimously.