State of the City 2013
Thank you, and of course I would like to thank you all of you for attending today’s event.
Congratulations are in order for Paul Dinto and his team at Paul Dinto Electrical Contractors as the recipient of the Cecil J. Previdi Award. As Mayor of City of Danbury I am proud to see Mr. Dinto and his business flourish in the greater Danbury area. PDE continues to set the industry standard for electrical contracting and service. I am not sure that in 1987 when Paul founded his wonderful company he could have envisioned the success of PDE, but it has seen remarkable growth and has developed into a leader in the electrical contracting field.
Congratulations to Paul, his wife Elaine, and their family.
Before I update you on our local economy and the economic activity of last year, I think it would be right and proper to reflect for a moment on the events of 12-14-2012.
It was just last year that we were assembled in this room with the anticipation of recognizing another outstanding business in Danbury, and we were looking forward to hearing an update on the progress of our city.
News of the horror in Newtown had already spread to my office and to many of you in this room. All of us knew that this would not be an ordinary day in Western CT - and as we sat here, - there were countless acts of courage and kindness that were happening at the same moment in Sandy Hook - and there were to be countless acts of courage and kindness in Newtown in the weeks and the months that followed 12/14.
Think about it:
The actions of the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School were nothing short of heroic - they showed incredible courage and bravery in that building on that day.
Our First Responders of Newtown and of the region also did a remarkable and heroic job. Newtown PD - led by Chief Kehoe, Connecticut State Police, the FBI. The dispatchers who handled their responsibilities with professionalism and finally, let us not forget the countless numbers of Police, Fire, Public Works, and EMS personnel from every city and town in the area who converged on the scene during and after the tragedy and who performed heroically and selflessly.
First Selectman Pat Llodra has done an incredible job. You know, when you are mayor or first selectman in a community, and you face a tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there’s no manual, there are no best practices to follow, you just lead with your heart and your compassion. Almost one year after the tragedy, Pat Llodra continues to be a model of dignity, of strength, and of courage.
And the families... The families of those who lost loved ones have shown of all us remarkable grace in the face of catastrophic loss. They have turned their grief and their sorrow into action with the goal that no family should ever have to experience the pain and the grief that they have gone through - what an incredible mission, and what an incredibly giving thing to do for others.
First Selectman Llodra has asked that we in Western Connecticut remember 12/14 in a quiet, personal and respectful way — centered on themes of kindness, service to others and love.
The people and the families of Newtown have taught us that when faced with our worst fears, the worst moment that we could imagine, “Love always wins”...always -
This has become the Newtown way - love and kindness, and it should be our way.
Ladies and gentlemen, Danbury works because we all work together, regardless of party- to move the agenda of our community forward.
Of course all of us in government disagree from time to time, that’s to be expected, but when the debate is over - we figure out a way to compromise. I would venture to say that all of our state and local elected officials who serve the residents of the City of Danbury understand that finding common ground is the best way to move our community, our state, and our country forward.
Hard and fast ideology on the left or the right is not a way to govern on a local, state, or national level.
It’s a lesson that our federal government might want to follow given the challenges that our nation faces.
Business Growth and Development
We have had another strong year as far as new business growth and development are concerned in the City of Danbury.
By almost every measurement Danbury leads the state in vital economic statistics. Through October Danbury had 69,400 non-farm jobs, and the unemployment rate was at 5.8% (the lowest of any major city in the state).
Western CT Health Network has moved quickly on it’s 300,000 square foot expansion, Western CT State University has almost completed it’s new performing arts center, The Army is also finishing the new Army Reserve center at Lee Farm, and the Danbury Fair Mall has filled openings with diverse businesses such as LL Bean, Microsoft, Taste of Brazil, and Red Robin.
Dozens of small and medium sized businesses have opened throughout our city - including several new restaurants in the Mill Plain Rd area, the Shops at Marcus Dairy have been completed with anchor tenant Whole Food having one of the strongest starts of any of their new stores in the northeast.
A well known local grocer Caraluzzi’s has announced it’s exploring the feasibility of locating a store on Mill Plain Rd.
The Matrix Corporate Center has done a phenomenal job at recruiting employers to their facility. Specifically, this year we welcomed New Oak Credit Services to the Matrix.
Perosphere, a new start up biomedical business has located along Kenosia Ave.
Of course if we are talking about the westside of Danbury, let us not forget Belimo Air Controls - an expansion that will add hundreds of new jobs to Danbury and a new 120,000 square foot building. This is by far the largest economic development in Western Connecticut and is probably one of the best kept secrets in Western Connecticut.
In other parts of the city, Emhart - a long time Danbury company, has announced that it is bringing its US Industrial Headquarters to our city.
Kimchuk , a Danbury company headed by Danbury resident Jim Marquis - a past Previdi award winner, has added a 4th building and with it 50 new employees.
Two food manufacturing companies, Dere Street and Lesser Evil, have moved into Commerce Park and begun operations..
The Danbury Sports Dome - a multi purpose recreational facility has opened in the Shelter Rock area - this facility includes 120,000 square feet of floor space that can be reconfigured for sports like soccer, volleyball and baseball.
These are tremendous economic development successes in the worst economy since the Great Depression, I would like to take the credit for it, but the reality is that things happen because of you - the wonderful hardworking business community of Western CT and of course, this wonderful Chamber of Commerce members and it’s leadership.
Main Street continues to be a focus of our economic development strategy as well
Union Savings Bank open a beautiful new building across from St. Peter’s Church.
Pricerite has made a $5 million dollar investment in the old A&P building on South Main Street - and has opened with an one of the strongest starts among all of their stores.
Doctors Express, a for profit urgent care facility located on South Mains Street, opened in the late spring and has already met its 5 year projections.
In the past year, the Danbury Main Street Partnership has shepherded many regulatory changes through the City Council and has worked to open a dialogue with Main Street stake-holders.
We’ve conducted merchant's meetings and we’ve conducted property owners meetings throughout the year to explain to our Main Street business owners the economic development tools that are available to them.
We’ve hired a full time Main Street Enforcement Officer for the UNIT to focus in on quality of life issues.
We have reinstituted Danbury Police foot patrols on Main Street for the holiday season.
We’ve reduced permit fees, sewer connection fees, and zoning permit fees for new businesses on Main Street. We’ve also added new tax incentives to spur development along Main Street.
We are completing a new downtown innovation center which is attached to our Library on Main Street which will host a small business incubator as well as a business mentoring center staffed by SCORE.
Speaking of the Danbury Public Library - we have appointed a new Director, I would like to introduce Lambert Shell, Director of the Danbury Public Library.
The Palace Theater has become very active with well attended musical shows and revivals.
Finally, since the summer we have been negotiating with Grey Star, a national luxury apartment developer to take over the Kennedy Place project and develop 367 luxury apartments on the site located in the heart of our city. In January, the project will be before the City Council for an approval.
With cooperation of the Board of Education, the City of Danbury has been busy planning and working on a number of educational improvement projects
Our new Head Start facility on Foster St. opened in September.
In the past year, Danbury’s Promise for Children Partnership, a public - private effort to increase school readiness funded by a generous grant by a charitable foundation - has begun its work and just this past week, we cut the ribbon on the new Office of Early Childhood.
With approximately 75% approval from our voters, we have embarked on a reorganization of our public schools by adding additions and more space to our elementary schools and adding two new learning academies to our middle school system. The added space to our elementary schools will help us continue to expand All-Day Kindergarten, the new learning academies will focus academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and math.
These key investments - and let’s make no mistake, staffing these facilities will require an investment, will drive positive outcomes and academic achievement for our students. That’s something that increases property values and helps with our economic competitiveness by providing an educated and motivated workforce.
A good educational system not only builds great scholars, a sound educational system should build great people. People who are ready for work, people who can participate in our democracy and know how to solve problems, people who know and respect the past, but look to the future.
In the coming year we are working a number of initiatives and infrastructure projects as well
Last year, voters approved new bridges and roads, improvements to our Waste Water Treatment Plant, and our Water Plant.
We have finished planning and design for a new Kennedy Park that will start construction in the spring.
We have completed design of a skateboard park across from the Ice Arena which we will start construction in the spring.
We have identified a site and begun design of a dog park that will be located close to the Danbury Airport.
We have completed study of our Airport, this year, we will begin to implement some of its recommendations.
We will continue to launch green initiatives as well. After the 1st of the year will begin site analysis for more solar panels on city property. We will utilize places like the old Danbury landfill to place solar panels to lower the cost of energy for our city buildings.
Two years ago we launched an app for your smart phone called Danbury Direct. This year will see a refresh of the app - it will provide real time push notifications for everything from impending snow storms, to emergencies to who’s playing at the Ives Concert Park.
Caring for the least among us.
Our community provides a tremendous amount of services to our homeless population. We were one of the first communities to develop a 10 Year Plan regarding Homelessness. In fact at this moment, across town, we are having our annual Project Homeless Connect event that connects homeless people with much needed services ranging from free dental work to housing assistance - a direct result of our 10 year plan.
The City of Danbury does more for the homeless population in the Greater Danbury Area than any other community. We have 5 shelters, transitional housing, permanent housing, Veteran Housing, I could go on and on. Yet, sadly, homelessness continues.
We will continue to develop housing opportunities for those challenged with housing issues and we will continue to ask the communities surrounding us to join us to do their fair share.
We are faced with a number of challenges as well
If you were to ask me what the number challenge in the city has been in the last 5 years, it would be dealing with the economic crisis and its impact on city finances. Danbury has avoided the pitfalls of many communities by making the painful decisions early and making them often. We have revamped employee benefits, we have reduced staff - to the point that there are less people working for the City of Danbury now then in 2001 when I took office.
Finally, while our local economy is the envy of the State of Connecticut, the national economy and the state economy has put a substantial dent in our revenues.
The State of Connecticut continues to spend more than it has and to borrow more than it can possibly pay back. - we will all be paying the price for this soon. There is no doubt that the upcoming state budget will have an impact on our ability to deliver services next year.
Through the state agencies of DEEP and the Department of Public Health, our Sewer and Water Department are being placed under serious pressure for improvements and capacity issues that have literally been pulled out of thin air.
For example, this year the Department of Public Health has decided to change the way that we calculate our water supply. If DPH gets it way, we will no longer be able calculate Lake Kenosia as part of our water supply - something we’ve done for the last 35 years. This will have the effect of shutting down our ability to build new buildings in the community - or grow our economic base.
The impact of the Affordable Care Act has put tremendous pressure on our employee benefits. Some preliminary estimates given to us by our insurance carriers project a double digit increase in the cost of providing health insurance to city employees - this is unacceptable.
To manage city government in the new economy, we are taking a number of steps to reduce the size of our government, and to create more efficiencies. For example, we are in the process of rolling out a new Constituent Relationship Management system.
This system will replace the existing core computer system of the city - something that has not been done since the early 1990’s. Every single department will be impacted.
In addition, we have engaged Blum Shapiro, a strategic consultant, to begin a top to bottom review of all city departments - including the Board of Education. This is the first time a strategic study has been done of our organization in decades and the recommendations will be invaluable in determining how we can redesign a leaner government.
When completed, we will be able to operate more efficiently, and with less staff.
We have negotiated an agreement with our Fire union to move forward with the centralizing and civilianizing of our dispatch center. Something I campaigned on in 2001. It took 12 years, but we have a changeover date of July 1, 2014. This will allow us to put more patrol cars on the streets, as well as free fire and police personnel to do what they do best - fire suppression and policing.
The next two years we will and we must take big swings - very big swings at redesigning government - it may push some of you and some of our residents out of your comfort zone. But we must evolve and change if we are to survive in the 21st century.
For example: we will explore forming a regional WPCA to run our public utilities. This will help with capital improvements of our sewer and water systems, smooth out sewer and water rates, monetize our assets, and explore the feasibility of delivering these services on a regional basis. We won’t relinquish public control of our fixed assets - our water system, our sewer system, but we will look to privatize as much as possible.
For our residents, we will be providing additional transparency in government activity. Meetings will be available in real time streamed on the web from the City of Danbury’s website. New cameras and recording equipment have been installed to provide a clearer broadcast. All recordings of meetings will be digitized and available in an easily searchable database on our website. A common format will be used for recording of minutes of meetings in all departments to make government easier to understand.
But in spite of these challenges, I am optimistic about our future. Danbury is blessed with tremendous assets, a first rate hospital, a world class University, a vibrant arts community that encourages a sharing of ideas, a public safety system with metrics that are the envy of any city in Connecticut, and of course an economy that is the best in the State of Connecticut.
We area a triple AAA community with the lowest crime rate in the state and the lowest unemployment rate in the state - that is something we should all be proud of.
We are a community with people who hail from all over the world. A diverse community that is a model of common understanding, trust, and compassion.
For the last twelve years I have been honored to be your mayor. Each day when I wake up and go to work I am excited about our future.
The job has its ups and downs, but as I remarked to a resident the other day, I have been incredibly lucky, I get paid to something that I love to do..
When I got elected in 2001, I didn’t have a plan for my own career. I thought if the public was agreeable I would serve for 3 terms and then do something else…. well, that was 4 terms ago..
I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, but, I have tried to be more right than wrong, and listen to all sides to make the best decision for our community.
I am not sure what the future may or may not hold for me and Phyllis, regardless of what the future may hold, I want you to know that I will always be focused on Danbury.
But today is not about me, it’s about you… this is your city and your community..
As I look around this room I see people who I have come to truly admire and respect. I see self made business people, entrepreneurs, public servants, and professionals. I see the people that have made Danbury and Western Connecticut flourish.
In your eyes, and in your hearts I see the love that you have for Danbury and the Greater Danbury area.
For your caring and passion for this city, I am eternally grateful.
Today, as we are on the cusp of gathering with our loved ones for the holidays, with the scent of a new snowfall in the air, warm fires, and a chill of the northeast wind - let us honor our family and friends - by showing them our love.
Over the next several weeks, in moments of quiet reflection and thought, let us remember that this past year a courageous community here in Western Connecticut that was faced with absolute tragedy - absolute evil - taught us something incredibly profound - the Newtown Way - the idea that “love always wins” - always.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that is the true meaning of the season.
My friends, that is the State of our City for December 2013.
May God Bless you and May God Bless our America.