Town economic outlook strong despite GE loss, Tetreau says in State of Town address
First Selectman Michael Tetreau expressed confidence in the town’s economic strength, even with the impending departure of General Electric’s corporate headquarters, during his annual State of the Town address at Monday’s Representative Town Meeting.
After listing a series of projects that have either been completed, or in the process of being built, such as the new Warehouse performance space at the Fairfield Theatre Co., Plan B restaurant in the former Post Office downtown, an assisted-living facility off Mill Plain Road, and a new Land Rover dealership, Tetreau said, “I see this list as the best indication of how strong our local economy is and how bright our future is.”
He said the town has been working with the new leadership for Blackrock Realty’s development plans for its share of the Fairfield Metro Center property. The project’s private development has been stalled for years after the state opened a new railroad station on public sector of the site off lower Black Rock Turnpike. “The majority owners have taken control and are moving the development forward sooner rather than later,” Tetreau said, adding that the business has repaired the walkway through the open space and is taking steps to meet landscaping and maintenance obligations.
“And perhaps most importantly, at least for commuters,” I am working with Blackrock Realty to obtain DOT approve to install portable luxury rest rooms on the site,” Tetreau said. While the train station has been open for several years, there are no rest rooms at the depot.
As for the loss the GE headquarters to Boston, Tetreau said, “While they have been a valuable corporate citizen, I believe their departure can create opportunities for our town.” He noted that Fairfield-based Kleban Properties is negotiating to purchase the 68-acre Easton Turnpike campus and hopes to develop a corporate technology complex there, with an education component.
“I am proud of what my administration has accomplished in these turbulent economic times,” the first selectman said. “I am proud of how we have worked together to build Fairfield into the best value in the state.”
STATE OF THE TOWN: Two Views
Here are links on the FAIRFIELD CITIZEN website to the complete texts of the State of the Town address delivered by First Selectman Michael Tetreau, and the response by the Republican majority on the Representative Town Meeting:
Tetreau’s speech: http://bit.ly/1Nxyf6V
Republicans’ response: http://bit.ly/1OMsYfG
During the address, Tetreau thanked town and school department heads and employees and cited the fact that the current budget brought the lowest tax increase in over 15 years, while fully funding long-term obligations and the education budget.
“Our community spirit and our commitment to work together will be needed in the years ahead,” Tetreau said. “It will take creativity and skill to find solutions that work for our entire community.”
Issues that need to be addressed, he said, include more affordable and senior housing, school and town safety, expanding the sewer system to support commercial growth, increased parking, traffic congestion, expanding the commercial tax base, getting the Community Theatre downtown reopened and managing expenses.
In their response to Tetreau’s remarks, the RTM’s Republican majority offered “guarded optimism.”
“This evening, the first selectman highlighted a number of notable achievements over the past years in which we can all take pride,” said RTM member Tom McCarthy, R-7, “and we Republicans accept his campaign promise of a not-to-exceed budget increase of 1.5 percent for the upcoming fiscal year, albeit perhaps with some degree of guarded optimism.”
“To begin with, negotiations of the labor agreements into which the town enters have failed to bring about parity with the post-retirement and medical benefits offered by private sector employees,” McCarthy said. He said the town has been playing catch up the last six years with “inadequate success.”
McCarthy said the town needs to invest in appropriate technology to best serve taxpayers. “Our town must also adopt a customer-centric model,” he said, “with a focus on delivering the best town services to our taxpayers with a smile. This may well mean that some paradigms of town government will need to shift or even be eliminated, but this change is crucial if we are to create a truly 21st century government for Fairfield.”
Restructuring tax relief for the elderly and disabled also is needed, McCarthy said, because “for many, tax increases over the long term have eclipsed tax relief.” He said the fact that fewer seniors and disabled residents signed up for tax relief programs last year is not an encouraging sign.
“Republicans would support initiatives which would offer seniors alternative ways (e.g., service hours) by which they could satisfy their tax obligation,” according to McCarthy. The tax-relief program is under the purview of the RTM.
“We await the first selectman’s budget with guarded optimism,” McCarthy said of the 2016-17 spending plan that Tetreau is expected to unveil soon.