Community Foundation of Greater New Britain December Grants Top a Quarter of a Million Dollars
A year ago a plan for development built around transit oriented development was established following two years of input. Residents gathered and supplied ideas as a plan to build and improve the City and area around the CTFastrak was developed.
“We have come along way in the initial plan we put forward,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “We are working on Phase IV which is the roundabout on Columbus Boulevard.”
Phase V is the Beehive Bridge. The bridge will begin construction April 1 as bids are beginning Jan. 9. It is a two year project, but the bridge portion should be done this year.
The bridge portion involves fixing the bridge, adding LED lights and a beehive design in the center to make it more attractive, easier to cross and more safe.
Phase V also includes intersection improvements on East Main and Myrtle Streets.
The first phases included fixing up Central Park, putting new brickwork around Main and West Main St., fixing parking spots, adding signs and re-doing traffic flow.
“We just received funding for Phase 7 of that project from the Governor (Dannel Malloy). We are receiving $1.9 million to continue our street work on Columbus Boulevard and Chestnut St,” said Stewart. “We also need to seriously look at relocating our public works yard this year.”
The Mayor wants to identify properties along the CTFastrak for development and take advantage for the purchase of properties as they come along. Conceptual designs will also be made on East St. for the bus station.
“A lot of street work and design work that needs to be done to make it most effective and efficient for the CTFastrak Station there (East St.),” said Stewart. “Those are continued goals for the redevelopment plan.”
Marketing the City so that new businesses come in and more people visit the City is one of Mayor Erin Stewart’s goals for 2018. This year, she is hoping to help it come to fruition through a webpage called nbct.com.
“Last year we came out with the visitor’s guide which people, businesses and waiting rooms took. It is posted on our City website, but there is no interactive place that we can go to for that,” Stewart said. “We don’t have a website that we can direct people to get all the information that is in that booklet.”
New businesses that open are not reflected in the book. It may not be reprinted until every few years so there is a gap in services.
The new website will not have that problem as it can be updated with things such as all the active restaurants and places to shop.
“We are working on this as we speak. Getting that running is at the front end of our goals for the coming year,” added Stewart. “It will allow people to have more information at their fingertips on their cell phones and their tablets.”
There will be more to the plan than just the website. The Mayor wants to look at all aspects of the marketing of the City and keep it moving forward. Plans include a robust digital media plan including videos with short advertisements about the City and its businesses.
“A short 15 second ad will pop up online telling people to go to nbct.com,” said Stewart. “We also need more economic marketing at business expos. We will use our drone footage to market properties for potential developers. We need to up our social media outlet.”
Stewart said she does that for herself, but the City needs more of it.
“We have so much to offer and we need to be sure we are putting it out there,” she said. “We need to compile it onto databases to be posted on the website. We do have a marketing group through the economic development office and it will continue to move forward.”
The group will meet later this month to work on steps going forward. The overall goal is to market the City by promoting the City’s attributes to attract visitors, to promote growth and business as a means of attracting employers and workers and promote the arts to heighten positive perception.
SEE CLICK FIX
The City is planing to take part in a new app to help fight blight.
Online there is a page called seeclickfix. It started in New Haven and is an app that can be downloaded on a smartphone.
Residents can then easily take a photo of a problem and click a button to let the City know what is wrong. For example, if you see a tree that is down or a pothole in the road or a parking sign knocked down, then you would snap a photo and send it to the City online from that app. Just be sure to tell the app where the problem is located. They will take care of it and send you a notice once the problem has been received and again when it has been fixed.
“This is meant to be a helpful tool for our residents to help City employees combat blight,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “You can report anything. A car sitting on the road for a couple days or windows broken on a property.”
The report will get sent to the proper department. It is helpful for City employees because it gives them a workflow process that can be tracked.
“We are really excited about it and are hoping to roll it out next month some time,” added Stewart. “It will be very, very good.”
“See, click, fix” is the name for it, but there will be a site specific to New Britain. It will go through a GPS on your phone so problems outside the City cannot be reported.
ENERGY AND INNOVATION
Two years ago the first energy and innovation plan was released. Since then almost all the goals have been accomplished.
“That is a great thing to be proud of,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “It gives us the opportunity to go back and look and recap these projects. We can then identify goals for the future.”
Those completed plans included the City website redesign, upgrades of Common Council Chambers, electric vehicle charging stations, completed GPS tracking for public works, fleet management, online surplus auction, Simple Recycling, a fuel cell at water department and public wi-fi access downtown.
This month a committee meeting will take place to set new goals.
“One of those will be the streetlight purchase. We are almost in the final stretch of purchasing our streetlights,” said Stewart. “One of the biggest complaints that I receive from residents is that the light is out on their street and they do not know who to call. We call Eversource because the City doesn’t own them and then Eversource does not come out to pick them up.”
That will all change.
Once the purchase is complete the City can change the bulbs as it takes ownership of the lights and the polls. They will also be transitioned into LED technology.
“It (LED) is environmentally friendly and improves lighting effectiveness of our streets,” Stewart said. “We also need to upgrade LED lighting in all of City buildings.”
Many areas have been done, but City Hall still needs the improvement.
“We started working on a traffic signal re-modernization program,” added Stewart. “We are creating a centralized transportation management system.”
The goal is to monitor and adjust traffic signals. It will leave residents less time waiting for red lights. Several intersections, that have complaints, will be looked at to increase efficiency.
“We started with downtown traffic lights, but will continue with the rest of the City,” according to Stewart. “We also want to continue cutting down on the size of our fleet for snow consumption. We will also look at a parking study to have one that is in our best economic interest.”
Right now, the City does not make enough to manage the parking lots. The parking study may also include new meters, different types of technology and adding new garages.
This is the Mayor’s Number 1 concern this year.
“Because of the climate at the State there is a lot of pressure on the budget. There is a lot of uncertainty in the State’s economic downfall. They are talking about a $5 million shortfall,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “Inevitably it is going to affect us in ways we don’t even know yet.”
It could affect municipal aid or money towards education from the State.
Stewart said she is saving as much money as possible because what is coming is not good.
“We’ve had our fair share of problems. We are at a place now where we are manning the ship. We are not on auto pilot. I don’t think any town is ever going to be on auto pilot again being the state of the State,” according to Stewart. “Projected growth in our Grand List is great. We won’t know until end of January, but believe we will see an additional $2 million to our tax collection. It will be used to offset the budget shortfall we are projecting.”
The City budget process starts from zero and then departments heads are asked for a 5-10 percent reduction.
“It will not be pretty, but it is things we need to see from a management perspective,” added Stewart. “It will see how we can keep costs under control. A big piece of this will be restructuring our debt.”
Since 2014, the City has had a 4-year plan to restructure debt. This is the last year of that plan. The amount of debt the City owes, which has been accrued for decades, is unreachable for the City to make payments upon, according to Stewart.
“The 4 year plan allows us to afford what we already owe and still maintain the level of services we still can provide as long as it is followed. We need to restructure our debt one final time,” added Stewart. “That will allow us to afford our payments moving forward for the next 20 years.”
Stewart said this is the number 1 issue in her mind because the City just does not know how much it will lose from the State.
“We made it through the summer with the State budget, but they will have to do mid-year adjustments probably in January or February and then they go back to session and start working on the next bi-annual budget,” said Stewart. “Because they didn’t properly re-imburse for car taxes lost, at least $3 million in revenue was lost in this year alone.”
There was an option to send out supplemental tax bills, but Stewart said she chose not to do that. Instead the City will make up for it at the end of the year with a projected surplus. If not, it will come from the City surplus.