Heroin pushed its sad way into a crowd of more typical topics — budgets, growth and taxes, the Mountainside project — as First Selectman Rudy Marconi delivered a wide-ranging State of the Town talk to the League of Women Voters.
Veering away from municipal facts and finances near the end of his hourlong presentation at the league’s celebration of suffragist Alice Paul on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at town hall, Marconi spoke from the heart about heroin, the authorities’ losing struggle to control the drug that is wasting lives and breaking hearts — in Ridgefield, as in other towns and cities across the state and nation.
“We lost a 29-year-old-man at a halfway house in Torrington,” Marconi said.
“Good family — I can attest to it,” he said.
And last week’s bad news follows another heroin-related death that touched a Ridgefield family.
“We lost another young girl, 26,” Marconi said.
Authorities’ efforts to stop the flow of drugs is failing, said Marconi, who has for years worked with state authorities on the problem.
“Heroin is being shipped directly into every one of our cities,” he said. “We are the conduit for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.”
Law enforcement is trying, but the problem — the criminal dealers who supply and prey on users — is too big, growing too fast.
“They know the name of the cartel,” Marconi said. “It’s coming in faster than they can arrest them.”
Connecticut, he said, is expected to lose about 850 lives to accidental drug overdoses in the coming year.
The state, he said, is beginning to tighten up on doctors’ legal prescription of opioid painkillers, which can contribute to the problem of addiction and illegal use.
The problem touches families everywhere.
“Every single one of you knows someone — a family member, a distant relative — who’s affected by heroin,” Marconi told the League of Women Voters audience of about 25.
“It’s sad,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of young people.”
According to Acting Fire Chief Jerry Myers, the number of drug overdose calls the fire department responded to was: 14 in 2011; 17 in 2012; 16 in 2013; 17 in 2014; 9 in 2015; 14 in 2016; none so far in 2017.
Ridgefield is benefiting from some growth. Marconi said town officials were anticipating the town’s grand list will increase about 1%. This, combined with the state-imposed 2.5% cap on municipal spending increases, suggests Ridgefield taxes should go up roughly 1.5% in 2017-18.
But the signals are mixed, as the town experienced nine foreclosures last month, and also two “short sales” of real estate.
“That’s not a good sign,” Marconi said.
The 2.5% spending increase cap will give non-school town departments about $940,000 more to spend — a total Marconi said could easily be eaten up by health insurance increases ($400,000), 2.5% pay raises ($430,000), and the planned move to eight-man shifts in the fire department ($280,000).
A positive example of growth is the Charter Homes multifamily project off Sunset Lane, on former Schlumberger land bought from the town. Nearly all of the more than 54 coach homes and condominiums were sold before a shovel was in the ground, Marconi said. The project is expected to be completed in June 2018, and will contribute about $500,000 a year in taxes to the town.
“We’ve seen some good growth,” Marconi said.
Marconi discussed the proposal for Mountainside, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility at the Sunset Hall property on West Mountain Road, which neighbors have organized to oppose.
“It’s a magnificent home,” Marconi said of the property, said to have been owned by magician Harry Houdini’s brother and, more recently, owned by actor Robert Vaughn. “They’re trying to convert that to a facility for 17 beds.”
He added that the proposed “text amendment” to zoning rules was worded in a way that left a potential for more beds on the site.
Marconi said he recognized the facility would serve a need.
“I’ve been an advocate for more beds,” he said.
But worried neighbors had asked him, “Are you going to support us?” against Mountainside.
“I said, ‘Of course I am. You’re the people I work for,’” Marconi said.