Budgets tighter than ever in 2018, Marconi says
“We need to tighten up the ship,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
Looking ahead to 2018, an aggressive effort to hold down the budget and taxes seems the overriding priority for the town of Ridgefield, in light of federal tax changes that Marconi expects will increase the burden on many residents as the deductions for local taxes are limited to $10,000 for a combination of state income and town property taxes — a lot less than many Ridgefielders are accustomed to deducting on their federal income tax returns.
“Because of the most recent federal tax plan voted on, and impacting communities like ours, I think we’re really going to need to look at our budget very closely,” said Marconi.
And he’ll be here doing that, having dropped any thoughts of running for governor.
“No,” he said with a laugh. “It takes two to tango, and I was never good at dancing — especially alone.”
So he’ll be working on Ridgefield issues in 2018, and hoping to run for first selectman again when municipal offices are on the ballot in 2019.
“I will be seeking another term,” he said, “as long as God’s willing and the people, most importantly, agree.”
Lower than 2.5%
Goals for the 2018-19 budget that the selectmen discussed with the finance and school boards at December’s tri-board meeting now don’t seem aggressive enough.
“My general take-away from the tri-board was, for all of us, not to exceed 2.5%. I’m hoping we can come in a lot lower than that,” Marconi said.
“You may find our recommendations this year are going to be extremely meager,” he said.
Marconi’s other priorities for the year range from advancing local projects — sewer plant renovations, the state’s Main Street improvement plans, the town’s Schlumberger site work, two related Branchville projects — to continuing to be a strong voice in the statewide battle against opiate addiction.
The sewer plant renovation — expected to cost $42 million, with $32 million of it coming from local sewer users and taxpayers — tops the list.
“That’s without a doubt the largest project on the horizon,” Marconi said.
The timeline anticipates design work being done this summer, and a referendum on the financing in the fall — on the November election ballot “probably,” Marconi said.
Although how the cost is handled will go to a referendum, the town can’t decline to renovate the sewer plant and bring it up to new environmental standards for phosphorus and nitrates.
“That’s something we have no choice in — no say,” the first selectman said. “That’s a 20-year upgrade: We can be put under court order to comply.”
The state’s plans for improvements to Main Street are still on the agenda.
“That’s scheduled for a 2018 bid date, with construction in 2019,” Marconi said.
It’s about a $3-million project, with the state handling all of the costs.
“A far smaller project than originally looked at — the major part of the project being the intersection of Prospect Street,” Marconi said.
The plan is to move the shopping center’s driveway north, closer to the park, so it’s directly across from Prospect Street — as was originally planned years ago but was changed to save the elm tree that has now died.
Two other elm trees — those on either side of town hall’s front door — will be coming down in 2018 under the tree warden’s orders.
“The elm trees will have to come down this coming year — John Pinchbeck confirmed it,” Marconi said.
Plans to rebuild town hall’s front entranceway — all that brickwork — are waiting, the town having gotten an extension of the grant so it can be timed to coincide with the state’s Main Street project.
There are two tenants working on renovations of town-owned former Schlumberger buildings. The design firm BassamFellows is renovating office space in the Philip Johnson building. And a theater group, ACT of Connecticut, is redoing the auditorium to accommodate Broadway-type productions.
The town’s share of the task is site work — driveways, parking lots, sidewalks, outdoor lighting, drainage. It will rebid the work after a first advertising of it produced only one bid, of $1.2 million, which got negotiated down to about $900,000 — but Marconi hopes to do better.
“It’s out to bid now,” he said.
“The plan the town voted on is exactly what we’re heading toward. … We haven’t altered that one bit.”
Branchville plans include a state project to reduce the number of rail crossings at the station from two to just one — which requires realigning Portland Avenue and its bridge.
“That continues to be in the preliminary stages,” Marconi said. “Contracts have been signed and sent back to the state — agreements that will allow design to move forward on the bridge and rail crossings.”
There’s also a town economic development project to make the Branchville business district more walkable, with sidewalks along the west side of Route 7 from the Wilton line north past the Little Pub, and up Route 102 to Florida Road.
“Under a separate grant, the work for pedestrian connectivity — sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, streetlights,” Marconi said.
The first selectman wants to do more to battle opiate and other addictions that he sees afflicting more and more people. And he feels Ridgefield could play a part by accommodating treatment facilities.
“If we don’t want it in residential areas — which I certainly understand — we should look at it through our planning,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to play a role in addressing the much-needed beds — in our community, in our state — to help treat addiction.
“Only those unfortunate people who have experienced the devastation of an addiction, and the impact on a family, understand the need for these services,” Marconi said.
“And, yes, it is a disease. The stigma associated with alcohol/opiate addiction needs to be neutralized and our society must be willing to open up to the needs of the addicted.
“Rather than run for governor, maybe I can do something more with that,” he said.